Challenge issued to those hating how things turned out

posted by schmadrian on April 21, 2008 at 4:35 am

Regular Cinema Treasures commenter schmadrian has issued a challenge to those movie palace aficionados who wish things hadn’t ended up the way they have.

“As hinted at in a recent ‘Cinema Treasures’ thread, I’d like to challenge all those who so animatedly decry ‘how bad things have gotten’ to put aside their frustrations, their habitual indignant ravings, and instead, invest these sometimes not-inconsiderable energies into suggesting how we might not have ended up here. (While ‘here’ is subjective, for the sake of this experiment, let’s say we’re referring to not only a loss of cinematic heritage by way of the wrecking ball, but also leaving us with bland, over-priced boxes-for-theatres with mannerless idiots for patrons.) Using the concept of ‘alternate history’, I’m challenging any and all to have a go at jiggling circumstances, at rearranging cause-and-heartbreaking-effect, at playing with all the contributing factors to end up with-

Well, to end up with something more resembling what you’d like to be seeing out there, rather than what we have. This, in a nutshell, is a chance for some to put their money where their mouths are."

While it certainly isn’t an attempt to make fun of overzealous attitudes, it is an effort to develop some more perspective. If it turns out that there are some thoroughly creative approaches to retroactively revising circumstances so that movie palaces are the norm rather than the exception, then the time and effort involved to construct the framework for the exercise will have been worth it. If not…well…who knows what therapeutic benefits a deeper understanding, reconciliation and closure might bring?

The best suggestion provided by participants will be awarded a modest prize, the nature of which will no doubt befit a contest relating to movie-going.

The full challenge can be found here.

Comments (45)

bruceanthony
bruceanthony on April 21, 2008 at 5:20 am

I often wondered if the upper Balconies of the Roxy in NY and the Fox in San Francisco had been twinned leaving the main portion of the theatres in tact if it wouldn’t have gotten both theatres through the sixties and into the early 1970’s and then restored to live performing venues by the 1980’s. The Main theatres could have played the major Roadshow films of the day like “The Sound of Music”.This could have made both theatres profitable and extended there lives until the time was ripe for there full restoration.brucec

longislandmovies
longislandmovies on April 21, 2008 at 5:25 am

We are were we are because …….

1.Theaters (1 SCREEN) Need to much space so the rent and or taxes are to high.
2.Projection unions refused to negotiate with companys in the 80s to reduce overhead on smaller theaters.
3.Heating and ac costs have made the 1 screen theater near impossible to survive.
4.American craftsmanship and care for detail is extinct.
5.The malling of America ..were all should be uniform .has ruined theaters.
6.Inconstant product.

MONEY ,MONEY .MONEY…………..THATS HOW WE ARE WERE WE ARE!

RayKaufman
RayKaufman on April 21, 2008 at 4:09 pm

One only needs to follow the history of the film exhibition industry to see it’s the BUSINESS that created, revised, abandoned and reformed the theatres that brought us to where we are today. Storefront theatres replaced nickleodeons which in turn were replaced by showman, such as Rothafel and Graumann and their grand palaces, which were then mimiced by the studios, which had a vertically integrated film system. Films were but a small piece of the show; a bit of the two hour presentation which very much included the Theatre and it’s grandiose and individual design. The Theatre allowed one to escape. If anything, it was in it’s day, THE amusement park, and for just 25 cents admission.

When film grew into something more than a simple two-reeler, and then with color AND sound – movies became king. First to go was the stage, then the ornateness of the palaces. The Theatres became mere screening rooms, no longer part of the amusement. With the advent of television’s competition, it was the filming/projection systems that changed, from the former flat 4:3 aspect ratios to newer CinemaScope, 3-D and the super widescreen, spectaculars of Cinerama, saved for the largest downtown theatres.

With the advent of shopping centers, came the sixties invention of multiplex’s which inturn were replaced by megaplex’s and there minimum 14 screen screening rooms.

With each evolution, everything that preceeded it was left to die. And the public had little to do with it. It was the exhibition industry which evolved to maximize profits as they figured they could. Today, the megaplexs are still being built, but not at the rapid pace of even five years ago. Picture Palaces will never return. There’s no call for them, no need

Today, we marvel at the beauty of a building created to be a part of entertainment. For some of these palaces, a new live exists as a live performance hall. which is after all what they’re best suited to today. They were built to entertain and for those Theatres saved or about to be saved, hoorah, they’re evolving too. and one might say, they’ve grown-up into something that Roxy and Syd would appreciate. I’m told that B. Marcus Priteca insisted on designing his theatres, which included most if not all of the Pantages Theatres in North America, with a stage. He also felt theatre buildings evolved, so that the walls, ceilings and decorations, which for the most part were nothing more than “sets,” would change. If he were alive today, I think he’d knowingly smile.

As for film exhibition, I feel when, as the saying goes – “Film’s Done Right,” we have a great system today, in rooms designed to present film properly. But film exhibition isn’t what this website is about.

markp
markp on April 21, 2008 at 4:39 pm

With all due respect longislandmovies, I agree with all your above points, however, maybe on long island the union projectionists would not concede, but here in New Jersey, I know (because it happened where I was working), we kept giving back and giving back, until finally it was almost not worth going to work. And the theatres ended up closing anyway. Over here what killed our downtown palaces was A) shopping malls with theatres, and B) the politicians let all the downtowns go to hell, so no one went anymore. I hate it that all the great places my dad worked in when I was a kid are gone. Only now do people realize this, but as always its to damn late.

