Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Where were you when...

I have probably an unhealthy love of movie theaters. But to me a great movie theater makes all the difference. I live very close to an AMC 24 Multi-Plex. It's not a pretty theater. No history. But I go out of my way on the weekends to drive by it. To see the movie posters of "now playing" and "coming soon." And to wonder when I will be there next. Buying popcorn and a soda and sliding into a seat waiting for the lights to go down and the picture to come up. Like I said, it's unhealthy.

In 1977, I was six when I saw Star Wars at the Stuart Theater in Lincoln, Nebraska with my brother. We were able to get in on the ending of one screening so I was able to see how Star Wars ended before I saw how it began and then we sat through the whole movie again. The Stuart Theater is an amazing theater. An actual opera house once, it was converted to be a movie theater. Great chandeliers and amazingly detailed walls hid behind drywall and lush red curtains. But the chairs were still there. Red leather seats still lined the floors and I have one I received as a gift that now resides in my basement. Later in 1994, I saw Pulp Fiction with my soon to be wife in the balcony of the Stuart. We did not make out during it.

In 1981, I was 10 when I saw Escape From New York at the Cooper Theater in Lincoln with my parents. They were pretty lenient to let me see such a film and I was able to truly grasp what I was seeing. I remember being disappointed that I wasn't able to witness Air Force One crash into a building (they showed the crash on a computer monitor) and there was no blood when Snake drove that nailed bat into the head of that bald behemoth he fought in the ring. The Cooper was a great theater with fake trees planted in rock gardens. The Cooper came from a time when curtains actually opened to reveal the screen that was so big it was cured at the ends. The carpet was pure cheese and I loved every inch of it.

In 1982, I was 11 when I saw Poltergeist at the Eastpark 3 Theater in Lincoln at a birthday party. It was my first horror movie in a theater. It was packed and when the clown wrapped his long red and white stripped arm around the boy, everyone screamed at the top of their lungs. It made the scene 100 times scarier and it was fantastic. I haven't been in a horror movie since where so many people enjoyed being scared. Eastpark 3 is a basic theater inside a mall and I loved waiting in long lines there that stretched past the Asian Shop where I would buy throwing stars by the gross.

In 1989, I was 18 when I saw Say Anything twice in one day at the Plaza 4 Theater in Lincoln. Once earlier in the day with a friend and then later that day with my girlfriend of the time. I declared that day that "In Your Eyes" by Peter Gabriel would be our song. The Plaza 4 Theater has nothing spectacular about it, but it did have a round concession stand in the middle of it which was strange and cool. Four years earlier I was in the Plaza 4 watching Moving Violations when a tornado hit downtown Lincoln. The Plaza 4 has no basement, so we were asked to walk out in the hall and assume the tornado position.

In 1995, I was 24 and married. My wife and I saw From Dusk til Dawn with a friend at The Dundee Theater in Omaha, Nebraska. The Dundee is a great old one screen theater. Walk in and you can smell the must from the years. The Dundee projector operator was not afraid to crank up the soundtrack to the point where the speakers crackled with every thump. A few doors down was the Dundee Dell, a wonderful gathering point to tip a few beers while you discussed the movie you just saw.

In 1996, I was 25 and thankfully still married. My wife and I saw Before and After at the Indian Hills Theater in Omaha. Dreadful movie, but Indian Hills is maybe one of my favorite theaters of all time. Concession stands ran along the walls inside every theater. They were closed when we were there, but I would occasionally glance at them and wonder of the time when they were fully functional.

In 1997, I was 26 and would soon have a baby on the way. I had decided the night before that I wanted to see the renewed Star Wars at the Glenwood Theater in Overland Park, Kansas. My wife agreed to see it with me and I couldn't sleep the night before. The Glenwood is also an old opera house and was built as THE premiere theater. Pointy roofs greeted you at the door as well as giant Italian statues once you got in.

In 2001, I was 30, had my first house, married and now had a 3 year old little boy. Movies were scarce but the wife and I ditched the boy at the in-laws and went to see the premiere of Lord Of The Rings: Fellowship Of The Rings at AMC Barrywoods 24. Not a great theater, but a great big one. It has a space theme (what's with the space themes) and a giant ceiling in front of the concession stand where if you stand in the right place you can make your voice echo throughout the building. My son would stand there for hours and yell if you would let him.

In 2001, I was still 30 and it was a few days after September 11th. My wife and I had been incredibly depressed the whole week. We were able to get out for a date night that weekend. We went out for dinner and then to The Barrywoods 24 to see The Glass House. Not a great movie, but it was just what we needed. As I sat there with Sweetarts in hand, I felt secure and comfortable and far, far away from all the horrible things happening around me.

In 2005, I was 34 had a seven year old boy Gabe and was getting ready to go to China to adopt our little girl Sing. Gabe was finally old enough to get excited for the premiere of the final installment of Star Wars Episode III. Again, we saw it at Barrywoods 24. It was a different time, a different setting, but it was childhood all over again as Gabe and I stood in a long line and waited in anticipation to see what was the final straw to turn Anakin to the dark side.

People mark milestones differently. Some by birthdays. Some by major occurrences. I measure mine by movies and the theater's I've seen them in. Like John Cusak's character in High Fidelity, movies (like music to him) provide more than entertainment for me. They are my memories, projected on the big screen with really comfortable seating.


