As the new president of PROMO, Missouri’s statewide LGBTQ advocacy organization, Dr. Ken Haller recalls participating on a panel at Webster University’s LBGTQ Film Festival in 2016 to discuss a documentary about marriage equality in Massachusetts. There were about 30 people there, including, as Haller says, “This very well-dressed woman with a nimbus of dark hair and a Mary Tyler Moore smile asking all these really thoughtful questions and taking notes.
After the roundtable, the woman approached Haller, 67, introduced herself and said, “I absolutely loved your responses to the questions that were raised. I’m part of a group called le salon du cinema, and we meet once a month. We choose a movie to see, then we all go back to my house and discuss it. I was wondering if you would like to join us.
Haller, a pediatrician, thinks for a second.
“It sounded like fun, so I went there and never looked back. I’ve been part of a movie lounge ever since.
The dark, curly-haired woman Haller describes is Susan Fadem, who started the movie saloon 20 years ago. If her name sounds familiar, it’s because Fadem, an award-winning journalist who considers herself a “cultural Jew,” was a frequent contributor to the Jewish light, among other publications. It was also the subject of a report in 2019 in the Light who celebrated her marriage to Richard Andersen – the two met on Match.com in 2011, a year after the death of Fadem’s first husband, Rod.
But it was this story.
The start of the fair
This story begins in 2002, when Susan Fadem and her husband Rod regularly went to the movies together, but rarely talked about it afterwards.
“Rod didn’t like discussing it with anyone who disagreed with him,” Fadem recalls. “He was very funny about it, but we didn’t agree on the movies. I would hate a movie and he would love it or vice versa. And he would manage to speak first and tell me all the reasons why he hated the movie. Then I was like, ‘But I think so,’ and Rod – I’m not kidding – would turn on the radio in the car.
Fadem was frustrated. In his universe, if you can’t discuss something, it’s just not worth it.
A close friend, Ethel Dimont, who was a little older than Fadem, regaled her with stories of a time when friends took streetcars to the St. Louis home she shared with her husband, Max, a famous author of Jewish history. According to Ethel, they would all sit around a long dining room table and have drunken talks or listen while Max held court.
“This idea of getting together around a table to discuss ideas really appealed to me,” said Fadem, 71. “So at some point I just put it all in my head and thought, movie lounge. We could all see a movie, sit down and chat about it.
Soon after, Fadem asked four friends to join her in doing just that. After a movie at the Plaza Frontenac, they went to a nearby restaurant to discuss the movie. And while they all enjoyed the chat, a few complained that the restaurant was too loud.
“The next month we sat around the dining room table at our house (his and Rod’s). We went from maybe five to eight people,” Fadem said. “Over the years I have accumulated three different mailing lists and now there are over 300 people.”
Not all 300 people show up every month. Some have moved on, some have died, and some are floating in and out. As Haller notes, “Susan, in many ways, is a stray dog collector.”
There was the time she talked to a woman she had just met in the bathroom who spoke Italian to join in the discussion about an Italian movie the group had just seen at Wash U.
Or that day at Schnucks, after battling for the last helping of wheat salad, that she befriended her opponent, a Nigerian woman, and invited her to the salon.
Typically, however, between 20 and 30 people join on the designated Saturday night.
The previous Tuesday, with suggestions always welcome, Fadem announced the “pick flick” by email. Most of the films are relatively new releases, but classics like “It’s a Wonderful Life” are also in the mix, along with offerings at local film festivals.
Fadem aims for a film that sounds like it would be enriched by group discussion. In other words, “not the shoot-’em-up action movies that tend to dominate top box office ratings,” she said, though over the years there have been exceptions have been made for films such as “Black Panther” and “Spider Man: Far From Home,” both of which received critical and audience acclaim.
Salon-goers see the film for themselves but congregate for the Saturday date around 6 p.m. Everyone brings a dish to share at a potluck dinner where they eat, mingle and get together before the discussion begins.
Of course, this was before COVID-19, when like everything else, the cinema lounge was forced to pivot.
“The transition to Zoom has been surprisingly smooth,” noted Haller, who was among 23 show visitors to join last month’s discussion of “Belfast,” a coming-of-age story set in the late 1960s in the capital of Northern Ireland. About 80% of the group gave the movie a thumbs up while the rest were lukewarm.
“Once the decision was made that we were going to do this, Susan worked hard to figure out Zoom and made sure everyone knew that too,” Haller continued. At the start of the pandemic, the group met on Zoom twice a month because, well, as Haller noted, “What else were we supposed to do?”
Movie Show Milestone
There had been talk of a party to celebrate the 20and anniversary of the cinema show. Although many of the films they see lean towards the serious and dramatic, this is a group that appreciates a good party.
After the film “Downton Abbey”, lounge-goers came to the Saturday potluck and chat dressed in period costumes, where they enjoyed food and drink fit for British royalty. For a discussion of “Auntie Mame,” feather boas were the accessory of the day. Rarely does a birthday or anniversary pass without the occasion being noted in style.
Maybe down the road there will be a celebratory party.
But currently, between sending out emails informing lounge-goers of the chosen film and giving detailed recaps of everything they discovered after each discussion about the film, Fadem is battling stage 4 melanoma in his brain and his lungs. She underwent radiotherapy and continues to receive immunotherapy treatments. In addition to being tired, she says she’s “well, most of the time.”
And as if that weren’t enough, her husband was recently diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor. He underwent 5.5 hours of surgery and is now starting radiotherapy and chemotherapy for the brain, in the form of pills.
Through it all, Fadem hasn’t missed a single movie theater.
“I was worried that December was the last (salon) for a while, but Susan seems to be doing well. Her perseverance, positivity and creativity are unmatched,” said Helen Friedman, a licensed clinical psychologist who frequents a salon. cinema for almost 20 years and named “Inglourious Basterds” one of his favorite selections of all time.
“What brought me there is that I like to see a good film and talk about it. What keeps me there are the people I met and the friendships that were formed” Friedman added, “It’s a very bright and articulate group of people. A lot of us wouldn’t have met without Susan. Luckily, Susan loves sharing friends.”
As Friedman notes, the movie lounge is so enjoyable that it has led subsets of the band to go to dinner, the theater, and concerts together.
Jane von Kaenel founded a book group with other salon goers focused on racial equality. “As well as deepening my appreciation for the art of filmmaking, the show has really improved my critical eye and led me to such an interesting group of diverse people.”
Von Kaenel, 69, jokes that she could be president of Susan Fadem’s fan club. She started coming five years ago when a friend brought her as a guest. It has been a staple ever since.
“Susan is an amazing facilitator,” von Kaenel said. “She knows how to keep everyone engaged and makes sure everyone has a chance to talk.”
During the discussion, Fadem goes around the room – or lately, around the Zoom – giving each visitor to the living room two minutes (someone saves time!) to give their first impressions of the film. Then, after everyone has spoken, the group dives deep into everything from cinematography and character development to costumes, artistic framing, and the underlying historical and social issues that influence various plot points. .
“We try not to interrupt each other, and nobody dominates. As a facilitator, I make sure of that,” Fadem said, adding that political speech is prohibited. “Our backgrounds are varied. My intention is that we get to know each other through ideas.
“And we always have a lot of fun.”