Note: I went to these movies during the week of July 11th-15th.
Movie Theaters are holy places. Maybe they don’t lead to profound theological truths* but they certainly do house the moments that matter. 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.
The memory of these places has been on my mind a lot lately. Movie Theaters are now build 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 Searchlight Cinemas Super Saver, one of only two second-run theaters left in the city.
Movies I memorably saw here in the past:
Batman: Mask of the Phantasm (1993)
Jetsons: The Movie (1990) (May have been the last first-run movie I saw there)
Small Soldiers (1998) (The only movie I ever abandoned before the end credits. Sorry, Joe Dante)
One blissful day in 2000 when, on a 50 cent Tuesday I saw Toy Story 2, The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle, and what I can only hope is a better film than the last one I listed, all in the course of a day.
A screening of The Scorpion King (2002) in the summer of its release that I abandoned before the scarce coming attractions began either to engage in some sort of adolescent debauchery or drama elsewhere. I honestly can’t remember which.
A screening of Tomorrowland in 2015. The flood of memories from that screening in some small way led to the blog series you are currently reading.
The Mall 31 seemed like an abandoned idea twenty years ago, and much to its credit, has not decayed much beyond that time.
There used to be a great arcade and a game shop there. The arcade went vacant for the better part of ten years, and is now a low-rent furniture shop. In "Right" I described a corner in Stillwater that had nothing but a strip club and an abandoned used car lot as the place where capitalism went to die, but I may have been secretly thinking of this place. The game shop is still in operation, but it has seen better days. I buy a package of Monty Python Fluxx and quickly make my way back to the theater.
The box office for the theater must have been abandoned some time in the 1990s. I can’t remember the last time I bought tickets at any theater outside of the building. Makes sense, too. I can’t imagine having to work in that little booth with the high summer sun never moving away from the box office window on its journey from east to west. Just can’t imagine why they keep building these outside box offices.
The lobby is sparse (hardly surprising for a second run theater on a Monday at 1 PM) but surprisingly clean. Further developments won’t be that encouraging.
Back in the day, the corridor leading to each theater was a borderline psychedelic tunnel of rotating lights. In that ongoing need to equate the movie theater experience with some sort of reality-bending experience, this place used to sell the illusion. Now, there’s just a normal hallway. I can’t express my disappointment at the change. Walking to my screening is such a banal experience now. I wonder if I somehow imagined its bright, colorful precursor. If it was real, I can’t help but wonder what became of the old hallway. Does someone have that contraption in their house connecting their breakfast nook to their den? Why isn’t that hypothetical person my best friend?
The illusion of stepping into the past almost comes back when I enter the theater. There’s an ambiance to current movie theaters that is distinct, yet hard to define. After much consideration, I can only guess it is some sort of carefully curated lighting and paint job that is meant to evoke the feeling of a movie theater from an even more bygone, classic era. Instead, while clean and comfortable, the mise en scene only soaks the place in an Epcot-esque counterfeit quality. This theater doesn’t have any that. Close your eyes, imagine a movie theater you went to in the early 90s. That’s the kind of place I found myself in.
The seats must have narrowed in the intervening years. Each armrest snugly bunched up against either of my sides. There can be no other reasonable explanation.
I wish I could say that the strange time capsule of a theater I entered had eschewed the ravages of time. Unfortunately the flying saucer like water stains on each and every panel of the ceiling introduced a brief feeling of dread, before I remembered the admission price and put the possible airborne pollutants out of my mind. Disrepair was the order of the day; of the feeble-looking speakers, one appeared to be taken from one of the employees old home sound system.
And another thing: throughout the entire experience the air conditioning was blasting, but the place — while cooler than the Satan’s sweat lodge that has replaced Oklahoma — couldn’t have been cooler than 85. MAC BOYLE DOESN’T DO HEAT.
Oh, yes. There was also a movie involved in this little outing:
I saw The Nice Guys from famed director and screenplay over-writer Shane Black. The movie was delightful, made only the more so by the fact that of the four people in the theater (including myself) at the beginning of the movie, I was the only one still sitting at the end. Apparently, the others didn’t find the comedic teaming of Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling to be all that nice. Their loss.
The place has seen better days, and is in a location that doesn’t attract any real retail TLC. The print I saw today looked sort of bleh digital, but I could have sworn that I saw Tomorrowland here very recently with a 35mm print. If this is the theater in town that could be used to play 35mm movies regularly, it is not being used to its maximum potential.
I go to Circle Cinema, Tulsa’s premiere art house/not for profit theater. They have White Castle sliders and art exhibits! It’s a good thing.
* They do lead to theological truths, but that is a topic for another blog, and somebody reading this is going to take umbrage with that first sentence, so peace, everybody. Peace.