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Scarecrow on Seattle: HOUSE OF GAMES

In appreciation and recognition of Seattle's long and illustrious film history, we are proud to partner with the Seattle Office of Film + Music to bring you reviews of movies made in the Pacific Northwest with an emphasis on how these films showcase the region's many filmable locations.

House of Games (1987)

By coincidence or not, two of my three favorite made-in-Seattle movies, Trouble In Mind and House Of Games, were made only two years apart at a distance of five blocks from each other. The amazing thing about this is that for two films that rely so heavily on mood and setting, and both are beautiful to look at, they present two completely different views of Seattle. Trouble In Mind inhabits the city with a living, breathing, chaotic and sardonic sense of romance and hope. David Mamet's House Of Games, however, is cold, quiet, and cynical. It's a story about confidence men and card players and, much like the Mamet's very personal, idiosyncratic dialogue, has a rhythm all its own. But the rhythms here are not limited to what comes out of the characters mouths. There is a lovely score, haunting and cool. There are smoke-filled bars and neon-lit rooms where the people who play these games size each other up for the next round, always watching, listening and trying to figure out what their opponent is going to do next. The audience, too, is part of this game, which is why even a basic plot summary would reveal more than is fair. All that said, you should know that Joe Mantegna, Lindsay Crouse, Ricky Jay, J.T. Walsh, and the other lesser-known denizens of Mamet's world are magnetic. They watch and observe each other, and you can't take your eyes off of them.

The title's namesake was a real, actual house of games called the 211 Club, a legendary poolroom on Union between Second and Third Avenue. In the commentary on the Criterion DVD, Mamet laments the loss of the 211 Club, bluntly stating that Seattle was a poor city at the time and that we tore it down because now we're a rich city. While that may be overstating the point, the block that once held the 211 Club is now the south end of Benaroya Hall, a functional concrete slab of greys and tans. The only break from that slab is corrugated metal garage door at almost exactly the spot where the 211 used to sit. Charlie's Tavern (also featured in Trouble In Mind) at Sixth and Pike, a location in the film and a real bar at the time, is gone too, but numerous other locations still exist. There's a check cashing place at 1206 First Avenue that still looks the same, as does the Four Seasons Olympic Hotel, the underbelly of the Hotel Vintage Park, a parking lot on Harbor Island, the PacMed building, and a lonely corner where Pine, Madison, and Sixteenth Avenue converge. Unlike Trouble in Mind or The Parallax View (my third choice for best Seattle movies,) Mamet didn't use the Space Needle or other recognizable Seattle locations to any great advantage. But in using the quiet, forgotten corners of the city, he got exactly what he was looking for.

-Mark Steiner

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