TheaterBuff1
TheaterBuff1 on April 21, 2008 at 9:04 pm

My own observations and studies all reveal that bad politics was the primary and in some instances only reason why the great movie theaters of the past — whether grand palaces or classic neighborhood single-screen theaters — met their demise. Politics was responsible for this in several ways.

Number one was bad economic policy. Following WWII we essentially adopted the same economic policies of the countries we had just defeated. and fully abandoned those which had brought us to that point of strength that enabled us to win WWII, notably, the New Deal that had lifted us out of the Great Depression.

Number two was the ignoring of existing laws on the part of politicians. Pretended legislation was enforced in total disregard of actual law. This suddenly put theater operators in an impossibly awkward position of having to work within a framework of politicians' whims rather than anything solid and concrete.

Number three was destructive taxation. Totally ignoring the First Amendment factor, theaters were suddenly treated as businesses just like any other businesses when it came to taxation. Taxation also helped to bring about theaters' demise by way of unfair taxation of theater patrons. I.e., money they would’ve normally spent on attending the theater suddenly was siphoned away by dramatically escalated taxes, and made all the worse in that it was taxation without representation.

But not to lament too much on what happened in the past, when things get too bad, society does change. And though we haven’t fully reached that point yet, we’re not too far from it now. And if we succeed in changing and not ending up like Mars, I have no doubt the world will see single-screen movie palaces again, and better than before. And to be sure, the data collected by this website will come in very handy then.

RayKaufman
RayKaufman on April 22, 2008 at 1:38 am

TheatreBuff1, I can’t help but be curious as in what way do you see single-screen palaces returning? Can you illustrate a business model where this could be? Especially given that all has continually moved away from single screen, stand alone theatres for over fifty years.

But too, I still believe everything about the industry is business driven. I’ve yet to see anything that says otherwise. A coorelation could be drawn within the recorded music industry and it’s evolution from vinyl to tape to plastic to downloads. What’s even more interesting is the companion live concert business and how it’s evolved and the direction that’s headed, what with the profound changes happening right now and the lack of developing new talent.

But I digressed and will get back to the base, which still tells me all that’s happened is strictly business. Maximizing profits is and will remain the driving force.

efriedmann
efriedmann on April 22, 2008 at 7:29 am

I know nothing about the movie theater business, so I won’t waste anyone’s time with uninformed presumed opinions on the subject. As someone who used to frequent the movie theaters a lot, I can only say from my perspective that the experience simply stopped being fun.

Too many of the movies themselves have become nothing more than recycled projects that insult much of the audience’s intelligence level and the people we have to share the theater experience with have become more and more intolerable. Too many management systems at multiplexes have simply stopped caring about what goes on inside their establishment. How come? Salary too low? Find another job with a better salary then.

I think the first step to implement change in the movie theater experience is to make it more pleasant for the moviegoer. The first step in that is for ALL THEATER CHAINS to begin implementing a zero-tolerance policy against all cell phone usage and any other kind of audience disturbance during the movie.

You know, unlike riding public transportation, which can have just as many incidents of rudeness and inconsiderateness as a movie theater, you do have a choice whether or not to walk into that multiplex. Many choose not to anymore. The option of quick DVD release and illegal computer downloads only ads fuel to the fire.

As to why the multiplex evolved and the movie palace died; I suppose the only logical answer can be the almighty dollar ($$$)! The more cattle you can cram into a building, the more loud video games you can fit into that unused corner, and the more varieties of chicken fingers you can offer the customer, the more money you’ll take in.

shoeshoe14
shoeshoe14 on April 22, 2008 at 10:00 am

I had an idea I posted to a theatre some weeks ago about building from scratch a brand spanking new movie palace. Since building one with the usual material from the roaring 20s would cost so many tens of millions (and the owners' bottom line would not likely be making a profit to cover costs), I propose somewhere in Las Vegas where there is an abundance of money, to build a brand new movie palace using faux but strong material, with fiberglass, etc. Build it like they would’ve done in the past and introduce this to a newer generation of theatergoers.

longislandmovies
longislandmovies on April 22, 2008 at 11:06 am

In someways theater going has gotten better……….Will list when i get time!

aarfeld
aarfeld on April 22, 2008 at 5:11 pm

In response to brucec, the scenario that he describes is pretty much how the beautiful Jefferson Theater, Charlottesville, Va. (1912), limped along and survived to the present. It’s currently undergoing a complete restoration and will re-emerge as a wonderful concert hall. Not only is it’s balcony being reopened from the small twin that was created by enclosing it in 1981, but a smaller balcony above that (which was once segregated seating and has been completely walled in and inaccessible for years) is being opened up as well. And the theater survives to tell its history: both glorious and shameful.

vic1964
vic1964 on April 22, 2008 at 6:29 pm

I am grateful for 75 year old men (and women)on Cinema Treasures feeling upset about the demise of the movie palace,because in my hometown it is more the young folks who are upset.
I never thought we had to save all the palaces,but when it came to the very last one, i did get angry!It was the old guard in my city which spun this saga in favor of progress(parking lot)!
Not even the last movie palace was saved in my city and it is very hard to get past it.If this thread is helpful for creative solutions to saving some remaining palaces in other cities that will be great.I am jealous of many cities and towns behind or ahead of London Ontario!We are tooo ahead of the progress curve in this plastic London i used to love

vic1964
vic1964 on April 22, 2008 at 6:47 pm

schmadrian The impact of dvd was in the late 90s not 1990?

