Tulsa TV Memories      

Tulsa Film and Cinema

"Irresponsibility is part of the pleasure of all art; it is the part the schools cannot recognize." - Pauline Kael, from the seminal 1969 essay "Trash, Art and the Movies" in her book, Going Steady.

This page is mostly about the the Subversive Film Festival at TU in the 1970s and the 1980s Williams Cinema Society. But first, links to other movie-related content on this site:

Other Tulsa movie links at the bottom of this page.

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The third TU Subversive Film Festival was held at TU March 6-9 in 1979. As you might surmise from the showing of "Misty Beethoven" (a hardcore blue film), the Moral Majority hadn't yet enumerated itself in Tulsa.

The Third Annual Subversive Film Festival
Subversive Film Festival

The gross graphic on the program is a visual allusion to the surrealistic Salvador Dali/Luis Buñuel collaboration, "Un chien andalou" (IMDB, 1929). Buñuel was represented at this edition of the festival by "Viridiana" (IMDb, 1961), a typically sacriligious comedy, and winner of the Palme d'Or at Cannes in that year.

Subversive Film Festival ticketOther featured directors were Wolfgang Petersen, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Russ Meyer, Andy Warhol (more about one of his films farther down this page), John Waters, and others not so well-known today.

Full schedule of the Film Festival;
Film descriptions: Page 1 & Page 2

I was in attendance for the first two festivals, but, alas, have no printed matter from them.

I must admit to some nostalgia for this seemingly less-fettered (though internet-free) era of Tulsa history.

(9/3/2005: I saw "The Aristocrats" at the Circle Cinema last night; it's worthy of any subversive film fest.)

My name is spelled "Ransom"; the card issuer was Brent Kliewer, who later managed the Williams Cinema. David Kimball learned from him...

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Former Cinema manager David Kimball, via email to the webmaster, 9/28/2004:

I began working at The Cinema when I was 16 in 1980. Eventually I worked my way up to House Manager and had the distinct pleasure of booking the theatre for many years until I moved to Dallas in 1990.

It was an amazing experience. The threat of closure always loomed above us but we managed to have some very eventful and rewarding years before I left for a career with the Landmark Theatre chain.

Some favorite memories are:

An Evening with John Waters; (see below)

The Last Picture Show complete with a Texas-style BBQ and guest speaker Clu Gulager;

The Sunday Night Special series; (see below)

A screening of "The Times of Harvey Milk" during Gay Pride Week and observing an audience of 300 folks openly weeping;

Setting a new house record with "The Whales of August" which wouldn't have been so successful without a beautiful Tulsa World interview with Bette Davis by Pat Upton;

The constant support of Dennis King at the World and Ron Wolfe at the Tribune;

Playing the sound to capacity during "Stop Making Sense;"

The world premiere of "The Outsiders;"

Hosting the Greenwood Black Film Festival and the patient programmer who had to describe to me in detail who Step'n Fetchit was;

Playing "Gone With the Wind" at Christmastime;

Showing an evening of independent film featuring short films, my trailer show, and Todd Haynes' controversial "Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story;"

Working with some extraordinary people through the years.

I still have dreams about returning someday and running the theatre again knowing now what I wish I had known then, but alas, it's gone forever. It was without a doubt one of the best experiences of my life. Thanks for letting me share.

David Kimball, Denver, CO

DavidK at landmarktheatres dot com

(Webmaster, 9/10/2005: The world premiere of a new "The Outsiders" DVD took place at the Tulsa AMC Southroads 20 on 9/8, with author S.E. Hinton and stars C. Thomas Howell and Ralph Macchio in attendance. The new opening is set at Tulsa's Circle Theater! See a still from it on this site's "The Outsiders" section.)

John Waters in Tulsa

Webmaster: The main thing I remember about "An Evening with John Waters" at the Williams Cinema is the director's entrance. Cinema manager David Kimball had detailed Waters' filmography, then introduced the guest of honor. Waters strode swiftly down the center aisle from the back of the theater with his chin down looking straight ahead as if barely able to contain his pride.

