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Opening Weekend at the New-Look Bloor

Following a pair of public preview screenings and a fancy grand re-opening soiree, the new-look Bloor Cinema is officially back in business as of this weekend. The beloved rep house was acquired by Hot Docs last July, and had since been shuttered to allow for a handsome architectural overhaul. A significant revamp also took place on the programming front, with a shift away from second-run features toward first-run non-fiction fare. The Bloor’s opening weekend schedule reflects the promised changes, offering up two docs that celebrate icons of the entertainment industry.

Screenings begin this afternoon with Constance Marks’ heartwarming 2011 Sundance Award–winner, Being Elmo: A Puppeteer’s Journey. Sesame Street‘s giggly chatterbox is famous for spreading a message of unconditional love to toddlers worldwide (as well as for inspiring the odd holiday season consumerist frenzy), but the man who brings him to life remains a relative unknown. Marks goes behind the monster to tell the inspirational story of puppeteering prodigy Kevin Clash, whose role as Elmo’s alter-ego represents the culmination of a childhood dream. Marks also scores backstage access to Jim Henson’s fabled workshop to reveal the magical tricks of the muppeteering trade. Being Elmo was a hit on last year’s festival circuit (read our Hot Docs review here), and should enjoy even wider appeal now that the Muppets are back in vogue.

The Bloor’s second new release offering salutes a very different kind of entertainer: prolific B movie pioneer Roger Corman. The legendary pulp impresario is the subject of Corman’s World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel, from director Alex Stapleton. Corman, unquestionably, is the sultan of schlock, having directed or produced over 500 films across a 60-year career, most of which were made on the cheap and embrace morally dubious subject matter. (See, for example, 1971′s Women in Cages.) Corman mainly worked outside of the studio system, but his influence on Hollywood was huge; some of cinema’s biggest blockbusters are sanitized imitations of his provocatively tasteless projects. Meanwhile, many of Hollywood’s marquee names—including James Cameron, Martin Scorsese, Jack Nicholson and Robert De Niro—cut their teeth on Corman productions. Stapleton’s film is filled with interviews from Corman’s prestigious protégés, all eager to pay tribute to their maverick mentor.

On Sunday evening, the Bloor will also screen Corman’s 1967 LSD freakout flick The Trip—one of three Corman films scheduled to accompany the five-screening run of Stapleton’s doc. (1961′s The Pit and the Pendulum and 1967′s X: The Man With the X-Ray Eyes will screen on Monday and Tuesday, respectively.) The inclusion of some of Corman’s cult classics alongside Corman’s World is a welcome touch from Bloor Cinema programmer Robin Smith, and an early demonstration of his commitment to respect the venue’s legacy as one of Toronto’s longest-serving purveyors of cult cinema.

That said, docs are definitely the Bloor’s focus going forward, and one of its new programming initiatives is a series of “Essential Documentaries,” to be screened on Saturday afternoons. First up is Ross McElwee’s brilliant Sherman’s March (1986), which was initially conceived as a look at lingering effects of the Civil War, but eventually became a deeply personal account of the filmmaker’s own romantic misadventures. Frankly, we can’t hope to provide a description that does McElwee’s film justice, and would simply urge you to see it for yourself. Or, better still, you could make the Bloor’s new essentials series a regular part of your Annex Saturday post-brunch routine.

For tickets and a full schedule of the Bloor’s upcoming screenings, visit the cinema’s website.

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