May 31, 2016

Cue Film

A Texas theater with an infamous past is resurrected.

By Christopher Mosley

It was November 22, 1963. Inside a darkened theater, less than five miles from where he had just allegedly assassinated President John F. Kennedy, Lee Harvey Oswald spent his final moments as a free man watching “War Is Hell” inside the Texas Theatre. It was in that very seat that Oswald was apprehended, following a struggle with more than 15 police officers.

Oak Cliff’s Texas Theatre has a history so unique and rich that the venue’s own storied past has threatened its very existence. In 85 years it rose to prominence, shut down, and reopened. It has survived an enormous fire and is on par with another notorious theater: Ford’s Theatre, the site of President Lincoln’s assassination.

Such profound and monumental historical elements made the Texas Theatre a hard sell following those fateful events. The selection of films became unappealing to audiences, and for much of the 1990s and early 2000s the building sat as a shuttered and nearly forgotten landmark. Not even a revived sign—paid for by filmmaker Oliver Stone and Eagles front man Don Henley for the screening of “JFK”— was enough to save it. That is, until the Oak Cliff Foundation stepped in, along with a motley crew of film enthusiasts.

Grammy-award winning record producer Stuart Sikes (Loretta Lynn, Cat Power) originally led the charge with the Oak Cliff Foundation and helped to stir interest in the ailing venue. But it was Jason Reimer—along with producers Barak Epstein, Adam Donaghey, and Eric Steele—who tapped into an underserved audience.

After a few select screenings of classic films, the Texas Theatre hit its unlikely stride with a particularly challenging Harmony Korine film called “Trash Humpers.” The movie was screened in 2010, and a large audience enthusiastically attended.

A self-described “movie dork,” Reimer gained experience booking events in Denton’s small but highly active music community. He gets nostalgic remembering the breakthrough screening.

“‘Trash Humpers’ got me press for the theater for the first time,” Reimer says. “It happened incredibly quick from that point forward.”

The theater has come a long way since that crucial “Trash Humpers” screening, now sporting a full- service bar to entertain mainstream and obscure audiences alike. Specialty events, like a screening of “Purple Rain” paired with Raspberry Beret cocktails and a dance party, almost guarantee a sold out space.

Of course, the usual JFK conspiracy theorists still loiter somewhat expectedly around town, but it’s the large crowds that regularly make their way to the Texas Theatre on weekends to drink, attend music events, and enjoy off the radar movies that are breathing a new life into the octogenarian theater.

After spending an evening lounging in one of the Texas Theatre’s red velvet chairs, sipping on a cocktail, you might forget the notorious role the space holds in a dark part of Dallas’ history. And that’s okay.

THE DETAILS: The Texas Theatre, 231 West Jefferson Avenue.