At that time, his most recent film was "Hairspray" (1988), the delightful non-X-rated picture that broke him through to mainstream audiences. Waters is a highly entertaining and witty speaker, as the audio version of his book Shock Value (1989) shows. I believe some of his talk was drawn from this material. I got the impression that he couldn't believe his good fortune in being able to present his "vision" and get paid for it, too.

I recall seeing posters for midnight showings of "Pink Flamingos" (1972) at my alma mater, OU, around 1973-4. I wasn't sure I could stomach the infamous dog doody scene, so I passed on it. A friend of mine who attended OU at that time said that at the showing he attended, the administration rang down the curtain before the movie started.

I caught up with the Waters oeurve later in the 70s at TU's Subversive Film Festival, where I saw his "masterpieces", "Desperate Living" (1977) , "Female Trouble" (1974), "Pink Flamingos" (finally) and  "Multiple Maniacs" (1970). To say that these films are in poor taste doesn't quite convey their over-the-top sleaze and cheapness (or the sick humor). Parents, don't allow your au pair to program a Waters retropective for your kids on the strength of "Hairspray".

Here is a sample of the Sunday Night Special films at the Williams Cinema...a few personal notes follow the flyer:

Williams Cinema 1984

(At right is the Williams Cinema's mural -- click on it to see a horizontal positive version. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid were to the right of Serpico.)

Gailard Sartain had a small role in "Choose Me" (1984) as a dotty card-playing German. I asked him about this at the Tulsa TV Icons event a few weeks ago. He said that director Alan Rudolph had him try a few accents, then settled on the German for a quick day's work. 

I saw "Manhattan" (1979) first at the Southside Cinema, formerly in the strip center near Riverlanes Bowling Center at 87th and Lewis.

We watched David Lynch's "The Straight Story" on DVD in our home theater (a great movie). The brief, but telling presence of Harry Dean Stanton reminded me of "Paris, Texas" (1984), in which he played a similar, but much larger role.

I missed "Liquid Sky" (1982) when it played the Cinema, but recently watched it on DVD borrowed from the library. Dunno if it's an all-time great, but it definitely is a time capsule of the early 80s.

Here is my Cinema Society card for 1986:

1986 Cinema Society member ship card

Thanks to Carl "Uncle Zeb" Bartholomew, here is a one minute scene set at the Williams Cinema from his movie, "Cole Justice" (1989).

Cole Justice

Hear the ambience of the Williams Forum skating rink, see the entire length of the marquee and the mural, visit the concession stand and watch as Professor Coleman Justice salutes this great theatre one last time.

(View RealVideo stream on DSL/cable, or download the 1.9 meg clip by right-clicking here and selecting Save Target As. If needed, download the free RealPlayer software.)

My wife and I had the pleasure of having Carl over to our home theatre for an in-person director's (and producer's and star's) commentary on "Cole Justice" a few months ago. I hope to share Carl's comments on his film here soon.

1986 article from the Tulsa World,  "Williams Cinema: Dealing with the ups and downs" by Pat Upton (courtesy of Scott Nelson, Web Editor)

Mural at the Williams Cinema

Williams Cinema tickets

Former Cinema projectionist Kristan Chew, via email to the webmaster, 9/4/2004:

Back in the day, the downtown Cinema was a wonderful place to work. It still remains, by far, one of the best jobs I’ve had. I learned a great deal: about film, photography, popcorn condiments and I learned how to ice skate. I even have a “documentary” grand tour of the entire space, that a friend of mine and I taped just for kicks.

The sound system and the screen were the greatest elements of that particular theatre. It was the real deal for viewing and experiencing a movie. I don’t think there was another wide screen like it in town, nor was there a better theatre for surround sound. I’d worked in other theatres before, which mostly involved selling tickets and making popcorn. At the Cinema, I learned how to operate a projector: Reel to reel, on giant platters and I mastered the talent for splicing film together with trailers. I could put a film back together in case of viewing breakage. That happened once -- during the showing of "Woodstock". The audience didn’t seem to mind (the copy we had was pretty old.)

