How Dennis Nyback Became One of the World’s Most Prolific Film Programmers


On October 2, esteemed film archivist Dennis Nyback died quietly of cancer at the age of 69. He was a true renaissance man and storyteller who lived a life as iconoclastic as the films he saved – a collection of feature films, cartoons and short subjects, numbering in the thousands, which became known in the whole world.

Nyback (whose legacy will be celebrated at the Nov. 15 event at the Clinton Street Theater Dada Dada Dada: A Tribute to Dennis Nyback) began collecting films in 1979 while working at the Rosebud Movie Palace in Seattle, that he would eventually own. The small theater specialized in films from the 1930s and 1940s, but Nyback went further: it showed films in their original context, including news, cartoons, short subjects and even travel stories that preceded the presentation of the feature film.

When the theater closed in 1981, Nyback took his show on the road, working around Seattle as a projectionist and slowly accumulating prints of old movies and cartoons from as far away as Paris. After eight years, he was hired to help run a monthly movie series at the Jewel Box Theater.

Three years later, Nyback and Elizabeth Rozier opened the Pike Street Cinema, where some of its most popular shows featured cartoons banned from television and video series for their racist, sexist or violent content, angering Turner Entertainment and of the Walt Disney Company (and leading to a bomb threat). Yet news of Nyback’s eclectic film collection spread, becoming the catalyst for screening programs, like his famous “Bad Bugs Bunny”, in cinemas as far afield as Europe.

Nyback would eventually find himself on New York’s Lower East Side, where he opened the Lighthouse Cinema in 1996. He eventually accepted a buyout offer from owner Mike Glass, who would later be charged with attempted murder and arson criminal against tenants who had refused his redemption. offers.

In 1999, Nyback moved to Portland, where he again teamed up with Rozier (to whom he had previously been married) to take over the Clinton Street Theater for $2,000. There was a good reason theater was so cheap.

“It was in such poor condition that the McMenamin brothers refused to buy it,” explains Steve Tenhonen, the current co-director of the theatre. “The plumbing was knocked out. The seats were older than God, with springs that often kicked viewers in the ass.

Tenhonen and Nyback led a massive revamp, while Nyback elevated the lineup with as many new and independent features as possible – and brought his own unique hardware to fill in the blanks (he also founded the Oregon Cartoon Institute with his late wife, Anne Richardson, in 2007).

“As one of the new owners who just resumed operations in April,” says co-owner Aaron Colter, “I marvel at Dennis’ uniqueness in his programming at the Clinton Street Theater and in places like Seattle and New York. I hope Portland still has some of that quirkiness and audiences want to experience special events. I hope we can rekindle some of that energy and pay tribute to someone who left a mark on the community forever.

This energy will continue in Dada Dada Dada: A Tribute to Dennis Nyback, where the public will be invited to play their own acoustic musical instruments. Confused? Allow radio host SW Conser, who often worked with Nyback on Oregon Cartoon Institute events, to explain.

“Dennis enjoyed creating Clinton Street screening events that were more than just screenings,” says Conser. “One of his favorite events, which he scheduled somewhat haphazardly, was Dada Dada Dada, where he unearthed some of the most surreal silent films in his collection, then invited the public to bring instruments to the theater and offer a live the soundtrack of the films.

Conser adds, “At first the effect would be cacophonous, but over the course of the show a strange collective harmony would often emerge from the chaos. We hope to bring back some of that spirit on the 15th.”

SEE : Dada Dada Dada: A Tribute to Dennis Nyback plays at the Clinton Street Theater, 2522 SE Clinton St., 971-808-3331, Tuesday, November 15. $8.


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