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At last, the curtain opens


Heritage Shadows of the Silver Screen, Baltimore's long-awaited showcase for African-American cinema, is finally ready to open its doors.

Housed in the former O'Dell's night club at 21 E. North Avenue, the combination cinema-restaurant-lounge opens tonight with three invitation-only screenings of director Anthony Harvey's controversial 1967 film, "Dutchman," starring Shirley Knight and Al Freeman Jr. as two people who meet on a New York subway. The full schedule begins Saturday, with "Dutchman" showings through July at 6, 8 and 10 p.m. Fridays; 2, 4, 6, 8 and 10 p.m. Saturdays. The cinema will be open weekends only through the summer.

Yesterday, Michael Johnson - who's gone though three locations and nearly $100,000 in his efforts to open a cinema for African-American films - gave the media a sneak peak. Although considerable work remains to be done on the building, particularly on the floors and ceilings, he pledged that enough would be finished by tonight's opening to show his guests a good time, and give them a taste of even better things to come.

"We'll be ready," he promised, standing near some loose floorboards that still needed to be secured in the building's second-floor cinema. Tonight's opening, he noted, is booked. "There's no room at the inn. If Jesus shows up, we'll make room for him and his family, but no one else."

Visitors to Heritage will find the first floor devoted to the Clarence Muse Room, named for a Baltimore actor who appeared in more than 250 films during his career (late in life, he played the shoeshine man in 1976's "Car Wash"). There, dinner will be served by various Baltimore restaurants that will take turns providing the food; this weekend's menu, Johnson says, features a Caribbean buffet from Tasty Foods, out of Park Heights.

Also on the first floor is the Cab Calloway stage, where singers and musicians will perform between shows. Tara Richmond will be doing the vocalizing this month.

Throughout, the walls of Heritage are festooned with movie posters, featuring everything from 1929's "Hallelujah!" the first talking film from a major studio featuring an all-black cast, to "The Corner," the HBO mini-series filmed in Baltimore that aired earlier this year.

Upstairs is the 117-seat Howard Rollins Jr. Cinema, which includes displays of memorabilia associated with the late Baltimore actor, who was Oscar-nominated for "Ragtime" and also starred in "A Soldier's Story" and the TV series "In the Heat of the Night."

After "Dutchman" finishes its month-long run, a raft of '70s films have been scheduled for August, including "Shaft," "Superfly" and "Cotton Comes to Harlem."

For now, admittance to Heritage Shadows of the Silver Screen will be by reservation only; telephone 410-539-0085. While the bugs are being worked out and work on the building is being completed, Johnson says, admission to the cinema will be free, with the only charge being for food.

Film to skip the big screen

Director Rodrigo Garcia's "Things You Can Tell Just by Looking at Her," which premiered here earlier this year and was partly financed by a grant from The Maryland Producer's Club, will not be released into theaters, but instead has been sold to Showtime for a cable TV release.

Garcia, who called from Mexico, where he's working on another film, said he plans to fight MGM's decision not to release the film in theaters. The studio's decision is hard to figure. The film, Garcia's first as director, features a great cast, including Glenn Close, Holly Hunter, Calista Flockhart, Cameron Diaz and Amy Brenneman. It also earned rave reviews at the Cannes Film Festival.

Garcia says he fears the perception that any film sold directly to cable, particularly one with such a strong cast, must be a failure. "Things You Can Tell Just By Looking at Her" certainly is not that. And in a summer season where films that demand some thought are in short supply, its presence onscreen would be welcome indeed.

Bring chairs for this view

Tonight's feature at the Little Italy Open-Air Film Festival will be the Merchant-Ivory film, "A Room With a View," starring Helena Bonham Carter, Maggie Smith and Daniel Day Lewis. Based on the novel by E.M. Forster, the film tells of a young British woman's coming-of-age experiences during a trip to Florence.

The film, projected on the outside wall of a restaurant at the corner of High and Stiles streets, will begin at 9 p.m. Folding chairs will be provided, but you may want to bring your own - 3,500 people showed up last week for "Moonstruck," and who wants to go searching for a chair in a crowd that size?

Laugh at 'Green for Danger'

"Laughter Is the Best Medicine," the summer film series of the Johns Hopkins Medical Institution's Office of Cultural Affairs, continues Wednesday with "Green for Danger," a 1946 British whodunit starring Alastair Sim, Sally Gray and Trevor Howard. Hopkins faculty member Peter Dans, author of "Doctors In the Movies: Boil the Water and Just Say Aah," will serve as host. The film begins at 7 p.m. in the auditorium of the Preclinical Teaching Building, at E. Monument and N. Wolf streets. Admission is free.

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