2/20: It’s the Crane House Movie Club!

Acclaimed mystery novelist, suspense genre authority, former newspaperguy (and O.G. original gangsta) WALLACE STROBY is the guest programmer for the first in a new series of Crane House Movie Club events, happening on Sunday, March 11 right here at the Stephen Crane House! (Photo by Patti Sapone)

Over here at the Stephen Crane House — the historic and literarily legendary Asbury Park landmark that also serves as the home office of this bloviatin’ blog — the sluggish segue from mild winter into mucky Wet Side spring is charged with a certain Spring Cleaning energy that can’t wait for that narrow window between Too Cold to Work Around This Un-insulated House and Too Hot to Work Around this Un-insulated House.

We’ve been getting back into gear in recent days, scraping some of the accrued barnacles off this 19th century “cottage” that’s served as everything from a proper Christian lady’s parlour to a post-nuke Asbury flophouse (and almost-scuttled squat) and reorganizing some of those out-of-control rooms back into some semblance of a reclaimed public space — about which more in a moment.

We’ve also got some thoughts and plans regarding the Crane House theater and screening room, the downstairs    in-house venue that’s hosted all manner of quirky stage plays, readings, house-party concerts and a monthly words-and-movie series programmed by Crane House owner Frank D’Alessandro. It’s there that “Mr. D” presented a birthday salute to Charles Dickens this past Sunday (with featured film George Cukor’s sparkling MGM take on David Copperfield) — and it’s there that we’ll be introducing a new film-buff’s series that could ONLY be called The Crane House Movie Club.

Offered up free of charge and open to the public, The Crane House Movie Club is a not-so-secret society dedicated to the viewing, digestion, discussion (and, sometimes dissing) of Film — conceivably any kind of film, from Janus-collection French Nouvelle Vague and wartime Euro-exile Hollywood, to stuff that wouldn’t have been out of place at old-school Asbury grindhouses like the Park and Baronet. It’s a real-world place to gather, enjoy some refreshments and argue balls ‘n strikes with your fellow cinema enthusiasts — as well as meet and participate in a Q&A with a special invited guest programmer, and take in a roomful-of-people screening of a feature presentation that’s been personally selected by our guest.

We’re pleased and proud to announce the early evening of Sunday, March 11 as the first call-to-meetin’ of the Crane House Movie Club — and we’re just as pleased to announce that our guest programmer for that inaugural event will be the award-winning mystery novelist (and eminent authority on all things crimey and suspensey) Wallace Stroby.

Now open to public perusal for the first time in a dog’s age, the upstairs library at the Crane House is a work in progress that boasts one of the area’s most extensive collections of works by and about Stephen Crane — as well as works by his friends and contemporaries and a number of historically fascinating antique volumes.

A resident of Ocean Grove, Stroby used his background as a classic old-school newspaperman (breaking-news reporter for the Asbury Park Press; arts editor at the Star Ledger) — to say nothing of his life experience on the mean streets of O.G. and its “evil twin” A.P. — to craft his debut novel, The Barbed Wire Kiss, a thriller of misplaced loyalties and overdue paybacks that starred a former state trooper, and used the tired, peeling Tillie-face of our local seaside haunts as an effective backdrop. Asbury Park (and that same ex-cop) figured heavily in his followup effort The Heartbreak Lounge — and since taking the plunge into a full-time career as a working fiction master, Stroby’s traveled the country making personal appearances, and picked up massive raves for such recent-vintage hardboilers as Gone Til November (a book that The Huffington Post said “puts author Wallace Stroby in the company of noir masters like Dashiell Hammett and Elmore Leonard”) and Cold Shot to the Heart.  With his latest novel Kings of Midnight (in which a female thief who’s trying to go straight and a “retired” mobster cross paths with five million bucks in “buried” heist money at stake), Stroby has truly arrived: as witness his book’s recent plug in New York Magazine’s The Approval Matrix;  an appearance that positions Kings at pretty close to BRILLIANT (if just this side of LOWBROW).

Stroby, a genuine movie fan with whom we’ve had the pleasure of co-hosting a showing of Stanley Kubrick’s The Killing at The Showroom a few years back, will be introducing a screening of one of his favorite suspensers on March 11 — and while we’re unable to announce the title right at this moment, chances are excellent that it’ll stand as a Stroby-stamped example of effective book-into-film translation (unless of course he opts for a newish find like The Man From Nowhere). We’ll have a pre-film talk with the author, with signing copies of his books available for purchase and complimentary ‘freshments + face time before and after the screening (feel free to contribute to the snackpile).

Again, that’s Sunday, March 11, with the Crane House door creaking open at 4:30pm; pre-show starts at 5, the film screens at 5:30 and it’s open-ended from there. Admission’s free as we mentioned, although it’s not a bad idea to give us a RSVP via the Facebook link at top of the page. Stay tuned for more details on this and future assemblies of The Crane House Movie Club, right here on the upperWETside!

In other Crane House news: the upstairs library “red room” is, as referenced in the photo caption above, once more open to the public after a fairly extensive tearing up/ hosing down/ putting back together again that involved what amounted to an archaeological dig through the boxes, grottoes and crannies of this circa 1878 structure. While it’s still a bit rough around the edges — books are not arranged to any approved librarian standard, and we promise to gradually replace all the Post-Its and Ziploc bags with classier versions of same — the room has an appropriately muted and musty vibe that frames one of the area’s finer collections of novels, stories, poems and nonfiction pieces by Stephen Crane, the American novelist and journalist best known for the Civil War tale The Red Badge of Courage. We’ve got first and early editions of his books, vintage magazines with his stories, a host of bios and critical studies, along with selected volumes by his major influences, friends and contemporaries (including Dickens, Joseph Conrad, H.G. Wells, Oscar Wilde and Henry James) as well as those who were influenced in turn by Crane (Ernest Hemingway, Willa Cather and more). Lots more where that came from, including some other vintage literary volumes and other fascinating printed artifacts of period life (some of them as old as 1818).

It’s on view in what’s officially branded “The Chris Hayes Room” (various rooms in the Crane House are named for members of the Hayes Family who purchased the home at 508 Fourth Avenue and rescued it from wrecking-ball oblivion) — and our plans for the coming months involve a freshening up of many of the other rooms at the Crane, with progress reports right here as things, uh, progress…