TheaterBuff1
TheaterBuff1 on April 22, 2008 at 7:38 pm

In response to WGTRay, my view is that Digital Cinema changes the equation, or has the potential to, that can enable single-screen theaters to make a comeback. What killed single-screen theaters of the past was lack of flexibility, the too often occurring single-screen theaters getting stuck with a dud for several weeks until the next film would come in. Multiplexes overcame this drawback by being able to offer moviegoers a choice of several movies they could come see, and just in case one or two turned out to be duds they could make up for the loss by offering up that which was otherwise. But a Digital Cinema single-screen theater has the great advantage of being able to change what it’s exhibiting on a dime’s notice, and this is happening right now in Europe. And probably in certain parts of the U.S., though sadly not in the neck of U.S. where I’m living due to really really bad politics.

When society gets to the point where making money becomes regarded as the only important thing there is, it’s clear that that society is in major trouble, and all great leaders understand this. But sometimes it takes a great war, or disaster, or depression or what have you for such leadership to rise to the fore. Case in point, it was only after World War II that Germany was able to go straight up hill. Prior to then all “progress” in Germany was just illusion at best. And that’s pretty much where my part of the U.S. is right now, Philadelphia, PA.

Here we have one last movie palace still standing, but it hasn’t been in operation for roughly six years now, with politics being a huuuuuuge factor in why this is. And though some single-screen theaters have been restored out in the suburbs, it’s really not much better, politics now being as much a problem out there as it is here in the city, if not fast becoming even moreso. Interesting to note, only one new movie theater started up in Philly in recent times, and only because a certain Philadelphia politician wanted it. But not for any visionary reasons. And the same with the not too long ago restored Hiway Theatre, an historic single-screen theater just outside Philadelphia in Jenkintown, PA. In that case it was the brainchild of a U.S. Representative, but just like that representative, the theater is hardly brainy. And none of these theaters are Digital Cinema of course. And in a region of the U.S. where politicians' whims have taken the place of actual law, including the U.S. Constitution, would you like to try competing with these politician-backed theaters? If so, all I can say is have fun trying.

But the way I look at it, storms do not last forever. They can last a long time, but not forever. And that to me is what Cinema Treasures is about. This is not so much a nostalgia site as it’s a futurist site.

Interesting to note, the title of this psrticular topic is, “Challenge issued to those hating how things turned out” — with implications being that “how things turned out” is a “done deal” when it’s not. From my perspective I have no hatred towards how things turned out because “how things turned out” hasn’t happened yet, only a temporary setback is all. And why waste time hating a temporary setback when it is only temporary?

quasimodo
quasimodo on April 23, 2008 at 4:43 am

It’s easy to blame the demise of the single screen theatre and indeed, many social ills on “the powers that be”. Politicians, urban flight, greedy business executives, unruly patrons, etc. have all contributed to the current state of affairs. Volumes could be written about any of these things.

In the end, however, the reason single screen palaces died is because people stopped going. The reason multiplexes work is because people do go. Business reacted to changes in social behavior and lifestyle. Business did not cause these changes. Downtowns were gutted not because of corrupt politicians, but because people stopped supporting the businesses that were rooted there. (And they voted for corrupt politicians.)

The reason why most mainstream movies suck is because that’s what people want to see. That’s where the grosses are and that’s what pays the theatre bills. Better quality movies are everywhere, but people don’t go to see them. Mainstream Hollywood and exhibitors cater to those who buy the greatest number of tickets, and mainstream society continues to get dumber. These movies don’t “insult much of the audiences intelligence level” (apologies to Love movies-hate going), they embrace it! People make their choices for themselves. Hollywood doesn’t make the choices for them.

The notion that the demise of the single screeners and the great theatre experience has been the result of the never-ending quest for the almighty dollar may have some credibility, but in the end, that dollar is given freely by those whose collective bargaining power far outweighs that of the theatre chains, the politicians and even Wal-Mart. To suggest that people have nothing do with the sorry state of affairs is absurd. They have everything to do with it.

To address schmadrian’s challenge as to what could have been done to avoid it, the answer is nothing. People lament the loss of the downtowns and the neighborhood theatres while they drive to the suburban multiplex.

The remaining single screen theatres are perhaps more threatened now than at any point in history. Digital Cinema will not save them because it is cost prohibitive and the business model doesn’t work. Digital cinema will more likely be the death knell for the struggling independents.

Many of the remaining theatres are transitioning into the public sector where they are purchased and operated by 501c3 boards of directors and volunteers who don’t have a vested interest in the “business” and often do not know how to manage the (often public) monies that become available to them. So we have “community” theatres and performance venues that host a variety of events attended largely by the local socialites. Maybe we even get the occasional classic or independent film.

This is certainly better than a shuttered theatre or some insensitive adaptive reuse, but I don’t think it’s what people have in mind when they wax nostalgic about the “good ol' days” of the thriving downtown movie palaces and the neighborhood cinemas.

