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Leopold’s patio series unites its caffè regulars and movie buffs downtown

Regent Street Books Bar Caffè owner (and burgeoning programmer) Sam Brown takes us to the movies.
An image collage that features Leopold's owner Sam Brown seated at a table in front of the business after closing time (top left), a framed Italian art print poster of Werner Herzog's "Fitzcarraldo" by Rotolitoservice (top right). Both photos were taken by Grant Phipps. The bottom wide shot of the audience watching the film "Fitzcarraldo" on July 17 was captured by Sam Brown.
An image collage that features Leopold’s owner Sam Brown seated at a table in front of the business after closing time (top left), a framed Italian art print poster of Werner Herzog’s “Fitzcarraldo” by Rotolitoservice (top right). Both photos were taken by Grant Phipps. The bottom wide shot of the audience watching the film “Fitzcarraldo” on July 17 was captured by Sam Brown.

Regent Street Books Bar Caffè owner (and burgeoning programmer) Sam Brown takes us to the movies.

Cinephile and Leopold’s Books Bar Caffè owner Sam Brown missed out on the haunting Iranian art house mystery Chess Of The Wind (1976) when its restoration publicly premiered at UW Cinematheque last December. Instead of seeking it out later to watch himself, Brown ambitiously considered an opportunity to kick-start a free summer movie series on the patio outside his business at 1301 Regent Street on Sunday nights.

“I just figured, why not reach out to Janus [Films] and see what the cost of showing a movie would be. And [they] made it remarkably simple to show a film, even a film they haven’t released on Blu-ray yet, to the general public. It’s very affordable, and I thought there might be other people who would be interested in seeing it, just like I was,” he says.

Modestly equipped with an HD projector, a portable tripod screen, two powered PA speakers, Blu-ray player, mobile tablet, and a small cart, Brown started booking more films after the success of the inaugural event on July 10. It quickly developed into a series themed on the famously tempestuous but somehow symbiotic relationship between actor Klaus Kinski and New German Cinema director Werner Herzog.

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If it wasn’t already obvious after stepping into Leopold’s luxurious interior, with its framed 39″x55″ Fitzcarraldo Italian poster print hung directly to the right of the bar, Brown expresses a certain reverence for Fitzcarraldo (1982)—what ended up being the next screening on July 17. “Ultimately, I think it’s a film about ‘what are we willing to do for art?’ As much as it is a motion picture, really, it’s a documentary of what Herzog is willing to do—the lengths he’s willing to go to create this vision. There’s something really awe-inspiring in that.” It’s a vision that, in some minute sense, Brown has applied to Leopold’s as a distinctive spot in Downtown Madison, having recently opened its doors on July 6, 2021, in the old Greenbush Bakery location.

Brown is continuing this Herzog-Kinski retrospective of sorts into early October with Woyzeck (1979), on September 18, and the appropriately gothic horror of Nosferatu, The Vampyre (1979), on October 2. Due to unpredictable shifts in Wisconsin weather and night temperatures in early autumn potentially dipping close to freezing, Brown figures the latter will have to be moved inside to the space shared with Rocky Rococo next door. That’s to the left of their main entrance that’s undergoing a remodel until the end of August. “Although, I prefer to keep it outside,” Brown adds, in keeping with the tradition he’s established.

Apart from these Herzog-Kinski features, Brown has also been hosting fundraising events that include monthly Ukrainian dinners that benefit the international nonprofit World Central Kitchen. The next one, on Monday, August 22, at 5 p.m., is coupled with a patio screening of the documentary Mariupolis (2016) by director Mantas Kvedaravičius. The Lithuanian-born Kvedaravičius was killed this past April during the Russian siege of Mariupol shortly before the Cannes premiere of companion film Mariupolis 2. Brown cites the efforts of producer Anna Palenchuk, founder of the Kyiv-based 435 Films, for helping make the 8 p.m. screening possible.

Similar to the Madison Sourdough pâtisserie events that Tone Madison contributor Jason Fuhrman programmed and hosted back in 2015 (discussed on our recent podcast), Brown has favored films with subtitles for accessibility reasons. Noise on Regent Street can be an even greater factor than on Williamson Street. However, Brown has taken a more casual approach than the Madison Sourdough series, opting to present things without any intermissions, even for these lengthier features. But Brown is “in the hunt for shorts,” so they could more easily schedule breaks in the programs. He then jests, “I think I’d make more money if I forced there to be an intermission for people to get drinks.”

Sticking with his admiration for Ukrainian art, Brown teases other future prospects; he is in talks with a yet-to-be-named distributor to book a series of Ukrainian documentaries. Altogether, Brown’s programming ambitions for Leopold’s Books Bar Caffè could evolve into something noticeably complementary to Madison Museum Of Contemporary Art’s decade-plus history with Rooftop Cinema at 227 State Street.

“There are so few places [showing art house films] downtown,” Brown laments. “[Our options] to see those films have been tremendously diminished. So I’m just trying to do my part, imperfect as it may be, to create a little bit of a venue for them.”

On what else to look out for in the coming years, Brown imagines hosting something related to Italian filmmaker Federico Fellini; he cites the director’s whimsical coming-of-age memoir Amarcord (1973) as the “greatest film ever created.” With the film’s 50th anniversary looming, a framed poster of the film centered in Leopold’s private book nook behind the bar downstairs, and Brown confessing to routinely selecting pieces of Nino Rota’s wonderfully wistful score for the venue’s nightly playlists, perhaps that will come sooner rather than later.

Brown has been amazed by the turnout during the patio series’ opening season, which started as an experiment without a “grand theory,” as he puts it. Beyond that, he’s simply been moved by the experiences, “especially when you can show movies you love and see other people connect with [them],” Brown says.

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