An Ode to the Cheap Movie Theater
As box-office records get broken, and big budget films are released seemingly every hour, it's clear that movies have taken over summer. But before heading out to the nearest fancy movie theater, the one with stadium seating, Imax screens, and 39 concession stands, we should take a moment to honor the old, dingy, primitive movie theaters. Most towns have an old theater. Some show movies that have been out for a few weeks or months at a discounted price, while others feature more artistic and independent films. But these theaters all have the same basic charms. We here at SparkNotes encourage you to try out these decaying theaters, and admire their unique charms. Such as:
The chairs – Who needs a cup-holder or head support? Besides, you're literally sitting on history. These old, itchy chairs have cushioned butts for decades, thus increasing the odds that someone famous sat in them. Your very seat might have once been occupied by JFK, Oprah, or even Johnny Depp. And one day, who knows, maybe someone will sit in that seat and think to themselves, "I wonder if the famous Sparkler, (INSERT YOUR NAME HERE), ever sat in this chair?"
The employees – You won't find any aloof teens at these theaters. Instead, you'll be served by folks who actually know what they're doing. More importantly, they care about your movie-going experience…probably because the theater is about to go bankrupt and if they don't get some return customers soon, they will be unemployed. But who cares about the sad state of affairs when you have a ticket taker who knows the difference between P.T. Anderson and Paul W.S. Anderson? (Hint: One's a talented filmmaker. The other made Alien vs. Predator and thus is probably the devil).
The curtains – Yes, they look scary and old, but that's only because they are scary and old. Ragged curtains can make a horror movie even more terrifying, or make a period drama pop right off the screen. And if the movie gets boring, you can always pretend that lurking behind the heavy, smoke-damaged fabric is a monster or an engraving that points to the true whereabouts of the Holy Grail.
The value – These theaters need some way to entice customers, and since they can't lure patrons with first-run movies or carpet, they have to lower their ticket prices. In most cases, the prices for snacks will be lower too, and if you see the last show of the night, all it takes are a few kind words and wink, and the employee will gladly fill a trash bag with the concession stand's leftover popcorn for you to take home. It's as thrifty as it is sad.
The bathroom – The facilities at old movie theaters are…hmm. Never mind. They're pretty gross and we swear we heard something rustling in the trash can.
The movie choices – These theaters are your only chance to see experimental Russian films about war and clouds, or your last chance to catch a movie on the big screen before it heads to DVD. If you miss out on this opportunity, your entire life will be filled with regret. Plus, these theaters allow a film to stick around for a few more weeks, making it possible to beat the record for most viewings of Hannah Montana: The Movie. (Our current record stands at 0.4 viewings).
The starting time – These old theaters don't show 30 minutes of commercials before the film begins. You might get a few slides promoting a local real estate agent, but it won't be a loud, annoying ad for Sprite or Subaru. As an added bonus, at the arty theaters, your ears will be treated to some interesting and unique music from the usher's iPod that he patched into the sound system. This is how all Tom Waits fans first encounter his music. Honest.
The ceiling – This is the very best part of the old movie theaters. The dilapidated ceiling is so fascinating to stare at that it's worth the price of admission alone just to gaze up. If you're lucky, the cheap theater is very old and has a high molded ceiling with fancy designs and leafy decorations. You might even spot a few pagan symbols if you squint hard enough. And you can pass the time before the movie starts by looking at the ceiling, and pondering what would happen if someone lost a helium balloon in the theater. (This trick also works when feeling bored in large churches, basketball stadiums, and Old Navy.)
Do you have a soft spot for crumbling old theaters?