People have the power to affect change. But do they have the passion?

longislandmovies
longislandmovies on April 23, 2008 at 5:11 am

Quasimodo ….Many of the small indie pics “better” movies dont have the ad money to promote there films.Its not as people dont want to see them they just dont know about them..

I do think you have hit the nail on the head!

efriedmann
efriedmann on April 23, 2008 at 5:16 am

I am only one person, but for myself, I can only say that I avoid multiplexes whenever possible and prefer to give my time, money and energy to smaller neighborhood theaters that remain on Long Island like Manhasset Cinemas, Great Neck Squire, Hampton Arts Theater, etc. (although, sadly, none of them are single screens). Last week I was forced to see Martin Scorcese’s SHINE A LIGHT at the Loews Rosevelt Raceway multiplex because it was one of the few (if not the only) theater on Long Island that was showing the film. I wanted to see the movie and I didn’t want to travel into NYC to do it, so it was that or nothing. Fortunately, it was the middle of the work day, so I was the only one there! That will probably never happen to me again. Damn!

longislandmovies
longislandmovies on April 23, 2008 at 5:36 am

The Bellmore is a cool single screen left on Long Island as well as the Sag Harbor.

efriedmann
efriedmann on April 23, 2008 at 5:59 am

You know, I’ve been in the Hamptons every summer for the last 30 years, but I’ve never managed to get to a movie at Sag Harbor or the Movie at Montauk. It was always too far to drive and the movie times never seemed to work out with my family’s schedule. Sad.

LIM, perhaps you’ll recall a town battle over the original Sag Harbor Cinema marquee letters that took place back in 2006 (I think). The fight was instigated by the late Roy Scheider’s wife when they were planning to trash the letters in lieu of something new. I think the battle was won, but I don’t remember if the original letters are back on the marquee.

longislandmovies
longislandmovies on April 23, 2008 at 6:04 am

The original letters are back on the Marquee…

Movies at Montauk is one of the few theaters i have never been to on LI.

TheaterBuff1
TheaterBuff1 on April 23, 2008 at 8:43 pm

The factors that contributed to Philadelphia, PA’s downtown movie palaces' onetime success were twofold. One, it was when Philadelphia was the region’s major population center, and two, the palaces went hand-in-hand with full employment in Philadelphia at that time combined with everyone working in the field of their choice. And people got turned off by them when those two factors changed. Keep in mind that movie palaces are icing on the cake. And nothing wrong with that. But you take away the cake, and just the icing alone can’t stand up very well. And what is such a huge turnoff about fully-restored movie palaces today is that they’re propped up icing on the cake without the cake.

And in Philadelphia’s case when it met its demise, absolutely it was bad politics responsible. We can say, ultimately it was the people themselves who were to blame because they were the ones who voted for these politicians. But to that I say, not so fast.

Assuming you’re all familiar with Marc Antony’s funeral oratory in Shakespeare’s JULIUS CAESAR, Antony could’ve capitalized on the mistaken way that average Roman citizens saw things following Caesar’s assassination and built upon that misinformed momentum. But instead, he masterfully brought that crowd around to seeing things as they really were. In Philadelphia’s case when it hit an economic snag, the politicians of that time did not do that. Instead, they ruthlessly exploited the crowd’s misperception for all it was worth, both by fully disrupting people being able to work in the fields of their chosen professions combined with developing the Philadelphia suburbs which by rights should’ve been kept as farmland. At a time when it was upon Philadelphia itself to modernize in many respects so that people would want to continue living and working there, this needed transition was blocked by the politicians of that time and blame for how bad things became in Philadelphia when this modernization didn’t happen was diverted elsewhere. The average person has a difficult time being able to grasp this, and the politicians at that time exploited that difficulty on the average person’s part for all it was worth. Interesting to note, and with a bit of irony, I was attending high school in Philadelphia back when all this was happening. And when it came to teaching Shakespeare’s JULIUS CAESAR, we 13 year olds who couldn’t even begin to fathom Shakespeare on our own were told to take the text home, read it in the course of a single night, and answer the questions in back. The corrupt Philadelphia public school system exploiting our academic laziness, which I know now in hindsight but I didn’t know then, we thought that was “great.” For how were we supposed to know any better? But, according to you, Quasimodo, that’s no excuse; your take is that we should stop blaming the politicians; that “It’s easy to blame the politicians when things go wrong when it’s ultimately our fault,” and all that.

Fortunately in the years I was growing up in Philadelphia the poorly run public schools had competition: The movie theaters. The movie theaters had the power to open our eyes and raise our awareness levels to things that would’ve passed over our heads otherwise, calculatingly so in the public schools' case. But look what happened, and this was all purely politics, believe me. The theaters were shut down based on this and that lame and misleading excuse, but the public schools, more corrupt today than ever, they still remain.

And some might treat this as the “final resolve,” that what was done was done, it can’t be undone, and so let’s move on. But you can’t move on with something that’s totally askew from what it’s supposed to be, at least not for much longer. And we are right there at that point now. The sharper among us know that. The in-between exploiters don’t want to hear it. And the everyday people who you’re so quick to lay the biggest blame on, Quasimodo, are totally clueless.

quasimodo
quasimodo on April 24, 2008 at 7:33 am

Thanks TheatreBuff for your insight.

schmadrian
schmadrian on April 27, 2008 at 1:15 am

Well, then.

