The Bing Arts Center building, down on Sumner Avenue in Springfield’s Forest Park neighborhood, has had its share of ups and downs over the years. It started life as Kossaboom’s Service Station a century ago, and filled tanks for a few decades before a reconfiguration removed the pumps and added an auditorium. The new Bing — named for crooner and movie Bing Crosby — opened in 1950 with an August screening of the sword-and-sandal epic Samson and Delilah.
For a time, all went swimmingly at the Bing. Generations of locals went to the movies there, and in a pre-streaming era, the theater was a community hub where everyone could catch the big show. But by the mid 1990s the Bing was in decline, and it was taken by the city for non-payment of taxes in 1999 (it’s last film: Gus Van Sant’s remake of Psycho). When a group of business people and arts advocates (including Brian Hale, now president of the Bing’s board of directors, who went to Saturday movies at the theater as a kid) proposed turning it into a multipurpose arts center, the first stirrings of the Bing’s third act were put into motion.
There’s still a ways to go, but the Bing, with old storefronts converted to gallery space and a redone marquee, opened to the public again in 2010, and continues to offer an eclectic mix of musical performance and visual arts. This week, it offers locals a chance to once again head to Forest Park to catch a movie.
Neither Wolf Nor Dog is director Steven Lewis Simpson’s 2016 adaptation of the novel by Kent Nerburn, which won the Minnesota Book award in 1996. The story of a white author who is taken deep into the world of a Lakota elder, it bridges the divides between the Native and non-native American worlds with a touch that has proved to have an empathy lacking in so many films that tackle similar themes.
Lakota elder Dave Bald Eagle stars as Dan, an elderly Native man who calls on Nerburn (Christopher Sweeney) to write a book based on a shoe-box full of old notes. While Nerburn is struck by the profundity of the experience contained in the notes, what he produces in response is lacking: “tom-tom bullshit,” is the cut-to-the-chase review of Dan’s friend Grover (Richard Ray Whitman). Instead, Grover suggests something that makes the writer go clammy: burn the notes. “Now you’re the box,” Grover tells Nerburn. “Now we’re going to fill you up.”
And so — after a last attempt by Nerburn to call it quits — they do, embarking on a journey across Lakota nation and the Badlands that shows Nerburn first-hand what the notes could only ever tell. If it sounds like a familiar story — and certainly there are shades of Green Book in its cross-cultural road trip — its third act, like the Bing’s own, may surprise you yet.
Neither Wolf Nor Dog, June 8, 8 p.m., The Bing Arts Center, 716 Sumner Ave., Springfield
Also this week: gardeners might be busy this time of year, but even those deep in the mulch should take time out to catch Five Seasons: The Gardens of Piet Oudolf, screening at Amherst Cinema this Tuesday. Directed by Thomas Piper (Sol LeWitt: Wall Drawings), the film plunges viewers into the world and work of Oudolf, whose work on the High Line in New York was included in Piper’s film about that elevated park/greenway. A radical garden designer, Oudolf’s work focuses on a year-round garden, using the natural life cycle and physical structures of his plant choices to ensure a visually striking landscape across all seasons. Piper follows the designer as he installs a new garden at an arts center in England, and visits Oudolf’s own gardens in the Netherlands throughout the year to discuss the changing landscape.
Five Seasons: The Gardens of Piet Oudolf, June 11, 7 p.m., Amherst Cinema, 28 Amity St., Amherst
Jack Brown can be reached at email@example.com.