Adam Ross said...

It was 1986, I was 5 and my dad announced upon picking me up from kindergarten that my four-year-old brother and I would be going to a movie with him. We were overjoyed and couldn't care less what movie it was. The movie of course was "Aliens" and my brother and I sat shocked the entire way through it, having never seen anything close to resembling that kind of action and terror.

I was particularly traumatized by Bishop's dismantling at the end. I had missed the point about him being an android and for years was afraid of something like that happening to me -- with images in my head of me puking up white liquid and crawling to the school nurse with no legs.

Jane said...

I have a tornado warning movie theater story, too. In 1981, I was at one of the movie theaters in Lawrence, KS with my aunt seeing "Raiders of the Lost Ark" for the umpteenth time when the projectionist stopped the movie and we were informed that a tornado was moving through town. As it turned out, the *other* movie theater in town was destroyed by the tornado, but ours was unscathed and they eventually started the movie again and let us watch the rest.

Piper said...

Adam, this is fricking classic. I can only imagine you walking into Aliens. It seems straight out of a Malcolm In The Middle episode.

Jane. That's exactly what happened to me. We had to continually get out of the movie theater to assume the position. Fortunately I wasn't missing a great movie.

Steve said...

I remember staying at a friend's house in 1977 and going to see Star Wars. I couldn't believe there was a LINE of people waiting to see a movie... I remember going to a drive-in with the family and the movie were supposed to see got bumbed for a screening of Corvette Summer... I remember going down the street (!) and watching Jaws by myself (I to this day don't know how that happened) until the head rolled out of the bottom of the boat. I ran all the way home. Keep in mind I grew up 6 houses from the beach... My first apartment in NJ they built an 8 theater movie house IN THE MIDDLE of the complex. I would walk about 100 yards to see a movie. I saw Pulp Fiction 4 times there...

I remember sitting in the front row for The Crying Game. Imagine MY surprise.

Movies, like music, are life markers for me. My wife asked why I like going to the movies so much on our way to see We Are Marshall at 10 in the morning (Yay!). As we're alternately weeping and cheering throughout the movie I turned to her and said: Movie magic, baby.

Moviezzz said...

Great post.

I remember seeing DIE HARD in a theatre, and when I got out, being told that there was a huge thunderstorm that went through while I was watching the film. Couldn't even tell with all the explosions in the film.

paul said...

In 1979 I was in third grade and saw "Buck Rogers in the 25th Century" at a lame theatre (Crossroads Theatre) inside an even lamer mall (Crossroads Mall). I didn't know at the time that it wasn't even a real movie. It was just the pilot episode for the forthcoming TV series. But I'll never forget it. I went with my best friend from third grade, and it was the first time I saw a movie in a theatre without my parents or an older brother or sister around. Good times. Beedee-beedee.

Anonymous said...

Ah Piper, I take a break for a few days and you get all sappy on me! Your tribute to movie theaters is not only true, but also very sad. There is an underlying theme that perhaps you intended to weave; however, I do not think you are that clever!

I agree that many of us who visit the Lazy Eye can mark various milestones in our lives with movie theaters. From the first time we got scared, to a first kiss (or perhaps more) or the first time we saw true wonderment in a child’s eye. The problem, however, is movies theaters, like the movies they play inside them, have lost their creative genius. They are “cookie cutters.” Like most things in American society, movie theaters have gone the way of “bigger is better.” They are sterile! Seriously, name one theater in any multiplex in any city of any state built in the last five years that has ONE unique quality. You can’t and that’s the point.

Movie theaters used to be as big of deal as the movies inside. I used to enjoy going to the theaters because I could “feel” the history. I do not know how long you have lived in Kansas City, but perhaps one of the greatest movie theaters in the world was down on the Plaza. I loved it! I held my breath to go there. It was spectacular and now it is gone.

The Chinese Theater and all of its history! We have an entire generation who has no idea that the Chinese Theater was THE HOLLYWOOD theater. They all just think it is a place where people put their names in cement! The movie theaters have gone the way of the Oscars…Business first, foremost and at all costs! Bigger is better. No unique thought. Limited creativeness. Not willing to risk it all!

Oh, I hope it changes. I hope when my children are 10 I can take them to a movie and have them experience the same feelings you had when you saw “Escape from New York.” (However, I must tell you, I would never take them to see a movie by John Carpenter. I’m not sure if he is the worst or second worst director…but alas, I digress.)

I think, my dear Piper, one of the main reasons home theaters are all the rage now is not because it allows us to “watch a movie at our leisure.” I like to think it is because the public is more creative than the business men. We’re not getting what we want at the theaters, so we are taking matters into our own hands. We want to create memories and experiences…just not in the cookie cutter boxes they call movie theaters today!

Piper said...

Anonymouse (btw I'm calling you Anonymouse now since you won't find any originality and call yourself something) I want to agree with you but your slam on John Carpenter has me reeling. I know that when Tim Burton remakes a John Carpenter movie, you'll be on board.

Anyway, I digress.

You might have been talking about the theater on the Plaza that was actually two floors. One screen on the first floor and another screen on the second. Can't remember what it was called, but it was an excellent theater. Saw Princess Bride there and The Crucible.

But alas, you are right about the loss of movie theaters. They used to be something.

And I am relieved that you don't overestimate my cleverness. That would be a crime.