Cape Cod Culture

A few posts back I composed a maritime reading list and included a book by a relatively unknown author/adventurer/illustrator, Rockwell Kent, who wrote two great books about adventure cruising in the antipodes — N by E which recounted his cruises around the shores of Greenland and eventual shipwreck there and Voyaging Southwards from the Strait of Magellan. Both are fairly hard to find outside of a library, but are great not only for their writing but Kent’s distinctive illustrations, the art he is best known for, a strong muscular style embodied in his famous illustrations for the 1930 Lakeside Press edition of Moby Dick, the first edition of the American classic since its rediscovery in the 1920s by the critic Carl Van Doren.

This past weekend, the second in December, I was handed a pair of tickets to Verdi’s interminable opera, Don Carlo, and its big screen telecast at the Cape Cod Cinema in Dennis. I went with my wife, not so much for the opera which was fine and amazingly performed, but the cinema itself, an amazing specimen  built in the 1930s at the apogee of the Cape’s bohemian art movement by Raymond Moore.

Designed to resemble a dairy barn, with a Greek classical facade that mimics a Congregational church in nearby Centerville, the cinema is famous for its mural, designed by Kent, which was hailed as one of the largest in the world, bigger than Tintoreto’s Paradise in the Doge’s Palace in Venice. It is one of three Kent murals that remain, but curiously was not painted by the artist who refused to enter the Commonwealth of Massachusetts because of the state’s role in the infamous Sacco and Vanzetti case, a cause celebre that rallied the liberal movement of the time.

The Berkshire Review of the Arts has a great gallery of photographs of the mural, but nothing comes close to capturing the amazing dichotomy between the austere white clapboard exterior of the building and the amazing art deco experience within the theater itself. The seating is comprised on hundreds of fine wooden armchairs designed by Paul Frankl, each with a white seat cover, and the sound system (from the front row where my wife and I were stuck thanks to a late arrival) more than sufficient.

Kent may not have painted the mural directly, but he did show up for the unveiling at the grand opening of the Cinema, breaking his self-imposed exile from Massachusetts. He passed away in 1971.

The opera? I snuck out during the first intermission. I swear my wife and I were the youngest people in the place by at least 30 years and the know-it-all sitting behind us made the experience excruciating. Great way to spend a winter’s late afternoon on the normally barren Cape.

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