Clash of the Theaters

by Joshua Kline


Over Easter weekend, I saw two movies: Fish Tank at the Circle and Clash of the Titans at AMC, and I saw two separate universes with eerie similarities emerge.

In one universe, local commerce reigns supreme. People eat at Tacos y Mariscos, the quirky little Mexican restaurant with the sloppy, hand-painted sign. They see the low-budget British film Fish Tank at the one-screen arthouse. They have a $2 beer at Daddy Dee’s Beehive Lounge, the rough-and-tumble bar with a jukebox full of Merle Haggard and Hank Williams. They buy fresh produce from the ethnic grocery store down the street. They go to the library and read for free.

Some Tulsans call the area a “ghetto” and associate it with homelessness, crime, uninviting ethnic restaurants and run-down beer bars, but the Circle’s Assistant Manager, Chuck Foxen, sees his stomping ground as a quietly developing arts district.

“I’ve had my window busted out. Someone tried to steal my stereo,” says Foxen, but that doesn’t deter him from working and living in the idiosyncratic neighborhood located at Admiral and Lewis.

It may be a misnomer to label the square an “arts district” (aside from the Circle and Ziegler’s, there’s not much related to the arts), but it’s one of several enclaves tucked inside our city that’s brimming with personality and possibility. It could well be called the Circle District; the marquee of our town’s arthouse shines bright like a lone beacon amidst the camouflage of red brick and urban decay.

In the other universe, corporate sprawl has taken over. If people want Mexican food, they go to On the Border. They see Clash of the Titans in 3-D at AMC. They have a neon-green cocktail at TGI Friday’s, where men in red shirts greet patrons with a smile and the music is alway the week’s top 40. They buy fruits and vegetables from Reasor’s. They go to Barnes and Noble and purchase Dan Brown’s latest book. When the night’s over, they attempt to escape the mammoth parking lots. They honk.

The respective experiences were reflected in the films.

Like Admiral and Lewis, Fish Tank doesn’t have an inauthentic bone in its body, and, like the neighborhood, it feels a little dangerous. The characters are poor, hardened creatures who survive each day by drinking as much as they can afford. They live in public housing, in a neglected, downtrodden part of England that could well be called “Down and Out, UK”. The setting offers little hope and less beauty, but the passionate, beating heart of an artist is found in Mia, an adolescent with moxie to spare. She’s angry and difficult, but softens at the thought of becoming a dancer, or whenever her mother’s handsome boyfriend appears. Unlike the people around her, she’s not yet resigned to her life’s lot.

It’s a quiet, restrained film that hasn’t received a massive amount of attention, because it wasn’t designed to. Anyone who takes the initiative to stop and appreciate it will be moved, and that’s good enough.

Clash of the Titans just as accurately echoes its surroundings. Everything’s bigger and louder and brighter. There’s so much activity your eyes don’t quite know where to focus–but you’re compelled to absorb as much of the circus as you can. The lights, the color, the spectacle. Those giant screens.

Like that perfectly constructed, reliably consistent neon-green cocktail from Friday’s, the movie is easy to swallow. But the initial headbuzz quickly turns into a headache. There’s so much sugar, and after a few sips you may have to switch to whiskey on the rocks.

Leaving the AMC, I was physically exhausted. After two straight hours of sugar, my ears rang, my head was throbbing and my mood was sour.

I honked my way out of the mammoth parking lot and went home to sleep off the hangover.