Saturday, April 28, 2007

ALL CINEMAS GREAT AND SMALL


In digging up that picture of the Cinemagic Theater in Portland, Oregon that I used on the previous post, I stumbled upon a real treasure chest for those who love to look at photos of the fading facades of the American moviegoing past. Photographer Don Lewis, whose shot of the Cinemagic that is, has posted a wonderful 336-picture slideshow entitled Vanishing Movie Theaters that really should be seen by anyone who still fondly remembers the days before the multiplex was king. Some of the theaters in Lewis’s collection are still open—the Bagdad in Portland, Oregon, seen above, is now a McMenamin’s-owned pub and theater, but it’s still cranking. However, many are not—for them, the last picture show faded a long time ago. I’ll never forget what it was like to walk up at dusk to the box-office of my local movie palace—it was located under a field of bright bulbs that covered the underside of the marquee overhang, and when I was a kid it made the Alger Theater seem like the most wonderful place on Earth. Even when the bright sunlight revealed that it was hardly that, it still managed to retain a special aura. Lewis’ photographs, even the saddest shots of dilapidated and neglected facades and marquees, have that aura too, and I suspect they will for anyone who remembers when movies were shown in big and small palaces, buildings that bestowed magic on them whether they deserved it or not

10 comments:

Peter Nellhaus said...

When I lived in Portland, in the first half of 1973, I didn't have a car. I did most of my film viewing downtown where they still had some beautiful theaters. In terms of movies though, without a car I missed a double feature of The Searchers and The Sundowners. Otherwise, if you knew where to look, there was always something interesting playing in Portland theaters and often as part of a double feature.

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Peter, I remember the Orpheum and the Fox and the Fifth Avenue Cinemas quite well and visited them as frequently as I could while living in Eugene. (Of the downtown theaters, though, I never made it to the Broadway for some reason.) But do you remember the Irvington? It hasn't been standing for quite some time now, and I never went there, but I always used to see it in the Oregonian movie pages and became curious about it because it was the only Portland theater in the Tom Moyer chain that played Lisztomania. The movie ran there for several weeks, and I always wanted to see what a neighborhood theater that played that movie might have looked like and where, exactly, it was located.

Peter Nellhaus said...

Actually I can't remember any of the theater names. I only remember that there was one relatively nice "grindhouse" where I saw Tony Rome and Lady in Cement. There was also another theater that required a long bus ride so I could see Steelyard Blues. I lived in the blue collar section of Portland on Burrage Street. Will Vinton lived there before I moved in. I met him through a mutual friend.

Damian said...

Even though I'm only a couple hours' drive from Portland, I don't get up there very often (and my brother and sister live there too; shame on me) and I must confess that I've never been to the Cinemagic. In fact, I haven't been to many theatres in Portland (the Koin is the only one that comes to mind at the moment). What's interesting is that the bottom left photo you posted looks exactly like the front of a theatre we have here in Corvallis (now closed down) called The Whiteside.

You mentioned living in Eugene for a while, Dennis. Did you ever go to either the MacDonald or the Bijou? The MacDonald was one of those classic theatres in thw grand, glorious tradition. I only saw one film there (Branagh's Hamlet, the only film I've ever seen in the theatre with an intermission). They had to play it there because the macDonald was the only theatre in Eugene with a 70mm projector. Of course, it is now gone.

The Bijou, on the other hand, was a theatre where I saw a lot of great foreign, arthouse and classic films while I was in college. I loved that "old church atmosphere" about it. They say attending movies is akin to a "religious" experience. here it was literally true. I believe it's still going strong (thank God).

Murray said...

Dennis, that photo of the Alger theater in Lakeview brought back floods of memories of you and me going the movies there. Another theater in Lakeview, the Marius theater also tugs at my heart. It unbelievable to me to think that Lakeview had 2 indoor theaters and one drive-in theater in the 1960's. Do you have any photos of the old Marius theater? Good to see you back in the blogging action again. Hey, I had a heck of time getting this posted due to the Google Blogger setup, something new huh!

blaaagh said...

