Making the case for resurrecting the classics in local movie houses, and for why downtowns (especially mine) need quality theatres to screen these gems
On Wednesday evening, my mom and I saw Casablanca on the big screen as a part of a nationwide showing to celebrate the film’s 70th anniversary. While our area boasts the Palace Theatre–born as a plush movie house in the 1930s, and now enjoying popularity as a live performance venue–and Proctors–a storied vaudeville theatre expanded to host touring Broadway productions–this special screening of Casablanca took place at a modern multiplex. The sort of place I typically avoid at all costs, for its exorbitant prices, first-run crowds, maddening munching noises, sticky floors, texting tweens, and 20 minutes of in-your-face previews.
On this night, an eclectic but mostly older crowd has gathered. The theatre is packed, virtually sold-out. The movie is timeless magic. The audience claps at the end. In this over-the-top era of 3D movie spectacles, Hunger Games hype, and every other new release about war (real or imagined, past or future, alien or human), it makes my heart happy to see so many like-minded souls appreciating the quiet power of Ingrid’s teary glances, Bogart’s restrained anger, Claude Rains’ cheeky humor. In original aspect ratio, and flat, stark, black-and-white, no less.
“If only we could see more movies like that in theatres on a regular basis,” Mom and I muse on our way out. For years, I have hoped/wished/dreamed for a space in my hometown that would screen classic movies or alternative/independent-type films. We live in a small city, and like to think of it as a liberal, artsy, college town that would welcome and support an independent movie house. But nothing like that has “stuck” here. (Instead, we have become the bar-Italian restaurant-bar-Italian bistro-bar-Italian gelato hub.) Hubby and I enjoyed one of our early dates in the mid-1990s watching Rebel Without a Cause at an in-town theatre that was novel for showing classic and second-run movies to patrons seated in cozy wraparound booths, enjoying a full dinner with wine and beer. But that theatre went out of business at about the same time the nearby suburban mall was being reborn with an expanded multiplex. Years later, in the same space, idealistic entrepreneurs tried to resurrect the “dinner-and-a-movie” model, and were met with the same lack of community interest and ultimate business failure.
But maybe the time is right now…or soon. On the way in to work this morning, I hear a segment on APM’s Marketplace, about an enterprising couple in nearby Easthampton, Massachusetts, with a unique movie house called Popcorn Noir. It is genius. Here, all manner of movies–classic movies, film noir, kids’ features, cult favorites–are screened for free. For reals. (Or, should I say, for reels?) It is a great concept: Charge nothing for the movies; charge only for the quality food and drink, provided to patrons in an appealing, intimate setting (20 seats!). It’s doing so well that the owners are contemplating opening another location.
So this is my open plea…
- To the Saratoga Springs Downtown Business Association and/or Chamber of Commerce and/or Zoning Board and/or any other entity that mysteriously shapes our fair city’s Master Plan and business mix: Please support the idea for a downtown theatre of this sort.
- Downtown building owners: Please make it affordable for something other than a national chain, or someone other than a trust-fund socialite, to do business Downstreet.
- Tom Doherty and Kristen Davis of Popcorn Noir: Please consider Saratoga Springs, NY for your second location.
Borders abandoned us…Let’s transform that still-empty brick behemoth on Broadway, and celebrate the classics–and cult faves, and independent films, and budding local cinematographers–in a big screen way.