Although there are some surprises in the responses, what’s been contributed so far is pretty much what I expected. (Such as TheaterBuff1 not being able to resist injecting a polemic on Philadelphia politics as it affected local movie palace history into any discussion about cinemas, period. LOL!)

(Vic1964: Look here: http://www.edwardjayepstein.com/mpa2004.htm )

What I find most intriguing is the fact that almost everyone who commented (and there are some notable exceptions, and I have to tell you I was heartened by the cogency of thought expressed in these) aimed the blame at a faceless entity. Or, the notion of ‘business’. Or the pursuit of money. Again, going back to the original challenge, I’m struck by how this seems to be the default. That people distance themselves from a ‘problem’, and can’t even seem to consider what they’ve contributed to everything unfolding as it has. Maybe this is why nobody has deigned to actually give a shot at the core of the challenge, to posit possible ways that things may have turned out differently. Maybe they can’t because they would prefer to point the finger of blame at a scurrilous concept, thereby distancing themselves from any possible personal connection. Or maybe the required creativity just isn’t at their fingertips.

In the end, perhaps I just look at things differently. I’ve always said that I have a tendency to step back a few more paces than most to want to see the bigger picture, often drawing less savoury conclusions because of the increased perspective. And I am a strong adherent of the notion that as a member of a community, a society, we are all inextricably connected to both the accomplishments and the ignominies that result from day-to-day living. I reject outright anything associated with NIMBY, and am suspect of any tendency to assign blame from a detached and isolated vantage point. So for me, the belief that we all contributed to the demise of the movie palace (even if by seemingly innocuous habits) is pretty much inviolate. Despite the declamations of some, the notion that ‘they’ did it, that ‘men with political and economic avarice in their hearts’ did it, that were it not for these nefarious elements in our past, we’d all still be regularly heading to our local cinema treasures is…well…quite hilarious. (For the record, so is the belief that single-screeners have any chance of a comeback. If you do embrace this possibility, I have some buggy whips you might be interested in. Oh, and some transistor radios. And no-hassle airport experiences.) Free-will, freedom of choice, self-determination…they’re all foundations of our lives here in North America, the paradox of ‘sheeple’ notwithstanding.

Of course, laziness can overcome just about any freedoms, can’t it…?

Regarding the challenge, at this point it looks like I might end up handing out the gift certificate for something other than the intended goal, which was to suggest ways in which we might not have ended up here, in this movie palace wasteland. Because so far, nobody has really run with it. Maybe I’ll have to strike up a scenario of my own, just to get the ball rolling.

: )

RayKaufman
RayKaufman on April 27, 2008 at 2:55 am

Schmadrian, a question to you, if I may. I find it odd that you insist there is some nefarous “personal connection” in the demise of the picture palaces. Why do you insist that there is? In your most recent writing above, you point out the example of the transistor radio, which, as a business decision, evolved into todays' I-Pod. Did the ‘people’ have anything to do with this progression? I think not, other than to have responded positively to the initial testing or product roll-out.

Picture Palaces did not die as an entertainment delivery system, they evolved. Did single screen theatres die because people no longer wanted to go to see movies? No. The owners closed them after the people were turned to the new 3, 4 and 6 screen theatres, which held a substantial advantage over those single screeners. To be sure, many palaces were cut up into multiple screening rooms, and they survived for a while, until competition built newer and larger edifices. It’s the evolution of the exhibition BUSINESS.

As for the Palaces' themselves, many have been razed to make way for other uses, the land being too valuable to leave vacant. Still others were saved, remaining closed, because there was no market for anything else and the cost of demolition was extreme. Some of these theatres that have been reclaimed, finding new use as performance spaces, do so at peril, particularly when the programming choices are limited. In the end, they’ll succeed if the program choices result in success at the box office. As some like to say, it’s all about butts in seats. Always has been and always will be.

longislandmovies
longislandmovies on April 27, 2008 at 7:03 pm

I am a firm believer that in ,any ways theaters are better than they were.Seats are much more comfy, sound is amazing ,choice of films are endless………….

TheaterBuff1
TheaterBuff1 on April 27, 2008 at 9:07 pm

Schmadrian, you should make it clear to everyone that the vantage point you’re writing from, perhaps what you mean by “the bigger picture,” is Toronto, Canada, where you’re currently residing. And it’s still not clear to what degree you’ve ever ventured out of Toronto down into the lower 48, or however Canadians refer to the states that make up the continental U.S.

There’s now a massive megalopolis that exists on North America’s eastern seaboard that did not back when movie palaces were at their height. Some refer to it as the “Bos-Wash” megalopolis (meaning between Boston, Massachusetts and Washington, D.C.) but I’ll go one better by calling it the Tor-Key (rhymes with dorkey) megalopolis, in that it now spans from Toronto, Ontario all the way down to Key West, Florida. That is, non-stop urban/suburban/exurban sprawl every step of the way between those two points. And you’re located at the top edge of it.

In the course of movie palaces giving way in the face of this emerging megalopolis, for the most part it was a matter of redistribution of movie-going audiences, a spreading out of that distribution. And with city-based theaters, along with the cities themselves, failing to modernize in the face of this. It seemed like a good idea at the time (from the early 1960s onward), but now in hindsight we know much better. Which is why it’s strange that Schmadrian keeps speaking of the demise of movie palaces and single-screen theaters in terms of “how things turned out,” as if it’s a “final resolve.” For no, the final resolve has not come yet. What we’re seeing now is only temporary. As temporary as the Nazi Third Reich was I would say.

schmadrian
schmadrian on April 29, 2008 at 8:51 am

WGTRay: “Schmadrian, a question to you, if I may. I find it odd that you insist there is some nefarous "personal connection” in the demise of the picture palaces. Why do you insist that there is?"

