In high school, and later in the summers between college semesters, my friends and I would get together to watch straight-to-video releases, marveling at how hilariously bad some of them could be.
We’d scour the shelves of our local Blockbuster seeking low-budget creature movies or action flicks with stars who had fallen a couple rungs down the Hollywood ladder (Tom Sizemore and Dennis Hopper being a few examples). The worse the acting and special effects, and the bigger the plot holes, the better.
Our quest for bad cinema perfection eventually led us to “Get Even,” an action movie written and directed by its leading man, Los Angeles attorney John De Hart. I’m not even sure I could summarize the plot for you in a concise way; just know it involves a cop avenging the death of his wife, a Satanic cult and a surprise twist ending that makes zero sense. De Hart apparently saw this feature as a chance to showcase all of his talents, adding in segments with him singing country western karaoke, doing karate and reciting Shakespeare–scenes that do nothing to advance the plot.
It is a masterwork of the bad movie genre. Even though my friend only located “Get Even” through an internet wormhole, which is to say there was information out there about it publicly, the discovery still felt like a personal revelation to us, one that couldn’t be easily explained to or appreciated by others.
That is, until I learned many years later that it would be playing at The Windup Space as part of the regular B-movie showcase Mondo Baltimore. My friend and I, who hadn’t been as good about keeping in touch in recent years, got together to watch it in the Windup’s “Twin Peaks”-themed main room, laughing at poorly delivered lines and De Hart’s attempts at on-screen machismo in a room full of people who were otherwise strangers.
This only could have happened–in Baltimore, at least–at The Windup Space, because it’s one of the only places in the city to host an event like Mondo Baltimore. And it’s one of the only spaces that could then be a venue for a jazz show, and then a night dedicated to board games, and then a fundraiser for the Baltimore Rock Opera Society, and then an art opening.
A few stray memories of events at The Windup Space that come to mind, aside from “Get Even”: seeing the final show of local punk band ADVLTS, producer Chris Freeland DJing as the video from Super Bowl XXXV was projected on a video screen, playing ping pong during happy hour, taking visitors from out of town there to see burlesque, the time my friends wanted to host a DJ night and serve Kalimotxo (wine plus Coca-Cola) and the bar was totally fine with it, learning how to play the game Ticket to Ride.
Russell de Ocampo’s Station North bar was an open space for Baltimore creatives and, really, anyone who had a good or unique concept. And there seemed to be a willingness on de Ocampo’s part to just roll with something, no matter how ridiculous it may have appeared on its face.
As an editor at City Paper, I once wrote up an event about a party at the Windup called MacDonald’s Night; just as the name implies, it was a celebration of the fast food chain. Shortly after the blurb ran, the event’s mastermind posted on Facebook, “oh no mcdonald’s night actually got featured in city paper,” jokingly (I think?) implying that I forced his hand into actually going through with it. I’m still pretty sure this was shtick, but given the event we’re talking about, it’s entirely possible it was true.
Sure enough, the party happened, and featured a nugget and burger eating contest, an adult ball pit and a screening of the “E.T.” knock-off “Mac and Me” that features an appearance by Ronald McDonald and lots of product placement. It was as absurd and amazing as it sounds.
Not everything worked out or lasted as long as the events that would become mainstays, but de Ocampo always seemed willing to try. That quality made The Windup Space a go-to for so many different communities, even if they were people who weren’t using the venue as a rock club or performance space. Windup was the regular home to the life-sketching “class” Dr. Sketchy’s Anti-Art School: Baltimore, the Baltimore Record Bazaar and the vintage video game party Windup Arcade, just to name a few.
All of which makes Monday’s announcement, that the venue will be closing on June 1 after 11 years, devastating. The utility of The Windup Space made it indispensable, even if all its offerings were not your taste. There are things on The Windup’s calendar I wouldn’t personally seek out, but it’s comforting to know those events are able to exist in this city and have a home. After all, Baltimore generally, and the arts community specifically, prides itself as a welcoming spot for the weird and unique.
Even as the development dollars flowed into Station North and the fate of the old North Avenue Market changed, with the closure of Liam Flynn’s Ale House and departure of Red Emma’s, it was easy to assume–maybe even take for granted–that The Windup Space would continue on. The Station North Arts and Entertainment District wouldn’t be worthy of the name without a place for artists to experiment with and ply their trade, and for people to see and experience something new.
Now, we’ll have to face a future without such a multi-dimensional presence in one of the city’s primary corridors for creativity. Music, theater and visual art–or even just a good happy hour–in Baltimore will all exist come June 2, and there will still be plenty of places worthy of your support. But it’s hard to imagine a space where all those things will come together under one roof, and in such interesting ways.