Cowboy (Sonny Carl Davis), legendary local hero and regular patron of “The Alamo”, a small Houston bar, flirts with Lisa (Amanda LaMar), in a scene from “Last Night at the Alamo”. From Cinecom International Films.
Photo: Cinecom International Films.
Brian Huberman is currently disappointed.
The longtime Rice University documentary filmmaker and film professor bids farewell to a building he has for years called his home base: the Rice Media Center. “For me, it’s time to mourn,” says Huberman. “I’m 72, you know. My involvement in all of this is starting to disappear. It’s someone else’s job. I took care of it for 46 years. When the building dies, so do I. “
After this weekend, the Center, which for five decades has been a premier destination in Houston for eclectic film programming – be it indies, foreign films, covers or cutting-edge scrapers. – will be closed for business and demolished by the end of the year. (Rice Cinema’s programming will continue, as future screenings will take place at Sewall Hall.)
The Center has had its problems over the years; there was a mold problem five years ago that required a renovation. Over the past three years, $ 800,000 in maintenance and repairs have been carried out. But the Center continued to function not only as a repertory movie house, but as a place where students can learn more about the visual arts. He has also organized screenings for local festivals such as the Houston Cinema Arts Festival and QFest. “It was built as a temporary structure in 1970,” says Charles Dove, Rice Cinema programmer and professor of film studies, “so it’s remarkable that it lasted this long.”
On June 4, the Center will be released with a long-awaited bang. His last feature film will be “Last Night at the Alamo,” a 1983 low-budget black-and-white film made right here in Houston. It’s also a movie about the last night of work at a Houston dive bar.
“Alamo” was scheduled to be screened in March last year, as part of the Centre’s 50th anniversary celebration. But that’s when COVID cases started to explode, forcing so many things – including the “Alamo” screening – to be called off. Said Dove, “[The 35mm print has] been in a sealed plastic tub since last year when we got it.
“Alamo” was directed by Eagle Pennell, the Houston-based independent filmmaker whose 1978 debut feature “The Whole Shootin ‘Match” has long been legendary for inspiring Robert Redford to start the Sundance Film Festival. The man was a bit of a wild card, as Huberman, who was the cinematographer for “Alamo,” can attest.
“It wasn’t easy working with him,” Huberman recalls. “He was an alcoholic. It wasn’t that bad then. It would get worse. “
When: 7 p.m. Friday
Or: Rice Media Center, 2030 University Blvd.
Details: Release; vada.rice.edu/rice-cinema
Huberman says writer Kim Henkel (“The Texas Chainsaw Massacre”) must have stepped in and finished the last two nights of filming when Pennell bent down. (Henkel will also be at the “Alamo” screening for a question-and-answer session, with actor Sonny Carl Davis.)
Nonetheless, Huberman will always remember Pennell (who died eight days before his 50th birthday in 2002) as a true maverick. “The films made by Eagle, that type of cinema, I think, are often overlooked and forgotten – a kind of independent voice in nature,” he says. “Very often cinema centers are dominated on the east and west coast by the east and west coast. At least at that time, it was something that I find quite special. And it was great to be a part of it.
The day after the “Alamo” screening, the Center will host an open house (3 pm to 6 pm) where people can visit the facility one last time before it is locked up. There could be designs for the new center, a building that reports will be operational in three years.
Still, it’s still a shame that another local arthouse institution – let’s not forget the much-publicized Landmark River Oaks shutdown in March – is soon to disappear.
“I’m not very happy with it,” said Dove, as melancholy as Huberman. “I liked working there. I think it’s the best possible situation, where they’re going to build us a new building, you know – a really nice building – and it’s going to be some really good stuff in it. And I think it will work very well.