Monday, January 25, 2010

Let's Go to the Movies

There was a time when I went to the movies all the time. My friend Suzanne and I would keep meticulous records of all the films we had seen on index cards. (She still does, though I'm not sure if the cards remain or have gone high tech.) I had a respectable library of film criticism books, biographies, pictorials and more. And I read them. Classic, contemporary, you name it.

That was then, this is now. I don't know what changed. I'd like to say the budget, but truth be told, back then we were all seriously poor when it came to discretionary funds for entertainment. Yet we made going to the movies a priority.

And face it, the theatres were worth going to back then, too. Beautiful old buildings with elegant lobbies, elaborate carvings framing the screen and sculpture resting in nooks carved into the hallways.

And every theatre had a concession stand with any candy you might want, fragrant popcorn, and it was all fairly inexpensive.

When I was a kid, the big draw was the concession stand. It was such fun to have so many treats from which to choose. They were all so colorful!

Every now and then I get that, even now. I've written about Jackson's Michigan Theatre before. Last week we had another in our WKAR Night at the Michigan series. We were welcomed in style.

I love meeting the people who come to the theatre. Many of them tell me they don't have television sets (choice or necessity) and they love our free presentations on the big screen. They're all ages -- parents bring their children; some come with their oxygen tanks and walkers. Even bad weather hasn't kept people away.

(FYI, if you miss a program you're following on PBS, chances are likely you can catch it on the computer at -- visit the "watch video" tab and you'll see many programs, including my favorite, "Masterpiece," are available on demand.)

Our host at the Michigan is George (on the left), one of the most jovial and enthusiastic fellows you'll ever know. He works hard at combining free events like ours with paying movies (for a mere four or five dollars), interesting classic film series (famous pairs is this year's monthly Sunday theme), and second-run movie house staples like "Rocky Horror" and kids films.

(That's Dennis with him on the right. Dennis is the tech guy and one of the two projectionists I've been fortunate enough to work with there.)

Our showing last week was Joshua Bell and friends "Live From Lincoln Center" in a delightfully informal and versatile concert.

The thing I really loved about this is that the theater patrons watching on the big screen were so enthralled, they clapped after the various selections. Well-deserved clapping, I might add!

It enchants me that this is how people always used to go to the movies. The entire experience made it special. The detail was incredible -- there was always a ladies lounge with a soft sofa and enough mirrors so everyone had room to primp. (This Michigan has its original signs.)

Even when the economy was terrible and the country was in the throes of the Great Depression, people could come to the movies (and get their piece of depression glass or Hall China! -- that doesn't happen now!) and sit in a place of quiet, elegant splendor, wrapped in a glimmering shawl of gilt, deep red, cherubs, and elegant lamps.

And the balconies were always special.

For the child, it was the "spot on high" where we could see everything and feel very grand and very small at the same time. For the adolescent, the spot to fire spitwads on unsusupecting patrons below (until asked to leave!). And for the young romantic -- well, there was no more romantic spot to hold hands, steal a kiss, or make time!

Iron gates were elegant barriers. No stanchions here!

And long hallways offered entry to the many aisles. You could wait till the movie ended and patrons left -- or you could slip in anytime and stay as long as you liked to see it over and over again.

These days there are options at the concession stand I didn't have as a child.

(At the Michigan, even beer and wine are offered!)

But the feeling is the same. And believe me, it's a far cry from lining up with the hoards at the multiplex!


Janet said...

You sure brought back a lot of fond memories for me. Even in my smallish home town in Illinois we had a beautiful theater much like the one you've pictured here. It always felt special to go there to see a movie. Now the theaters all look the same and they're small and I feel scrunched up to the person next to me.

Laura said...

That looks stupendous!!! It is a far cry from the movie going experience these days. We are lucky enough to have an old theater in our town too. I need to go there more often!

beth said...

I'm a theatre snob myself....and there is only one I'll go's a sundance theatre where NO kid's movies play and they serve food and wine...and well, you know....why go anywhere else ?

paru's_circle said...

just found your blog..
memories.. used to live in mich. a long long time ago..(now in europe) do you think you could find an old photo of the Kramer that was on Michigan Avenue?if so, please let me know.

jet1960 said...

I've never been to a theatre like these. Missed out on this experience. Don't know if Cullman ever had a really nice theatre, but Birmingham and Decatur still have one and I've heard that it is an amazing experience to see a movie at one. I think I should make time to visit one after reading your wonderfully presented post!

paru's_circle said...

thanks for your prompt answer however, unfortunately i am getting DLXS system error ;-(

Debbie said...

I love the movies. What a magnificent theatre. I love the old world feel. Like a step back into the past. Thanks for sharing your experience - it just looks enchanting.

BONNIE K said...

What a beautiful theater. A far cry from the multi-theaters out there today (altho I bet those old theaters didn't have those big drink holders that I love!)

joyce said...

Our tiny town has one movie screen, toen up seats, holes in the ceiling, sticky floors, you can always get in even if you're there 5 minutes before the movie starts, and the best part is that there is no second to last row, so the back row has lots of leg room. Now that's class!

joyce said...

And thank-you for the shucks! (We had a cat named Ceaser when I was a kid who looked an awful lot like Stimpy, I'll have to feature him one day)

Ruth said...

I was surprised and tickled to see your photos of the Michigan come up. One very cold February day a few years ago I wandered down to Jackson just to walk around and take pictures. They happened to be prepping for a show at the Michigan, and someone invited me in. It is so beautiful, and I thought how nice it would be to experience a show in that venue. Wonderful that WKAR does this!

Anonymous said...

What a great post. It really took me back. I loved those old theaters. Seeing a movie in one of them was a complete experience! I can remember the orchestra rising out of the pit and playing during intermission. Fond memories!

Mae Travels said...

My memories very much correspond to yours with one exception: the candy was always a bit overpriced at the movie concession stand. But those Milk Duds and Junior Mints were always a treat!


Joanne Huffman said...

great trip down memory lane.

Nathalie Thompson said...

I am always transported by your posts and this one is no exception! I don't remember movie going being so glamorous, but I have been to one theatre here in Kansas City (The Seville?) where you could still sit in the balconey and watch the movie (eye level to the screen! COOL!) The lobby was all Spanish architecture (built on The Plaza where ALL the architecture is Spanish) and reflected the luxury of a bygone era. I think the theatre closed over a decade ago.

Thanks for the memories!

Kristine Campbell said...

This was so interesting. I love the old theaters!
A friend and I, we both love good movies, drove to Royal Oak to see 'A Single Man'. Very disappointing the movies that Lansing gets now that the Odeon is gone. Thank goodness for NetFlix.

~*~Patty Szymkowicz said...

ooo so lovely, they don't make them like that anymore!!!

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