The Drexel lost one of its major champions this past weekend. Frank Gabrenya, long-time film critic for The Columbus Dispatch and a manager of the Drexel during the summer of 1988, died on Saturday, February 5. Though I only met Frank a few times, he was an influential figure in my life. As a budding film freak growing up in Columbus in the ’90s, Frank was one of four critics I regularly sought out; I taped Siskel & Ebert every week, and read Glenn Kenny’s articles in Premiere magazine each month. While those three were excellent sources for global releases, Frank was vital in directing me to films I could actually see in Columbus.
The independent film market was flourishing in the ’90s, and the Drexel was a smorgasbord of fascinating, offbeat films that rarely played at places like the AMC theaters that used to be on Hamilton Road. Frank’s passion for movies helped introduce me to both classic filmmakers (notably Billy Wilder and Some Like It Hot) and then new talents who are still creating fantastic work in the 21st century: Quentin Tarantino, the Coen brothers, Richard Linklater, Sofia Coppola, Wes Anderson, and Paul Thomas Anderson (whose newest film, Licorice Pizza, is celebrating its eighth amazing week at the Drexel). It was Frank’s positive review for a movie that drew me to the Drexel for the first time. I came with my father in the spring of 1997 to see the magnificent Sling Blade, Billy Bob Thornton’s Southern Gothic directorial debut. I loved the movie, fell in love with the theatre, and became a dedicated customer. I am now coming up on my fourth year as a staff member with the Drexel. I’ve been fortunate to work with and befriend Frank’s son, Alan, who spent nearly fifteen years with the theatre, recently departing for a new job. Alan possesses the same passion for movies that his father did.
Three stories about Frank. One from me, two from Alan.
Story #1: I would cut Frank’s articles out of The Dispatch when I was a teenager and keep them in a scrap book along with my movie ticket stubs and other pieces of film ephemera. When Stanley Kubrick died in 1999, Frank wrote an excellent, sober assessment of what Kubrick meant to him as a film lover. While other critics were celebrating the man as something of an unimpeachable figure, Frank wrote of his hot and cold respect for the filmmaker.
“I won’t pretend that Kubrick was one of my favorite directors. I hold Paths of Glory and Dr. Strangelove in high regard, and moments from most of his other films are still as provocative as they were on first viewing, but each seems open to valid criticism in ways the work of a master should not.
Still, I always confronted a Kubrick film with grave anticipation, if only because I knew I was about to be taken somewhere – in locale, character, emotion, intellectual exploration – I had never been. That was true of every Kubrick film, and it will be with his last.”