Fondly, I recall when the Cinema premiered the Chet Baker film, "Let’s Get Lost". I think the Cinema’s copy of the film arrived either too late or damaged for the first showing. Another copy was sent and I do believe that copy belonged to Bruce Weber himself. (David Kimball will have to back me up on that one.) Anyways, that copy of "Let’s Get Lost" was treated as though it were made of gold. What a beautiful movie. It was honor to premiere that film here in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

The Cinema hosted a world of wonderful films that are tough to come by nowadays in a “regular” movie theatre. More importantly, the location was crucial, yet rendered the space dispensable. Sadly, the Cinema’s quality and elegance could not be matched in any theatre in Tulsa. During the downtown Cinema glory days, the patrons were loyal, the popcorn was yummy and the beer was always cold. And for your viewing pleasure, the vast auditorium was simply unbeatable.

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Andy Warhol's
'Frankenstein' in 3DWebmaster: My weak stomach for grue and grossout was sorely tested in 1974.

The Southroads Cinema was playing Andy Warhol's X-rated "Frankenstein" in 3D (IMDb). I was enthusiastic about the 3D, not having yet seen a 3D movie, but had no idea of the movie's content beyond my hope that the "X" was conferred for prurient reasons.

A high school classmate, Richard Kern, and I went to an afternoon showing (we were college students at the time). I'll never forget a scene involving an old lady, a grate, and, well, I won't go into it any further except to say that it was a pretty gutsy and in-your-face scene. The 3D was, unfortunately for me, very high quality.

The biggest laugh I've ever heard at the movies was at this show. The titular doctor had just performed a particularly nauseating "operation" on a corpse. I was writhing in discomfort and it was very quiet in the theater. When the doctor wound up the sequence by enunciating a crude and dopey epigram to his assistant, the roof blew off with laughter. The audience seized this weak comic relief valve with a frenzy and cranked it wide open.

Afterwards, Richard and I repaired to The Library Restaurant near TU on 11th Street, where I tossed a couple of beers into me to get my color back (having just hit the legal beer and liquor-buying age of 21). Richard, rubbing his hands together, planned to recommend the film to all his friends.

The Library Restaurant on 11th Street

Richard Kern, via email to the webmaster, 9/10/2004:

I vividly recall the rather different impact that the movie had on the two of us. In retrospect, your more sensitive reaction to the "in your face," adolescent black humor was a far more rational response. But...as you indicated, the film did have its moments.

The scene with the grate may have been ahead of Stephen King's discussion of the difficult task of gothic novel writers to convey, at the very pinnacle of the craft, terror, and of avoiding or capitulating to the subsequent lesser art of horror, and then to the merely gross. Interestingly, in that interview, when he described the merely gross, he resorted to humor in his description as well.

(King admits in his non-fiction book, Danse Macabre, that if he can't achieve terror or horror, he's not too proud to go for the grossout...webmaster)

The scene you describe as having brought down the house set the stage for the farcical Shakespearian climax of the movie in which Dr. Frankenstein is run through with a very long pike staff causing him to fall to his knees supported in a three point stance by the butt of the pike as he utters an inane soliloquy that seemed to go on forever.

I can't remember a single idea from the speech due to the presence on the business end of the pike, of a quivering small 3-D Technicolor organ, formerly ensconced within the good Doctor's abdomen, that very much reminded me of the "gall bladder" for which the knowledge of life itself must necessarily be intimately experienced in death (a circumlocutious and thus more tasteful restatement of the above-mentioned "dopey epigram"...webmaster).

The circularity of the absurdity of it all remains with me to this day, but then again, I always was accused in those days of over-intellectualizing.

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Other Tulsa movie links:

  • Circle Cinema in the Kendall-Whittier area is being restored to state-of-the-art status. The new Circle 2 is a great new venue for independent films. Two new, larger screens should be in operation in 2009.

  • Yahoo Movies - Tulsa - Find out what's currently playing at Tulsa theaters and when; buy advance tickets over the internet for most Tulsa theaters.

  • List of just about every Tulsa movie theatre ever in existence.

  • 1954 lawsuit lays out the business history of some of Tulsa's earliest movie theaters, including the Ritz, Rialto, Majestic, Orpheum...

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