Saturday, September 8, 2007

Open Daily Once



This is the Town Theatre. It has been a local treasure for years. Run by a grouchy elderly couple and their son, it seems obvious from the increasingly dilapidated structure that they aren't really in it for the money. Until very recently, this was your best bet if you wanted to see that quirky new independent or foreign film you'd been reading about. A couple of years ago the local corporate multiplex designated one of their smaller shoe boxes for that kind of film. Fortunately the Town has a dedicated following, and the only thing that stands in the way of showtime is mortality. This is indicated by the following notice:

"Due to our advanced age, and health issues, from time to time we can't open. If we aren't open by 7:30 PM chances are, one of us is ill that day. We apologize for the inconvenience."

They are open for one show, seven days a week. At 8:00 Monday through Saturday, and 5:00 on Sunday. The wife is dropped off right in front of the theater about 30 minutes before the show begins. She hobbles the short walk from the curb to the inside of the ticket booth, growling something at the current wide eyed teen behind the concession stand en route. She resists any temptation to chit chat or hint of a smile with the waiting line of patrons. No one under 12 is allowed, and last year they raised the entry price for the first time in my memory. It's six bucks now.

After purchasing a ticket you step through the doors and are greeted by her husband. He's waiting next to a short velvet rope to take the ticket you were just handed. (I have always suspected that they reuse the tickets that he collects.) His head is always encased in a cloud of blue cigarette smoke, and there is sometimes a small dog sitting at his feet.

Once inside the actual theater your mission is to find a seat that doesn't sink too far down, lean too far back, or surprise you with a strategically placed broken spring. The interior is basic painted cinder block, but they overcame that by hanging handmade medieval shields and two prominently displayed suits of armor. Sticking to a theme doesn't seem to be an issue, right below the armor are plaster sculptures of a classic roman couple.

The next surprise occurs shortly after the lights go down. No 30 minutes of commercials or coming attractions. You pay to see a film and that's what they give you. I actually like seeing trailers, but that rarely happens here. I'm pretty sure that is because they never know what the next film they'll be showing is more than a week ahead of time.

But the best part, the thing that makes the Town Theatre so special, is still to come. The first movie I remember seeing there was Chariots of Fire. Nothing has really changed that much since then. I remember absorbing and accepting all of the theater's idiosyncrasies and settling in for a great movie. I was really getting into the story when halfway through the film, without any warning, the screen went dark and the curtain closed. Then the house lights came up.

I was annoyed. But looking around I noticed that almost everyone was on their feet. They were filing up the aisles toward the lobby, and what confused me most was that everyone seemed to be smiling and chatting! Why weren't they as outraged at this interruption as I was? The answer to that question consists of just two words.

Free cake.

The tradition at the Town is to stop every film halfway through for a 15 minute intermission. The audience is encouraged (by that same grumpy old couple) to come up to the lobby and help themselves to tables loaded with an assortment of complimentary cake, cookies, juice and coffee. They say they do it because "It gives people a chance to stretch their legs, and discuss the movie. It also gives them a chance to speak with us, instead of a teenager who doesn't have a clue where the owners are."

A couple of years ago the husband/ticket taker was ill for several months. The Town was dark for the entire time. I'm afraid that was a taste of what will happen permanently on that sad day when one or the other of this grumpy sweet couple takes their last ticket. We'll lose a local landmark. We'll lose a community treasure. We'll lose free cake.

8 comments:

Diane said...

Hi Patrick,

That story about the theatre is so touching. I was just having a long talk with my husband about his place of business, Landmark Theatres. Landmark shows independent movies mostly. When he first started working there it also was a mom and pop (not as mom and pop as your theater) type of operation, with only two theaters to the chain. It was kind of a wild and crazy place. They had the famous "blood" wall (this was the art department) where if they cut themselves with an exacto blade they flung it on the wall. He's been working there for 20 years, and has it changed. Slowly through the years it has been sold and resold several times, and now has around 130 screens and much more corporate. I keep thinking it's still the same, but it's not. It's hard to get used to the change.

kevan said...

Oh man, what a great little vingette of small town living. It is this kind of thing that tugs me in one direction - "living in a small close knit community" while I am also being pulled in the "live in the city in a condo with a view" direction.

John Nez said...

That's cool! And I can relate to Diane's comment about Landmark Theatres. We have about 4 of those nearby here and they offer great independant films that you couldn't see anywhere else.

I'd say the way to save that old theatre is to find enough film people to bring in festivals and offbeat movies....

jn

Barc said...

i want to drop everything im doing and save that theater. i want to be an old couple. i want to chain smoke while i bake cake and pet my trusted arthritic dog. i want to reuse tickets.

P Girouard said...

I'm pretty sure the dog has lots of warts too.

Adam said...

Wow. Thanks for posting that Patrick.

I keep wondering if the next generation of cool cranky old people will be as good as the last, if such a thing as character just comes with age or is linked directly to one's era of formative experience.

I also hope that, in the future, charm, hospitality and vice can continue to intertwine somewhere in such harmony...

Betsy said...

What a cool story. Thanks for sharing it. I want to read more, however...

pjiggy said...

Do you think the theatre will show any Robert Goulet movies?