Thursday, January 26, 2006

Movie Theaters Yesterday and Today

Just when one thinks movie houses are suffocating from the competition of downloaded movies on all sorts of electronics, my humble city is about to open its arms to a fancy new theater. The local headlines in a recent edition of our newspaper declared, "Movie night is going upscale."

Opening February 17 is "a $14 million movie house with stadium seating, state-of-the-art digital sound, expanded concessions, an arcade, party rooms and internet cafe." Ticket holders will enter into an "Italian-style lobby, complete with fountain" in an atmosphere of a five-star-hotel! One side of the lobby will have tables surrounding a fireplace for snacking while up to 3300 folks will watch on 10 screens holding 100-150 people each. The best part of this theatre is that not just major releases will be shown, but a fair share of art and foreign films will be available.

This sounds great for one who still loves the big screen, but will I have to put on formal wear? Well, the Madison city officials are talking about a dress code! Tickets will range from $6 to $8 and no telling how easily the cost of popcorn and sodas will drain our pockets.

I remember the first time a "state-of-the-art" theater opened in Jackson. I was in the tenth grade and The Lamar Theater was supposed to upgrade the old Paramount Theater. Ahh, lush carpets (homes still sported hardwood floors) cushioned our feet. Beautiful lighting, comfortable seats, handsome rest rooms. Dressing up for a date to the movies was natural for us then.

A year ago an old school chum wrote to remind me that our first date was the opening of the Lamar. I dared not tell him I didn't remember. But I recall going to the Lamar with the guy who is now my husband. Saturday nights at the movie house was THE BIG DATE for us bebopping kids.

Two years ago in the local laundrette in Narrowsburg,NY I met a little lady who was waiting for her clothes to wash and dry. We struck up a conversation because I asked her if her Florida tag on her parked car outside indicated she was a true Southerner or a transplanted New Yorker. She was the latter. In our conversation she told me she used to be a dancer at the famed New York City Roxie Theater. She had begun there as a sixteen year old and later transferred to a more sumptious theater in Berlin. For the next two months while our clothes swirled and tumbled, I listened to my new friend's adventures on stage from the late 1920's to early 1930's. I researched online the Roxie so I could ask her questions. The Roxy had been a premier palace of its time.

Built in 1927 it was dubbed by its creator the "Cathedral of the Motion Picture". Cavernous it was. 5,290 patrons purchased tickets, walked through a huge lobby with a foyer rotunda five stories high, a massive chandelier hanging above them. The main theater had three balconies as well as the main floor. Abundant statues and carved pillers adorned the walls, and before the movie began a full orchestra played or a carillion chimed as patrons took their seats.

Between movies were the matinees, with clowns and jugglers sharing stage with dancers who tapped and toed through routines in magnificent, colorful costumes. My friend Terey said she and her fellow dancers learned to stand on huge balls and do gymnastics as part of their dancing. Triple stage elevators topped with a turntable allowed the entertainers to be shown in full cyclorama. The four-track sound system boomed as patrons looked at the movie on the gigantic screen. For interesting photos of this theater, cut and paste this address:

Several years later as I sat in the Lamar Theatre in Jackson with my cardboard 3D glasses perched on my nose, the Roxy was reaching its decline. Fortunately, its magnificence has been duplicated in Sydney Australia, at the State Theatre Sydney, which has many of the magnificent features of the Roxy: foyer rotunda, art galleries, marble lights and statues. It's still active and is a main attraction there.

I'm readying to experience the excitement of the opening of the Lamar and a bit of the magnificence of the Roxy when the new theatre in Madison opens next month.

No comments: