I am of the belief there are two types of movie theaters and two types of motion pictures. The first combo serves blockbuster movies and the corporations that churn them out of their billion dollar studios hoping to entertain the masses. And I, as a frequent member of those masses, have been thoroughly entertained from time to time.

The second, and what I believe to be the more holy of the two, are the small, independent theaters showing the smaller, independently-made movies. They’re locally-owned theaters, with less screens than fingers on a hand, showing movies not soon to be found on remote control Saturdays. The soul-imprinting movies don’t come and go with a press junket, they float through your mind ready to appear in backyard conversations and on must-see lists.

Tin Pan Theater
Tin Pan Theater, located in downtown Bend, Ore., brings the second description to life. Located in Tin Pan Alley, between Minnesota and Franklin Avenues, Tin Pan Theater is self-described by owners Micah and Esme as, “boutique arthouse cinema.” Their independent programming is the kind that prompts the audience to clap and thank the owner on the way out the door.

Entering the door off the alley seems more like walking into a speakeasy than a movie theater. While the theater claims to seat 28, a packed house warrants the occasional use of folding chairs, stacked in the back. Pay for your tickets at the stocked bar while succumbing to the permeating smell of popcorn, filled in glamorous, old-school silver buckets. As a midwestern boy born to the suburbs, the refreshing freedom of enjoying a beer while watching a movie seems like the end of prohibition.

While standing in line, it’s hard not to dissect the subtle atmosphere with stares of amazement. The walls are adorned with pencil drawings of animals dressed up for afternoon tea and socializing, while red velvet drapes frame the movie screen.

The vintage, wooden-back chairs are a cross between a middle school auditorium and the coolest church pews ever. I could easily be there watching an old school country singer wrapped around a condenser mic crooning over a lost love or dog.

Micah and Esme manifested their dream of opening Tin Pan Theater in April of 2012 after selling their two local bakeries. Armed with a staff of four, plus a handful of volunteers, Tin Pan Theater also hosts music events, storytelling, and other gatherings.

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Muscle Shoals
Muscle Shoals, directed by Greg “Freddy” Camalier, tells the rich story of Rick Hall famously creating a new image of what a recording studio should look like and what sounds it should produce. Hall, through his FAME studio, created the Muscle Shoals sound and transformed a sleepy southern Alabama town into a rival of Motown, Memphis and Chicago.

Intimate settings and an alcohol license may help create the atmosphere, but the films make up the core of a good theater. As a closet audiophile with a prized vinyl collection, I was anxious for the soundtrack that would accompany the thought-provoking cinema.

The material, deftly laid out through Hall’s storytelling and interviews with those who used Muscle Shoals to launch or jump start their careers, contained all of the makings of a classic tale. A protagonist (Hall) with a troubled past battles authority, and through his own bulldogged audio perfectionism launches superstars and creates a new music genre. The plot is thickened with family feuds, a civil rights movement and a Native American tale of the spirit who gave voice to the Tennessee river.

Like every classic tale of music history, there are conflicts that threaten to derail the project and leave us without some of the best music of all time. However, in Muscle Shoals, the conflicts seem to provide the spark and fire to the sound coming out of the backwoods, segregated town.

Throughout his life, and the movie, Hall creates enemies of Aretha Franklin’s husband and Atlantic Records’ Jerry Wexler, as well as his house band, who left to form the Muscle Shoals Sound studios across town.

But, I was there for the music. I would have been just as happy hanging out in a dive bar, perhaps attached to a bowling alley, listening to these stories being told by a bartender who grew up in Muscle Shoals. I was mesmerized by how a bunch of local musicians, given the name, “The Swampers” by Leon Russell, ironically overcame the color of their skin (white), to back some of the most famous R&B singers of all time.

Hearing about Percy Sledge walking out of the cotton fields to record When a Man Loves a Woman is both musically and historically satisfying. Next, Aretha Franklin credits The Swampers, and their, “greasy” sound, for helping her to ascend to her position as “Queen of Soul” as we listen to her sing I Never Loved A Man (The Way I Love You).

The movie continues with interviews and performances with artists directly from my favorites list. The Rolling Stones, Traffic and The Staples Singers all had hits using the greasy formula. But, its not until the end that Camalier illustrates how Muscle Shoals had a hand in starting another famous musical genre; southern rock. Beginning with Lynyrd Skynyrd, but making its case through Duane Allman, Muscle Shoals has a direct link to the Allman Brothers Band, Black Crowes and every other guitar-heavy band from the southeast.

Listening to Greg Allman tell the story of how his brother, Duane, began playing slide guitar, is matched only by Duane’s solo at the end of Wilson Pickett’s version of, Hey Jude.

The biggest obstacle in Muscle Shoals (the movie) joining iconic music documentaries the Last Waltz, Gimme Shelter and Woodstock is the puzzling use of Bono as a part-interviewee/part-narrator. While a poetic and passionate speaker, he has no connection with Muscle Shoals whatsoever. Maybe to the masses he lends the film some sort of credibility, but those in the know wonder what the hell he’s doing there.

In all, watching Muscle Shoals at Tin Pan Theater gave me exactly what I was looking for; a quality film with a soundtrack made to keep today’s pop music at bay in the intellectual hub of Bend’s local arts scene.