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Cult movie house reborn

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The resurrection of Santa Fe’s cult movie house begins this summer.

Santa Fe resident and author George R.R. Martin, whose series “The Song of Ice and Fire” inspired HBO’s hit “Game of Thrones” show, recently purchased the Jean Cocteau Cinema building and plans to return it to its glory days of the 1970s, Martin said Tuesday.

In a good sign for movie lovers, Jon Bowman, who was director of the Santa Fe Film Festival for a decade, is the cinema manager.

The property at 418 Montezuma Ave. had been on the market for $1.9 million by the Trans-Lux Montezuma Corp, the movie theater’s last operator. Martin would not say what he paid for the landmark or give an estimated cost for its renovation.

The single screen theater known for its independent and art-house films shuttered in 2006.

Martin plans to renovate the building that dates to 1910-1912, updating its 1950s 35 mm projector and re-designing its lobby, its offices and basement to contemporary standards.

“The theater is in very good shape for something that has been dark for seven years,” Martin said, adding there was no firm date for a grand opening.

“I’ve always loved movies and I’ve always loved old theaters,” he added, standing at a podium before the screen of the violet-painted, 123-seat theater with green speakers.

The new owner and his manager are still exploring what to show, serve and do to lure Santa Fe movie fans to the space. The pair have discussed adding singer/songwriters, comics, readings and panel discussions to the programming. The space will also be available to the Santa Fe Film Festival, Bowman said.

Martin wants to develop a themed film program, including series such as musicals. He also wants to revive the midnight movie with films like “Rocky Horror Picture Show.”

“We’ll try a lot of stuff and see what brings people out,” he said.

Martin acknowledged his shock when he learned of Austin-based Violet Crown Cinema’s plans to put 11 screens into the Railyard, which the Jean Cocteau abuts.

Violet Crown’s Austin theater is known for showing art-house movies. Its Santa Fe operation is expected to include a mix of mainstream, independent and Spanish-language films and will include a restaurant.

“I’ve been in Santa Fe a long time,” Martin said. “I’ve seen this happen about four times before,” he added, referring to past attempts to attract a theater to the space near Flying Star.

“Theaters are in competition and there are a lot of movies out there,” he continued. “I think there is room for both of (us). Obviously, we’re not going to be serving eggrolls or sushi.”

Resident since 1979

Martin moved to Santa Fe in 1979 and remembers visiting the city’s various art-house screens, citing the old El Paseo, the Lensic and City Lights, as well as the Cocteau.

“They each had their distinct style,” he said. “Almost all of these are gone now.”

The Cocteau was a “small cult theater run by people who really loved film,” he continued. “They had the best popcorn in the city. This is the theater where I became addicted to putting Parmesan on my popcorn.”

In addition to the theater space, the Jean Cocteau building has retail space and now has one renter –– the Wild Hare Salon. Martin says he’s already fielded interest in the remaining three spots from retailers.

A film for the grand opening has yet to be chosen.

Martin’s wife Parris suggested the author’s favorite film –– “Forbidden Planet,” a science fiction take on William Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” from 1956, or Jean Cocteau’s classic version of “Beauty and the Beast,” from 1946.

The latter would come with its own sense of symmetry.

In the late 1980s, Martin was a screenwriter for the CBS version of “Beauty and the Beast,” starring Ron Perlman and Linda Hamilton.

“It was really inspired by Jean Cocteau’s ‘Beauty and the Beast,’ ” he said. “There’s an irony to the way they fit together and come around.”

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