Q&A: Jeff Gordon, Host and Founder of the Cresthill Cinema Club

Host and founder of the Cresthill Cinema Club, now in its 10th year, Jeff Gordon will screen a notable 1940s film noir, Fallen Angel, at the meeting August 23 at 8 p.m. He describes it as “a moody murder mystery, with sordid overtones.”

How did the club get going?

I am a film historian, and wrote articles and a book and have a large archive of everything from films to posters and memorabilia. I’m originally from New York, and ran a program like this for six and a half years there—a film society in my living room. It’s funny, the idea has been more successful here, which thrills me. I like mixing people up, sharing my interests and collections. That’s what people should do, share whatever possible. I moved to Knoxville in 2002, and didn’t know anyone here. I wanted to do this anyhow, but I also knew on a personal level a club like this would allow me to meet nice people with a similar creative bent and interests—I’d make friends, and they’d make friends with each other. I moved into a small townhome, and it took a year to get a lens to project large enough at close distance on my living room wall. Then we started with eight people in June 2003, and by October and November there were so many they were sitting on each other’s laps and standing in the hall. One of the charter members was an assistant manager at the townhouse, and she asked me, “How would you like to use our clubhouse.” I asked, “Cost?” and she said, “Nothing.” The price is right and we’ve been screening 10 times a year there ever since.

How does it work?

It’s a labor of love for me; I’m not there to make money. The only requirement for admission is that you be able to get through the door—and people bring treats. I always screen reel-to-reels from my own collection, at least one feature film, and if it’s short I round it out with a short feature or show a double feature. Of course a movie like Ship of Fools takes up the whole time. I try to vary it—one month a mystery, the next a musical, but basically the films I show are from the 1930s to the early 1960s, emphasizing the ’30s to the early ’40s, the Golden Age. I show a lot of films that were successful in their time but for some reason have slipped through the cracks. I get up at the beginning and go through my shtick—it’s somewhat of a stand-up comedy. I’ll play a television show from the Golden Age first—Perry Mason, Lucy, Ford Theater, or a cartoon—I have a lot of Warner Brothers Merrie Melodies. Right before the feature I give a talk, and I’m more serious then. I spend about seven hours researching and preparing what I’ll say, though a lot is off the top of my head—I have a memory for movies, but not much else!

What’s your favorite movie to screen?

My favorite movie of all time is probably the big-band musical Orchestra Wives with the Glenn Miller Orchestra, with George Montgomery and Ann Rutherford. That’s where the song “At Last” comes from—not Etta James. I wrote a book, Foxy Lady, about Lynne Bari, and she sings “At Last” in the movie, but she lip-syncs. I also have great fun showing The Revolt of Mamie Stover. In that, Jane Russell plays a prostitute who’s been kicked out of San Francisco (you have to be really bad to get kicked out of San Francisco) and goes to Honolulu and ends up buying a nightclub—and then Pearl Harbor breaks out. People got all Hawaiian for that one. I love B movies, like Charlie Chan, and B comedies. They’re often better than “A” movies because they’re short and they move quickly; the actors had to do really well because there usually wasn’t a chance to shoot a scene more than once. I’m also a big Elvis fan. I’ve show up and done Elvis, even though I’m 6 feet 5 inches. The head men’s tailor at the Metropolitan Opera is a friend, and I paid for materials and he made me the Elvis jumpsuit of my dreams. I wear a wig with it that I bought at the mall for about $4, but the jumpsuit is incredible.

The club welcomes new members. For more information, e-mail Gordon at jeffadamgordon@aol.com.

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