Friday, August 24, 2007

What’s the best single-screen movie palace?

Chris Jay (Robinson Film Center) and I recently trekked to Springhill to watch "The Bourne Ultimatum" at the Spring Theatre (top). It's a single-screen theater with great sound and projection. It seats 415 and shows one movie daily except on Sunday, when there's an additional matinee. This theater and the local bowling alley are two of the town's only options for nightly entertainment.

According an MPAA study from 2006, there are 1,742 single screens in the U.S. I'm working to find out how many drive-ins are included in this figure (or not).

We've written a story about it, which will be published soon.


Exploring old single-screen theaters is a passion of mine. I'm not against multiplexes, but I don't particularly enjoy the generic, loud and perfected experiences they provide.

I've logged all of my favorite movie-going memories at single-screen theaters that offer beat-up prints, suspect sound, sticky floors and squeaky seats. I like to feel my movies.

You could do that at the Morris Theatre in Morris, Minn. (bottom).

If you know me, you've heard this story before.

As I recall, I was a freshman at the University of Minnesota Morris. Despite it being winter (or, at the very least, snowing and cold as all Fargo), the Morris Theatre was undergoing a bit of remodeling.

It had a huge auditorium with a closed balcony (on most nights). If you went to the lobby to score popcorn for your date, it was best to send out a search party to spot her on the trip back down the aisle. You wouldn't have been surprised to have been sucked into a black hole en route.

Playing late one night was "Alive" (1993), the drama about the Uruguayan rugby team. Their plane crashed in the Andes Mountains, and they had to resort to cannibalism to survive. (You remember Ethan Hawke's better days, don't you? Yummy.)

The theater owner must have had a wonderful sense of humor and a perverse taste for immersing moviegoers in a movie world.

The exit doors at the screen's edges were no longer there. In their place were clear plastic tarps, waving furiously in an angry wind. The furnace wasn't really working. My hands were cold. I wore a stocking cap.

Along with a handful of patrons, I watched scenes of human desperation get bleaker and bleaker as my breath turned frosty and snow blew in from the dark alley. It was as if the auditorium was the fuselage and the movie theater had crashed onto the snowy prairies of western Minnesota.

Smell-O-Vision be damned. Moviegoing doesn't get better than that.

What's your favorite single-screen theater? Please share a favorite memory.


m said...

Isn't it funny how single-screen theaters have developed a whole different kind of movie-viewing culture than the megaplexes ... or even the independent film theaters? Something about the old, the sticky, and the availability of alcohol. It feels more communal, more intimate?

My most recent experience at a single-screen was just a couple weeks ago at "The Big Picture" in Seattle. I wouldn't call it a traditional single-screen by any means; the owners of the venue created a viewing space in the basement of their restaurant that has a relatively small screen and maybe fifty seats. Just outside the theater doors is a classy cocktail lounge that serves white cheddar popcorn and, of course, drinks--both of which you can take inside. I too watched The Bourne Ultimatum.

They recently closed down the old single-screen I used to frequent down in Costa Mesa (CA) known to us by the elegant and distinguished name, "The Dollar Fifty Theater."

Denny said...

There's an article in Sunday's Washington Post by Shreveport native Yolanda Young. I'm here on your site because she included your URL in that story.

M's experience in Seattle reminds me of the now-closed Bigham Tavern in Pittsburgh's Mt. Washington, that on weekends in the 60s, 70s showed good older movies. Used a room above a garage next to that building. Card tables and chairs. Loved the fried shrimp.

In the late 50s/early 60s, it was HUGE when a TV network broadcast the first, reasonably new movie on TV (maybe Gentlemen Prefer Blondes with MM). Neighborhood movie houses were still headlining movies released in prior years at the time.

If anyone gets to Baltimore, check out The Senator in Towson, MD suburb. It is a great, refurbished single-screen movie theatre. The current Bourne franchise flick is also running there.

You may have given me a good reason to go see it.

Everyday Housewife said...
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Everyday Housewife said...
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Alexandyr Kent said...

m, they do feel more communal, I think. There's something cool about having to go to the same movie with strangers.

denny, I should be getting to Baltimore soon, so I'll definitely check out the Senator. Thanks for the rec.