I don’t. You’ve misunderstood me. Read it again, please:

“Despite the declamations of some, the notion that ‘they’ did it, that ‘men with political and economic avarice in their hearts’ did it, that were it not for these nefarious elements in our past, we’d all still be regularly heading to our local cinema treasures is…well…quite hilarious.”

There are some commenters on this very thread who seem to have a need to create villains where the demise of the movie palaces are concerned. Corrupt politicians, greedy robber-barronesque types… I believe this perception is hogwash.

schmadrian
schmadrian on April 29, 2008 at 9:11 am

TheaterBuff1: “Schmadrian, you should make it clear to everyone that the vantage point you’re writing from, perhaps what you mean by "the bigger picture,” is Toronto, Canada, where you’re currently residing. And it’s still not clear to what degree you’ve ever ventured out of Toronto down into the lower 48, or however Canadians refer to the states that make up the continental U.S."

Actually, I don’t reside in Toronto.

For the record, I’ve lived in the US. I’ve travelled extensively in the US. I spent the better part of a decade living in the UK, have travelled to Europe and Africa. I have the farthest thing from a parochial worldview you could imagine…which is what your ‘observation’ insinuates. (Frankly, it seems to me that you’re certainly not one to be throwing stones in this particular arena.)

As for your sustained insistence that ‘What we’re seeing now is temporary’… Honestly, I don’t even know where to start. But I think for the sake of propriety, I’ll take whatever comments I do feel good and proper to respond to you with off this thread and email you privately.

TheaterBuff1
TheaterBuff1 on April 29, 2008 at 10:35 pm

My argument is that an economy based on pillaging is not sustainable. It has been tried many many times all throughout history, and always with the same result, and always proving only temporary. And I do not think there’s going to be an exception in this case.

And the fact that you’re not a United States citizen speaks volumes, combined with the fact that it appears you had very little if any exposure to the U.S. when it was great. I’m not saying that’s your fault or that you can be faulted for that. I’m just saying it as it is. For regarding the great cinematic experiences I remember, which you’re so quick to dismiss as having been “imaginary,” they coincided with when the United States was really going places, when we were the outfront world leader in just about everything you can think of. Canada has never experienced that same alignment, nor has the U.K., nor Africa, and with Europe it’s only been fairly recently that it’s begun to get a taste of this, with the creation of the E.U. and so forth. We’re seeing something similar to what once was in the U.S. in India right now, hence why cinema is so alive and well in India right now. And maybe China after it makes certain reforms — if it makes such needed reforms — might experience this phenomena as well.

schmadrian
schmadrian on April 30, 2008 at 2:00 am

One thing I have learned throughout my life, having grown up next to the US (an experience that TheaterBuff1 would have absolutely no concept of), having travelled and lived elsewhere, is that by and large, a country’s citizens are often its worst observers. Certainly its least objective. Given that America has, as part of its social DNA a need to see things from its own myopic, isolationist point-of-view (save in those arenas where its self-interests are paramount), I find your comment again, amusing.

What’s most fascinating for me though, is your insistence to judge things from a wholly different point of view than I do, constantly corralling elements such as over-the-top historical references (the Nazis) or the dramatical (‘Julius Caesar’) into the discussion, while for me, it all comes down to a few basic elements, not complicated at all, nothing worthy of the pseudo-academic slant you seem intent on imposing. Where jingoism gets invoked. Where the awful sights and sounds of partisan/corrupt politics gets tossed into the mix. At its core, the whole ‘What happened to our movie palaces?’ is an elementary riddle with an elementary solution, not one with any catastrophic inferences, nothing that deserves to be recorded as some kind of portent of things to come, and certainly not due any soap-boxing. Political discourse isn’t required, and it’s only a discussion involving social issues insofar as consumerism goes, the simple laws of the free-market system prevailing. The very act of you declaring ‘My argument is that an economy based on pillaging is not sustainable.’ is, to a great extent, a non sequitur of sorts. Why do you find it necessary to try to elevate the discussion to another level, bringing notions into play that -although they clearly are important to you, seem to be something you’ve invested a good deal of anima in- aren’t germane to the core issue at hand?

I admire your tenacity, but question its appropriateness. Especially given that this is a thread that I began, and unless I’ve missed it, you haven’t chosen to accept the challenge and toss into the ring even the most casual of offerings.

TheaterBuff1
TheaterBuff1 on April 30, 2008 at 9:35 pm

To bring things back to the plain of accuracy once more, my references to the Nazis was in no way “over the top,” for since the end of World War II the U.S. has been responsible for atrocities that far surpass the worst of the Nazi horrors. Have you ever heard of or read a book called “Acres of Skin,” for instance? It being about a long series of medical experiments that were conducted on unwitting prison inmates in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania between 1951 and 1975, in all respects it was in full violation of the 1948 Nuremberg Code and was led by Philadelphia’s University of Pennsylvania, an Ivy League school no less. And to this day, including the fact that “Acres of Skin” is now out of print, there are attempts to cover up what really happened here during the post WWII years. And check this out: I’m an American who’s telling you this, rather than an American trying to deny it. So, so much for your saying I hold a “myopic, isolationist point-of-view (save in those arenas where [America’s] self-interests are paramount).”

