Sunday, September 11, 2016

Learning the Hard Way

It's a beautiful day in the neighborhood because the Bijou has opened.

If you want to get technical, it opened last weekend but I was out of town for Chaplin's "Modern Times," the inaugural offering. So after a friend's dimly-lit birthday party in the Gypsy Room at Vagabond, I walked down a few blocks to the Bijou.

But not before convincing doubters to eat torchon (without sharing that it's made from pig head), hearing vacation tales of the wonder of U.S. territory Puerto Rico (no currency exchange! no language barrier! a rain forest!), ingesting more rockfish rillettes than I care to admit and listening to the Denver transplant mock-whine about the local Broncos obsession and the abundance of pot shops and over-priced apartments out there.

Headed up Broad, I was looking forward to checking out the Bijou's new digs, which turned out to be the perfect starter space: small, simple and complete with bar and popcorn (two bags, no judging, please).

When I walked in, vinyl was playing on the turntable, there were two men clad in seersucker blazers despite Labor Day already being in the rear view mirror, and a growing crowd was filing in with a few familiar faces thrown in for good measure.

Even better, I was told that the earlier screening of "Miss Sharon Jones!" had sold out. See, Richmond, there's your proof we really did want a small arthouse theater showing repertory as well as new films. I, for one, am tired of reading reviews of wonderful but obscure or small films in the Washington Post, knowing full well they'll never play Richmond.

Happily, the Bijou is changing all that.

The film center's founders spoke briefly, including a mention about how film is truly meant to be experienced on a  big screen with strangers, a sentiment I support wholeheartedly and am mocked for regularly.

The documentary covered the period after Miss Jones found out she had stage two pancreatic cancer, underwent surgery and chemo and was nursed back to health so she could go back to singing, but it also included plenty of impressive live footage from before and after her illness.

I only saw Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings once, back in May 2010 at Maymont, and it was a helluva show given the towering musical talent of the band and the force of nature personality of Miss Jones. Even six plus years later, I can clearly recall the way she worked the crowd up into a dancing frenzy, never letting up herself...and she was also singing the whole time.

Of course, even without the cancer angle, her story was film-worthy. How does a singer who's been told by a record executive that she's too old, too black and too short (side note: how many men get told that by record execs, hmmm?) for success manage to have her first hit at age 40?

Major talent and sheer determination. A band that's as close as family. Divine luck.

After the film, I strolled down Broad Street chatting with a couple headed to their car. Like me, they'd really enjoyed the documentary, but unlike me, they'd never seen her live and wanted to hear every detail about my experience.

A block or so later, they asked if I was walking home and when I said yes, if I would like a ride for safety. I assured them I was barely six blocks from home, so I'd be just fine.

Besides, they're missing the point. With the opening of the Bijou, there's one more reason to attract people to the neighborhood, more to do once you're here and yet another formerly vacant storefront is knit into the fabric of Jackson Ward. Score!

So, yes, Bijou Film Center, I will happily be your neighbor.

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