An Ode To The Theaters

With the recent leveling of a theater I frequented as a film geek in my 20s, it occurs to me that we take those beautiful buildings for granted. Sure, we appreciate them when we need them, but when they are gone we really start to see how much they mean to who we are. 

They were more than just film houses, for people like me they were where we learned about and shared movies. In some ways, these are the places we grew up. 

Sure, it was just a building. 

It was a collection of bricks, of mortar, and of various odds and ends that made it what it was. You can still see movies at other theaters. The movies that were shown are not magically gone. We still have our memories. 

Time devours everything. 

We have a habit though, as humans, of destroying a thing just to rebuild it elsewhere instead of using the thing that was already there. We have a habit of chasing a trend and not looking through the broader lens of history. And land owners, they only look through one thing and that is their pocketbook. 

History means nothing to the rich. 

I won’t say that I don’t love the newest tech that allows us to watch films in comfort, to have a wider variety of snack options, and lets us see a film more closely to how it was meant to be seen – bright and loud! – but all of those things shouldn’t come at the cost of character and history. There needs to be a marrying of the two so that our filmhouses are not just sleek, modern affairs with every amenity and the personality of a styrofoam box. Art, and in this case film, is as much about our emotion as it is about a box office and we need to feed that emotional part of us when we engage in the consumption of a movie. Even a big budget, loud action film will stir feelings in us just as an indie darling that is meant to break your heart will. 

Even today I remember some of the filmhouses of my youth. 

The Silver Lake Drive In wasn’t far from where I grew up but was where I spent my youthful summers watching movies with family and friends. It’s where I was at six when I was foolishly taken to a showing of FRIDAY THE 13th and PIECES – I heard some of PIECES and saw the end of FRIDAY, shiver. I remember mom popping corn and putting it in a paper grocery bag for us to take with us to devour during the shows. 

It was eventually torn down and now there is a housing development there. 

The Flint Cinema was one of the state’s biggest theaters and where I saw EMPIRE STRIKES BACK as a kid. It’s now an internal storage facility. 

The Genesee Valley Cinemas became a budget cinema where I spent lots and lots and lots of time and money. I remember waiting for my folks to pick me up after seeing a movie by myself and two girls also waiting asking how old I was and proudly declaring I was 14 and ½. 

Super smooth. 

It’s been torn down and long gone now, a series of businesses standing there now. 

The Fenton Cinema became my new local theater and one I frequented a LOT. I saw BATMAN there in 1989 and remember the crush of the crowd as we waited for our sold out show. I remember my sister’s boyfriend of the time getting in a fight for having his collar popped as he went to get tickets for us to see a movie. I remember taking an ex to see SCREAM 2 there and having to sit on the floor because it was oversold. I remember seeing JURASSIC PARK there with friends who loved it and me hating it and coming back to a rude note on my car about my poor parking. 

The theater was torn down and is now a manufacturing facility. 

Showcase East was another theater in Flint, the big one in Flint during the 1980’s. This is where I saw STAR WARS – EPISODE ONE. This is where I saw THE SECRET OF NIMH during the day when my mom got me out of school to go see it. This is the theater where I went to a lot of midnight movies and even saw FACES OF DEATH IV there. This was where I saw BLAIR WITCH PROJECT in its first week of national release and talked about it endlessly with friends. 

The theater is long gone and it’s now a barren piece of land with a parking lot covered over with weeds and grass. 

The Main Art Theater was a recently demoed art house in Royal Oak, Michigan where I got an education in art houses. Ultra hip and painfully cool, this was where I went to see BLAIR WITCH PROJECT at a sold out midnight show the week before it went national. This was where I saw TRAINSPOTTING. This was where I saw REQUIEM FOR A DREAM. This was where my friends and I would trek to on a pilgrimage to see movies that would never be shown in our blue collar city. At the time Royal Oak was a place bursting with personality and culture, where the hipsters and punks mingled and attended movies, concerts, the huge comic store, the enormous resale store, the fetish shop, or any number of other places. The Main was where they held a showing of UNCLE SAM and where Bruce Campbell came out for a screening of BUBBA HOTEP (neither of which I caught, CURSES!). For me this was THE place to see the cutting edge movies my friends and I would be talking about for hours on end. 

As I got older I didn’t have the time to really get down there to see movies and, on learning it’s been torn down, I felt my heart break because that was a part of my past. 

A part of who I was for many years, when movies defined me and were all I really thought about. 

Yeah, there are other art houses out there, and other theaters, but none of them had the personality and flair of the Main. The place intimidated me and held me in awe. I went to screenings there when they held short film showcases. I met other movie geeks there. 

I am sure that whatever ‘mixed use’ structure they build will bring new memories to new people but I wonder if they will ever shine as bright as the lights of the Main?

In our modern world, post-Covid, it’s easy to overlook how much we have lost, but moviehouses are on that list now. As we sheltered in place and the economy dried up and businesses had to pull up stakes because bills kept piling, even when we weren’t there, we lost a lot of our art houses. We lost a lot of our personality. It’s easy to bulldoze something when it can’t pay for itself, though I feel like the handwriting was on the wall for the Main, just like the other places I mentioned. 

Time devours everything. 

All we can do is hope that whatever grows in the place of the things we loved and lost can at least bring someone the sort of joy we experienced, or it’s just another building that is destined for the dozer some distant day. 


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.