In “winning” this “challenge” of yours, you seem to be of the mindset that truth is not allowed for, thus trying to steer us towards your own self-proclaimed conclusions why the great movie palaces and single-screen theaters America once had met their demise. And I hardly regard it as constructive. You haven’t lived in the real world with eyes fully open is all I can say of you. And as I said in my last post, that’s not your fault, that is, I can’t fault you for having grown up in an irrelevant and very much detached place off to the sidelines and with few things to stimulate your brain to function at its best in addition to that. So stop being so defensive, as I’m not out to get you — though I wish I could say this was also true of others in this world. But by pointing these things out to you — in a way that’s in reverse of my being “out to get you” — I’m just trying raise your awareness of just how gullible you are. And I don’t mean that in an insulting or condescending way by any means. Rather, in the spirit of Cinema Treasures and what it’s meant to be about rather than how you’re trying to twist it, it’s a shame you didn’t get to grow up with the great movie palaces and single-screen theaters the way I did, and that so many young people today are fully missing out on.

Earlier tonight I caught an interview with Warren Buffett’s daughter on PBS’s Nightly Business Report, and the daughter, who seemed to have a really good head on her shoulders, said that in all the years she was growing up, every Sunday night her father took her and the rest of the family out to the movies, and they still go to the movies every Sunday night regularly. Now can we get the rest of the U.S. up to that same level? For that to me is the only challenge to speak of. And if I’m not mistaken, that is the challenge of this website, while yours is only meaninglessly iconoclastic, a contradiction of that very worthwhile goal, perhaps a bit Talibanish, in fact.

TheaterBuff1
TheaterBuff1 on May 1, 2008 at 9:39 pm

Schmadrian, I believe your knowledgeability of Toronto theaters is wanted at the following Cinema Treasures webpage where apparently somebody else who grew up in your neck of the woods doesn’t quite have your dark take on the growing up with theaters in Ontario experience. The CT link is: http://cinematreasures.org/news/18955_0_1_0_C/

Go to him now, he calls you, you can’t refuse…
(Apologies to Bob Dylan, but I just couldn’t resist adding that on!)

melders
melders on May 3, 2008 at 9:18 pm

Smadrian, if I may interrupt your “discussion” with theaterbuff, I’d like to give my take on why the movie palace faded away. I will first say that I haven’t lived in the “great America” theaterbuff lived in, as I was only born in the 1980s. I believe that the movie palaces disapeared due to the free market. People moved, on their own for the most part, to the suburbs and stayed away from the city and the palaces. Without the huge audiences the large theaters needed, they had to go out of business. As the neighborhoods in the city faded away, the neighborhood palaces faded away.

schmadrian
schmadrian on May 4, 2008 at 6:07 am

TheaterBuff1: Well, if nothing else, you’re a fascinating person. Unfortunately, you also remind me of really ardent, nitrous-fueled born-again Christians who, during the course of a conversation (and calling it that is being extraordinarily generous) cannot seem to detach themselves from their own dogma, their own intractable mindset.

“Beautiful day today, isn’t it? I love this weather!"
"The Lord Jesus Christ is your personal saviour, and He loves you!"
"Uh…right. Do you follow sports? Basketball? Hockey? Baseball?"
"God bless the baby Jesus, he is your only path to salvation, you must do what is necessary to follow Him to Heaven."
"Well, then… Maybe we can disscuss the news."
"Good news, friend! God loves you and wants you in Heaven!”

You’re a highly intelligent person, that much is clear…but the way you seem fixated on the issues that are seemingly important to you, is a mystery to me. So much so that I’m really not inclined to pursue exchanges in this arena any further; my time is way too valuable to be taken up in this way. So I wish you the best with your passions…I hope they provide you with the sustenance you clearly require.

As for the ‘challenge’, it’s now closed. At some point I’ll be throwing up on the ‘…meaninglessly iconoclastic, a contradiction of that very worthwhile goal, perhaps a bit Talibanish, in fact.’ blog, a quick example of the kind of imaginative result I was looking for. Shame that nobody won the contest, and its movie passes. Oh, well; more cinema experiences for me.

schmadrian
schmadrian on May 4, 2008 at 9:03 am

For any of you interested in reading the final word on this affair, please refer to the original off-site posting, found here. Oh, and thanks for reading.

