Update June 11th, 2015: Last week, Stephanie Ogle announced she would be closing her beloved store, Cinema Books, later this summer. We’ve long been fans and patrons of the store (it was, in fact, the very first place I went the day I moved to Seattle almost 17 years ago), and Stephanie has always been helpful to us in our various projects, either in finding books on Hou Hsiao-hsien, photos of Hollywood starlets or in providing prizes for our old Metro Classics trivia contests (she mentioned that one of those old gift certificates was used this week, in fact). We’ll be sad to see the store go, the latest in a string of closings and transformations that has turned the Seattle movie scene I knew into something else entirely. Shortly after we launched the site here, Mike interviewed Stephanie, and we’re rerunning that below in place of our Featured Film this week.
Seattle is a unique and vibrant film town. We have the best video store in the world in Scarecrow, which carries over 120,000 titles. Our film festival began in 1976 and is now the largest in the country, playing more films per year than any other. A year after SIFF premiered, our local film noir series debuted and it is just as popular now as it was four decades ago. Also in 1977, a specialty bookstore opened on Capitol Hill that was dedicated solely to film.
Now located in the University District, Cinema Books is owned and operated by the invaluable Stephanie Ogle. Stephanie is the key to the glorious, overflowing stacks of her store. Classic stills of John Wayne in Red River are buried in a backroom and only Stephanie knows where. Little Totoros pop up here and there. There are posters, postcards and imported magazines but most of all, there are books. Cinema Books carries every conceivable type of writing on film. There are screenplays, coffee table books on Disney animation, and in-depth interviews with directors.
Stephanie graciously agreed to sit down with Seattle Screen Scene to talk about her shop’s history, the diversity of film obsessions, and of course, submarines.
Seattle Screen Scene: Are there any go-to books for budding cinephiles that you recommend?
Stephanie: I’d have to start classifying people. Are they going to be film writers, film critics, or filmmakers? Because there’s a whole different way of approaching movies if you have a different way of approaching it yourself. What do you want to do with your life with movies? And I know plenty of people who do everything with it, but I really do want to know more about the person before I start slapping books in their hand. I honestly do. We all go to movies with our own backgrounds and our own wishes and desires and prejudices. And I think that is important. Whether we go to it through a movie star, through a director, through genres. If you’re a film noir or a western person. If you go through it through the history of film or the technical aspects. If you’re crazy about technique or crazy about lighting, that’s a whole different way of approaching movies.
So, I don’t have a real surefire. I can show you good reference books. I can show you good histories. I can show you great books about great directors. But it’s you. If you want to pick up a book on a subject, it’s you. I can’t force you to.
SSS: I love that answer because that’s how a library approaches it. Someone will come up with a very broad question and the goal is to really whittle it down to exactly what they’re looking for.
Is there a perennial seller? Is there something that you keep in stock because there’s always a need for it?
Stephanie: I think that the Who’s Whos are always really good. The Katz Film Encyclopedia is justified because the nice thing about Katz is that he tries to be exhaustive. And so many times you’re looking for the obscure thing. When you look up Clark Gable, you’re not looking for Gone With the Wind. It’s the weird stuff that’s he done that you look for.
The opposite are the David Thomson books, the Biographical Dictionary which is argumentative. He hates Woody Allen. He tells you why he hates Woody Allen. And the first two editions, he wouldn’t even have Woody Allen in the book! His publisher forced him to put Woody Allen in the book. That’s a different kind of reference book. That’s one if you want to make an argument with somebody. It’s different approaches.
SSS: That’s what I like about really good film criticism. I love reading people that I disagree with. It seems like nowadays there seems to be a homogenization of thought and if you don’t agree with something you are just being contrarian. I love reading people that love movies that I hate, just to see where they’re coming from.
Stephanie: That’s right. And that’s where we can really open a door for you because when some people come in and talk to me about how inspired they were about the last Godzilla and I’m going “What?”, because that really got torn apart. But there was something in there and that can wake you up. That can give you a really different point of view.
SSS: Usually those opinions, the diamond in the rough ones, those are the ones that last. After all the buzz falls away.
Stephanie: Once all the conventional wisdom is gone then you can go back and think, “Oh, okay”.
SSS: You still make an effort to go out to movies.
Stephanie: Oh yeah, all the time. I just went to see Black Sea because I like gritty submarine movies. And that was a good gritty submarine movie. They got it. And also — I always read the credits — they really filmed it in the Ukraine when Crimea was still part of the Ukraine. And when are we going to see Crimea as part of the Ukraine anymore? That’s over!
SSS: You get the historical…
Stephanie: Yes, you get some sort of background of this slip in time. And it’s gone now.
SSS: Do you have a favorite theatre in the area?
Stephanie: I go where the movie is. I love movie theatres but honestly, it’s the movie that draws me.
SSS: I miss the Harvard Exit now that it’s gone. You were originally located next to the Exit, right?
Stephanie: We were right across the street from ’77 to ’84. In those days when I was across the street they used to be the rep house. So they would pretty regularly leave their cans of film at my place. Sometimes I’d get these 70mm cans of film when they were showing the real widescreen movies left in my shop by UPS. Then they’d come over in the afternoon when they were ready to open up. It was so old-fashioned movie stuff.
SSS: Landmarks are dropping like flies around here…
Stephanie: Oh! It’s scary!
SSS: …and you’re beneath a Landmark!
Stephanie: Back in 2006, Landmark sold the building. The new owners came in, two young venture speculators came in and did an inspection, which meant these people were going to leave this building. And in 2007, when the economic crisis came along and money for loans started collapsing, it was over. It never went through. This could happen.
SSS: Do you follow the Oscar race?
Stephanie: Not as much as I used to. Maybe it’s because I’m old and jaded. I think of it as an advertising campaign. It’s nice to find out about them, it’s nice to watch, but I’m not as invested as I once was.
SSS: Every year I get excited about the Oscars and I sit down for the ceremony with my head in my hands cursing every decision they make. And then I come back every year. What’s my problem?
Stephanie: You love to suffer.
SSS: Do you consider yourself an expert on anybody, a star or director?
Stephanie: Oh gosh, no. When I think of my customers, who live, breathe, and eat a particular genre or particular director, it’s incredible. I mean, those people go down and have every frame memorized. And when they’re telling me about a particular frame, and I’ve seen those films ten times, I go, “That was in that?” It’s amazing the intelligence you run into.
SSS: That’s because they can do the deep dives. You have to be like the library.
Stephanie: I have to be more of a generalist. The wonderful thing about it is it’s not academic. It’s self-taught and I love that about people. It’s their own drive, it’s their own kickstarter that they’ve got and done it themselves.
SSS: You know my colleague, Sean.
SSS: If Sean wrote a book about Johnnie To, would you stock it?
Stephanie: Of course. Tell him, “Go ahead!” I’d have him come in and autograph it. There’s not enough on Johnnie To.
(Cinema Books is located at 4753 Roosevelt Way NE. They are open from 10am – 7pm Monday through Saturday. www.cinemabooks.com)