Note: I went to these movies during the week of July 11th-15th.
Movie theaters are essential. A movie theater is the first date with the one you marry, or the one that got away. It's surprise outings with your parents when you are kid that you still remember twenty-five years later. It's the only place where you can enter when it is light, time bends, you have no awareness of the outside world, and when you exit night has fallen in your absence.
When I was six-years-old, after a particularly VHS-laden Christmas, I decided to open up a movie theater in our living room. I placed pieces of paper in the windows letting passers by know our showtimes. Batman (1989) would be shown at 10:00. Back to the Future Part III (1990) would be shown at 12:30 (after lunch, naturally). At 2:45? Batman again, naturally.
Nobody ever came by to partake of the theater, disappointing child-me and being the best possible end result of me inviting strangers to watch videos in our house. My efforts to get my nascent movie house listed in the paper along with the supposedly more legitimate cinemas didn’t get past the earliest stages.
The memory of these places has been on my mind a lot lately. Movie Theaters are now built more as recliner showrooms than movie houses, but I long for the movie theaters of my youth. Some are still plugging along, more or less. Others have been (likely permanently) lost to the sands of time. Over the next few weeks, and perhaps intermittently if other inspiration will not be sated until a post is written, I will be exploring the older, perhaps less-loved movie theaters of this town I call home. Join me, won’t we?
For this week’s entry, I ventured to Circle Cinema, Tulsa’s only non-profit, supposedly art house cinema.
Movies I memorably saw here in the past:
While I don’t have any first hand memories from its initial run* in the 1920s-60s, or from its run as an adult theater in the 1970s, since its renaissance in recent years I’ve partaken of several special screenings of older movies and a few movies that aren’t played anywhere else, including:
Blue Jasmine (2013)
Halloween (1978) for a rather disappointing screening, the reasons for which I will get into in just a bit.
Fargo (1996) for a 20th anniversary screening.
Weiner (2016). This was just a few weeks ago, and man, could I go on and on about what a fascinating garbage fire I witnessed there, but that is an entirely different blog entry.
The men's room proudly displays a poster for Moonraker (1979). I’m not sure if the choice aims to bolster its its the popcorn-movie bonafides, or a statement about where the outer space-themed films of Roger Moore rank when its totem is placed less than three feet away from a urinal. Either way, just the sight of the poster amused me to no end.
Outside of the toilet facilities, the theater is kind of a knock out. Modern amenities are practically carved out of the skeleton of the theater’s glory days, giving the whole place a feeling almost as if it sprang forth from the exposed brick all around you. It is almost as if the place won’t, can’t be anything other than a movie theater. Even in the days when it slummed as a porno theater, it had to play with shadows and light. I like that, somehow. Even when the world seemingly moved on, this place would live its purpose.
Even with the unalterable core at the heart of Circle Cinema, it experiments with other things. While there are often a plethora of movie posters (some signed) on the walls, on this particular day they are all taken off the walls in anticipation of a renovation of one of the smaller screening rooms. The lobby is also host to occasional art exhibitions. While the place knows that it always was and always will be a movie theater, it can’t help but wonder what it would be like to be an art gallery. And the only art gallery in Tulsa that serves White Castle sliders. I like that, too.
There is a one drawback to the place, and it is a factor I’ll likely keep coming back to in these pieces. Each of the screening rooms at Circle uses digital projection; not a single room uses a film projection system. Complain about the prequels all you want, but the big legacy Lucas left us before selling everything to Disney was insisting on digital projection systems. They are a drag. There’s a lifeless, antiseptic quality to it. In most larger theaters, it’s a presentation I can get used to. At Circle, many of their screenings are just projections off of a blu ray player. This was especially sad when, at a special screening of Halloween, I realized that I could have gotten almost the same exact experience at home, and there I could have taken my shoes off, or paused the movie if I needed to pee. That realization has led me to beg off going to some of their screenings of other classics.
It’s a nitpicky thing for a place doing such wonderful work, but maybe I dream of the slight danger of a reel breaking in the middle of a movie. Maybe its just me, but I need that air of uncertainty in my leisure time.
Oh, yes. There was also a movie involved in this little outing:
I saw Raiders!: The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made. Whoo, boy. I’ve got a lot of thoughts about this film. As the man who was once the boy that would conquer Hollywood with nothing more than his intermittently reliable wits and a camcorder, the movie struck a chord.
In fairness, that chord often led me to mutter, “Jesus, guys. Move on.”
While the documentary delves into the making of the lions’ share of the subject’s efforts to cobble together a shot-for-shot remake of Raiders of the Lost Ark, the main thrust of the narrative deals with their attempt, over twenty-five years after they “finished” their movie, to film the one scene** they could never finish. The level of obsession these people had for their project is something I might be able to call commitment, if it weren’t for the fact that they spent their time (and, admittedly, their love) making a movie that was made quite well before. Say what you will about my occasional forays into filmmaking, but I was absolutely making my own movie. I also never almost lost my job over it. Maybe that makes me a sell-out, but if these guys could make an original film, I would have been far more sympathetic to their plight.
Circle Cinema is kind of a small miracle of a place. In a town all-too eager to throw away theaters older than thirty years, this place not only still fulfills the function for which it was originally built, but thrives in the endeavor. They show the movies that no one else in town will show. Still, they are also not so inaccessible that they are above more entertaining fair. Their upcoming screening of Evil Dead 2 seems like it would be a good time for all. I do wish that they were equipped for actual film projection, but as I continue through this project, I get the sinking feeling that film projection has died out. Long live George Lucas.
*Again, I can’t confirm or deny that I have enjoyed a long lucrative career as a time traveller. I do acknowledge that there is a significant amount of circumstantial evidence to support that hypothesis.
**The sequence where the Nazi flying wing explodes.