TheaterBuff1
TheaterBuff1 on May 4, 2008 at 7:27 pm

Schmadrian, being as where you live is part of the megalopolis I’m highly critical of — in your case Hamilton, Ontario is it? — I feel it’s a bit difficult for you to see the forest because of the trees. And in that same vain I can only say of myself, “Look who’s talking.” For I did some research on Hamilton, which is located in a province I far more affiliate with Neil Young than the apparent reality of what it’s really like, and even reviewed recent photos of it, and my reaction was, “My gosh, this is just Philadelphia the way it is now all over again!” I see the same empty, formulaic attempts at urban renewal being used to whitewash over the same underlying depressing stories that go hand-in-hand with every northeastern rustbelt city now, whether it’s that city, or Detroit, or Baltimore, or Wilmington, or Buffalo or wherever. As in, boy, did our generation blow it big time or what? For look at the timeline for how this whole transition came about. Look at how it corresponds with those in our age group; in brief, what total chumps we were taken for, and with it now upon us to totally undo. Which to me is the only thing that makes sense right now. For we’ve got to undo this monster that was brought about by our own labor, by our own stupidly going along. And the question is how? That was what I was looking to movie theaters for. A means of breaking us out of this trance. For Hamilton is an awful place I’m going to tell you straight out. But I’m also going to tell you straight out that Philadelphia is, too. And all the other parts of this huge nonstop megalopolis we’re all living in together now are as well. We blew it. That much is true. But isn’t the right response to we blew it to unblow it? And in terms of how it is we blew it, I do think the elimination of well-run theaters played a big role in that. For when we allowed those theaters to slip away, what fools we were. What total fools! And isn’t it time to wake up now? Are we going to wait till we’re all in our 90s before we do so?

MPol
MPol on July 9, 2008 at 7:52 pm

Hi—I’ve just returned here to the Cinema Treasures forum after a long time of being unable to post here because I’d forgotten how to log in. Now, I’m back, glad to be back, and I’m ready to join this online community in earnest. Regarding my opinion of this essay: the title is appropriate. I, too, am a big movie buff who especially likes many of the older 1960’s and early 1970’s Classic films, although I have seen some newer ones that’re good, too. Back in the early 1980’s, not long after (then) President Ronald Reagan first took office, the United States Supreme Court voted, by ONE vote, to allow movies to be copied onto and played on VCR’s. This, in turn, ultimately led to DVD’s and DVD players. That being said, however, I also agree that the multiplex cinemas have taken over, playing all kinds of schlock, and very few of the real, true-blue movie palaces remain. As recent as the 1980’s, there were many repertory/revival movie houses in our area. Unfortunately, with the advent of VCR and DVD, iPod and many other newer, higher technology stuff, as well as big-assed TV’s, most of these movie palaces have gone the way of movie theatre heaven, if one gets the drift. However, I’m grateful for having the Coolidge Corner Theatre (of which I’m a member), the Brattle Theatre, and the Somerville Theatre, all near by. However, I also agree that corrupt politicians (voted in the people, of course), the lack of interest in movie theatres by average, ordinary people with families, who work long hours, as well as by other people who, fed up with the high prices of admissions to screenings and the concession stands, rude audiences, long lines for waiting to get inside the theatre(s), and, for whatever reason(s), the desire to stay at home. Long gone is a favorite pasttime of people of almost all ages going to the movie theatres with family, friends, etc. Now that pasttime is replaced by the whole family, or a bunch of friends getting together to watch a movie on DVD, or whatever. The advent of rather large, elaborate home-theatre systems have also made the loss of most real-deal movie palaces possible

MPol
MPol on October 12, 2008 at 9:36 pm

An update: I’m also a member of the Brattle Theatre now, too.

MPol
MPol on December 27, 2008 at 1:07 pm

Here’s hoping that the advent of Blu-Ray doesn’t eventually kill off the movie business altogether. I don’t believe it will, since there’ll always be people like ourselves who love going to movies in real movie theatres rather than sitting home watching them on TV all the time.

RayKaufman
RayKaufman on December 29, 2008 at 6:18 am

IMHO, Blu-Ray will have no more an affect than any of the other variants that have come along in the past 25 years. Actually, make that 60 years, as with the advent of television. Way back then, the industry’s come-back was wider and wider screens, better sound and 70mm. Today, it’s digital IMAX, as with AMC signing on to present same in many new markets.

Movies will survive to be first seen in theatres as long as the product itself is worthy of being seen on the “Big Screen.” If nothing more than trite, then it’s best left to the small screen.

For further evidence, watch the box office numbers, during this recession/depression. You just might be amazed.

MPol
MPol on December 29, 2008 at 2:55 pm

WGTRay: Many, if not most of those great, golden oldie-but-goody movie classics are MEANT to be viewed on the great big, wide screen, in a REAL movie theatre, with the lights down low. Imho, they’re not trite….at all.

RayKaufman
RayKaufman on December 30, 2008 at 5:51 am

MPoi, New movies, which are what I was referring to, are indeed a mixed bag. But when seeing some of the older films, many if not most that were ‘manufactured’ during the 30’s strictly to throw light and shadow on the screen, would not be considered ‘classics’ and as such, indeed would be called “trite.” You know, if one’s studied the history of film, those same films would be going “striaht-to-video.”

MPol
MPol on December 30, 2008 at 7:37 am

WGTRay: By older movies, I meant a lot of the great classic films of the 1960’s, such as West Side Story, Lawrence of Arabia, Dr. Zhivago, Midnight Cowbow, and a number of others. Although the Wizard of Oz came out in 1939, that, too, is considered a great old classic.

Mike Rogers
Mike Rogers on December 5, 2009 at 8:12 am

I got in on the tail end of going to the movies as being an event.I started in 1974 and by the time i finally got with GCC in 1983 the tide had long turned for the worst.Cops working first run shows? This should be the last POST.I SUMMED it all up!

MPol
MPol on May 29, 2011 at 7:30 am

There are good and bad movies in every era, but the past two or three decades seem to have been the worst, regarding the turn-out of cheesy films, or films that had the potential for being among the all-time greats, but have fallen woefully short of that potential for a number of reasons.

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