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Friday, September 4, 1992 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Pike Street: Movies Off The Beaten Track

Pike Street Cinema, 1108 Pike St. Schedule varies, most films start at 7:30 and 9:30 p.m. 682-7064. --------------------------------------------------------------- Going into the Pike Street Cinema is more like going to a friend's basement than a night at the movies. The theater's cement floor, piano, Christmas lights and makeshift decor give it that casual feel.

Like the University District's Neptune Theatre, the Pike Street Cinema offers a smorgasbord of films, changing nightly. But the Pike Street selection has a weirder and wider range than the Neptune's brand of eclecticism, with the mix including genres like silent film, blaxploitation movies, the work of local independent filmmakers, and for four Thursdays this month, a Shelley Winters film festival.

The 49-seat theater, whose equipment and seats come from a number of now-defunct local movie houses, prides itself on its absence of corporate trappings or outside funding.

"We'll show anything not shown by Cineplex Odeon," said Elizabeth Rozier, half of the husband-and-wife team running Pine Street Cinema.

Rozier and husband Dennis Nyback own many of the films shown at the Pike Street, but the theater is part of a larger national and international network of "guerrilla theater operators" who own their own theaters and lend each other films.

Nyback has been a projectionist since the early 1970s, when he worked at what was then the Moore Egyptian, and was involved in the

first few Seattle International Film Festivals. The couple has been hosting film showings since 1989 as organizers of the Belltown Film Festival.

That series, usually a weekly event, was established enough that when it relocated to the Pike Street Cinema last spring, it was called the Queen City Film Festival.

"The name was supposed to let people know that it was connected to the Belltown Film Festival, but it became too confusing," Rozier said.

The theater has been in operation as the Pike Street Cinema since June, with regular programs including "Sunday Funnies," featuring the likes of Harold Lloyd, Abbott and Costello and Fatty Arbuckle; jazz films from the 1930s; and a series called "Queens of Burlesque."

Tonight and tomorrow night, the theater is wrapping up a six-weekend "Psychedelic Summer" series of '60s and early '70s B-movies with "The Wild Angels," one of the most famous biker films of the era. Starring Peter Fonda, Nancy Sinatra, Bruce Dern and Diane Ladd, the movie is light on plot but full of schlocky glimpses into the forbidden realms of motorcycle gang culture.

The movie's depiction of a group of Southern California Hell's Angels, like a number of the theater's selections, have a counter-culture notoriety. Local bands Girl Trouble and Mudhoney, for instance, have both used "Wild Angels" lines in songs.

The "Psychedelic Summer" series has a kitsch quality that Rozier and Nyback find fun. In addition to titles like "She Devils on Wheels," "The Hippie Temptation," and "The Trip" (another Peter Fonda vehicle, in "psychedelic color"), they show previews with Scopitones, music videos from the 1960s originally shown from a 7-foot-tall jukebox-like machine.

The beauty of the Scopitones, according to Rozier, are the so-bad-they're-good singers and groups that were featured in them. "The Beatles or the Rolling Stones never made these. These were washed-up, second-rate artists, and some of the Scopitones we have don't even have the artists credited." Their collection includes Jody Miller doing "Queen of the House," a paean to homemaking to the tune of Roger Miller's "King of the Road," and a Vic Damone song where he goes through five outfit changes, all of them leisure suits, and frolics with models around a lake.

Some of the other series take on a more serious tone, and Nyback is becoming more and more interested in "confrontational cinema."

One series, "Strange and Hideous War Propaganda," included field medicine films with jarring scenes of minefield injuries and bullet wounds.

Nyback would like to show more films in this vein, including ones on capital punishment and politically incorrect humor, to challenge viewers. The couple is so opposed to censorship that they unapologetically show films typically passed over because they are controversial. Next month, they will show the breakthrough 1914 film "Birth of a Nation," which launched the age of modern film yet has been shunned for its racism in recent years.

"It's a part of history and we can't deny it," Nyback said. "We'd like to sweep racism under the rug but in some films, it's throwing out the baby with the bath water."

"If you want to see Louis Armstrong in a film," Rozier added, "you have to see him in a caveman outfit instead of a three-piece suit."

Copyright (c) 1992 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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