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The Kane Mutiny

Print the legend: Joseph Cotton and Orson Welles in 'Citizen Kane'
Warner Bros.

Editor's note: Robert Cowgill is the former executive director of Minnesota Film Arts and the co-founder of Oak Street Cinema.

Great movies are always associated with the spaces in which you watch them. I first saw Orson Welles's inexhaustible masterpiece huddled on a folding chair in the chilly basement of a student hall in the 1970s; the 16mm print kept breaking, the sound gurgled as if emanating from the bottom of the Red Sea, and I remember thinking, "Someday I'm going to have to see this film." Two years later I got my chance at the old Cedar Theater, where the flawless 35mm presentation ended in spontaneous applause from a sold-out crowd on a Wednesday night. I'll never forget the images: the shadows after the opening newsreel, Susan Alexander's ravaged face, the Colorado snow.

I've seen the film many times since that revelatory viewing, and each time it repays the return trip in surprising ways. But my favorite, unsurpassable Kane occurred on Friday, March 31, 1995: the opening night of the Oak Street Cinema. Some of us thought it might be fun running a repertory cinema; we didn't have the fortune of Charles Foster Kane, but we wrote up our statement of principles (I've saved that particular piece of paper) and spent all our money in the process of getting the doors open. The Oak Street had holes in the ceiling and a smashed marquee, and no one knew whether our gesture would last even 11 days. But who cared? The ineffable spirit of cinema was alive that night.

Now, more than a decade later, I'm hoping the old inaugural double bill of Citizen Kane and Casablanca will conjure the same magic, for I'm told the Oak Street Cinema, the cinema of my heart, needs it more than ever. I know I'll be there on Saturday night, keeping the faith.


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