Cape Cinema Director
I’m something like a 15th-generation Cape Codder. I’m a direct descendent of Elder William Brewster, who came over on the Mayflower. My mother’s maiden name is Ellis—like Ellis Landing and Thad Ellis Road in Brewster. My great grandfather built the first cottage colony in Brewster. I went to college in New Hampshire. There wasn’t much to do there in the wintertime. But the school’s librarian and her husband ran a foreign film series. I went to see (Ingmar) Bergman and (Federico) Fellini and (Jean-Luc) Godard films, and that introduced me to unusual independent films back in the late 1960s and early 70s. The audiences for that genre were college kids. That was the cool thing to do, to go watch a Fellini film or something.
I later moved to Virginia and lived down there for something like 29 years. They had a single-screen cinema, and I was responsible for changing it into an art house. During that time, I was summering back on Cape Cod, and I found out was that there was a theatre playing art films on the Cape—the Cape Cinema.
In 1927, Raymond Moore, an artist, who had run and managed theatres in Provincetown, met this woman who was quite wealthy and he convinced her to build a theatre on Cape Cod. They chose Dennis because it was right in the center of the Cape. They found a piece of property, basically a piece of farmland, and they moved a building from another part of Dennis to this property. That’s how the Cape Playhouse started in 1927. Three years later, they decided they wanted movies to complement the playhouse. This guy had big plans—Raymond Moore always thought big. Moore hired Rockwell Kent to paint a mural on the ceiling of the Cape Cinema. He had just illustrated a big-selling edition of Moby Dick, and he was a very popular artist.
Kent was a leftist and he didn’t like the idea of coming to Massachusetts because of the Sacco and Vanzetti trial back in 1927. The rumor always was that he never came to the Cape when the mural was installed, but that’s not true. A woman who lives near here found a number of photographs of the cinema, and she found a photo of Kent signing the mural. I’ve talked to someone who remembers Kent climbing the scaffolding to touch up the painting just before the opening. And recently, we discovered a mural that Jo Mielziner, a very famous American set designer, had painted in the lobby, and Rockwell Kent came here and he went off. He went crazy. He wasn’t going to allow another person to put a mural at the Cape Cinema, so he painted over it. We re-painted the lobby and there was some indication that a mural was painted there.
This mural is very mystical—Kent is considered a realist and this is a departure. When I saw it, I thought, this isn’t a scene from Cape Cod. It’s mystical in nature, and it really fits in with the programming.