Barron Sherer sounds about as atypically Miami as you can get. Deliberate instead of manic. Laconic instead of motor-mouthed. Considerate instead of rude. So it comes as no great cosmic slap upside the head to learn that he runs the city's only true repertory film series, an endeavor that, in atypically Miami style, thoughtfully honors the past instead of blindly worshipping the present.
Each Saturday and Sunday at noon at the Alliance Cinema on South Beach, his Cinema Vortex screens cherished and overlooked pictures from the past. This weekend the series celebrates its sixth anniversary with multiple showings of Point Blank (1967), director John Boorman's mind-blowing tale of betrayal, revenge, and gut-wrenching violence set in an otherworldly L.A. urbanscape.
"Lately I've wanted to do films that initially may not have gotten the critical reaction they deserved," Sherer explains, lumping Point Blank into that category. "I think at first there was a mixed reaction to it, but now most people think it's pretty amazing." Ditto Michael Powell and Emerick Pressburger's Black Narcissus -- coming soon to Cinema Vortex -- which caused a major stir upon its release in 1946. Unlike New York City, L.A., Chicago, or San Francisco, Miami does not boast a thriving rep-house scene. "It's difficult here," Sherer sighs. "We're in a weirdo time slot so we won't interfere with the Alliance's regular programming. But I'm fortunate in that some of the same people who came to Vortex a few years ago are still showing up."
Sherer estimates that each show averages fifteen to twenty people -- small even in the tiny 80-seat Alliance. "A healthy audience," he notes, "would be for each week's screenings to pay for the cost of the film's rental: That's 40 or 50 people. I don't work with a big budget. It's tough to pay $200 or $300 for a print to show twice a weekend, and we get maybe 20 or 30 people [at four bucks per head]. You do the math." (Sherer draws no salary.)
Not that he's complaining. Crowds or no crowds, Sherer loves working with classic films. Now 31 years old, he grew up in Charleston, studied film at the University of South Carolina, and then "got into [film] restoration right afterward," moving to Miami in late 1991 to take a job as a preservationist at the Louis Wolfson II Media History Center, a local film archive.Cinema Vortex, run by a couple of his buddies, began in 1993, with screenings in a space above a now-closed Lincoln Road gourmet grocery. He took over the series for two years starting in late 1994, moving Vortex first to the now-vanished hole-in-the-wall B.A.R. Space on Lenox Avenue, and then to the Alliance. "That was kind of the golden age of Vortex," Sherer recalls, "when we had 35, 40, 45 people. We did a neat film noir series in '94 and '95: Force of Evil, Detour, T-Men." Not forgetting remarkable foreign fare: pictures by Fellini, De Sica, Cocteau, Rossellini, and Oshima.
But when his wife entered a doctoral program at the University of California at the end of 1996, Sherer pulled up stakes and moved to the Bay Area. Rep-house nirvana: "We were seeing maybe five double features a week." A miniepiphany ensued. "I had a revelation of what could be done for this type of programming." So he returned to Miami this past October, resumed his job at the Wolfson Center, and jump-started Vortex, which was happening sporadically less than a year after he left town. "I want people to be excited about classic cinema and offbeat Hollywood stuff," he says. "For example we did Bresson's Pickpocket . The whole opening to that film is an homage to the opening of Pickup on South Street [the Sam Fuller suspense classic from six years earlier]. And I'll continue to make films available to people who can't find them somewhere else."