Wow, what a nice trip down memory lane, and I very much enjoyed the photo gallery of old theaters. Fortunately, Portland still has some of the best theaters up and running, and your post reminded me of the wonderful Orinda and Grand Lake theaters in the bay area--long may they reign. I vaguely remember going to the Irvington in Northeast Portland, but can't remember much about it, since it's one of many old movie houses I went to for second-run fare as a kid. Can't even remember what movies I saw there, alas!

I was recently in San Antonio, and they do indeed have some old movie theatres with beautiful facades and marquees--some are even still in operation--as well as many beautifully maintained old buildings in the downtown/Alamo area.

blaaagh said...

...oh, and Damian, the McDonald in Eugene is now a hoppin' live music venue--and I can only hope they still have their 70mm projectors, just in case, but I don't know. The Bijou is still alive and well, as you mentioned, and now has air conditioning. If you come to Eugene, you should go see a movie there--you'll find, as I did, that it's exactly as you remember it, which is a very good thing.

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Damian, I wonder if those 70mm projectors are still stashed away in there. The McDonald was the first theater in Eugene where I ever saw a movie—it was a double feature of Superdad and Son of Flubber, endured during a trip to the State High School Basketball Tournament in the spring of 1974 because my companions and I were too young to see The Exorcist, which was tantalizing us from across the mall at the National, the other big downtown cinema in Eugene.

(Unlike the McDonald, which, as Blaaagh says, is now a snappy venue for live music—and maybe someday a 70mm festival that will set all Eugene abuzz!—the National has been boarded up for quite some time.)

And during my college days, I saw many a big movie there-- Raiders of the Lost Ark, All That Jazz, The Deer Hunter, 1941, National Lampoon’s Animal House, Three Women, Monty Python and the Holy Grail—and some not-so-big ones too—Motel Hell, Blood Beach, Schlock!, and a ton more I’m just not remembering off the top of my head. It was a terrific theater, as I recall, and I always looked forward to seeing movies there.

The Bijou opened, if I’m not mistaken, sometime during the course of my senior year at U of O, and it was a real godsend. Though it hadn’t fully settled into its arthouse persona yet, it was still a nice addition to the old Cinema 7, an art repertory house which used to be tucked into the old Atrium Mall building just down from the McDonald downtown. That year before I left Eugene I saw lots of great stuff at the Bijou-- The Duellists, Days of Heaven, Sisters, Peeping Tom, Mysterious Island, Help! and many others, I’m sure. (Recently, my wife and I saw Cronenberg’s Spider there, and last summer I got to see A Prairie Home Companion there as well.) I even shot some 16mm footage of the interior of the theater for an aborted documentary I was trying to make as a film production project.

But my crowning experience at the Bijou was getting one of my own movies shown there as part of a short film festival night the film department organized there for us to show off our work for the year. That was quite a thrill!

The Bijou remains one of my favorite places to see a movie—I was told that the building used to house the campus for an old funeral home, and the auditorium where I saw movies like Peeping Tom and Sisters was, in fact, the chapel where the bodies were often laid out for open-casket ceremonies. True or not, the place certainly looks it, and I’ve always chosen to believe it. It just adds more mystique to the theater, which is, I’m so glad to say, still running strong 27 years later. God… that’s stunning to think it’s been that long! Not only for the implications it carries about my own age, but just in terms of how great that is for the film-loving citizenry of Eugene. There are nowhere near the choices available that there were when I was a student there, but having the Bijou alive is still a great thing, a link to a more film-literate past. And I always keep up with the Bijou through the link on my sidebar. The webmaster, Louise, might even have a definitive answer about that funeral home story—myth or fact? But do I really want to know…?

Murray: I know, I know. And wait till you see the pics I collected last year from the old drive-in site. The fella that owns it let me rummage around inside the old projection booth and everything. Alas, everything had been gutted. But I’d sure like to have gotten a look inside that giant storage shed alongside the north side of the property. When I was a kid, the Algers had all kinds of great stuff crammed in there—posters, movie calendars, old equipment, even an old string audio recorder. God knows what’s in there now…! I am on the search for old photos of the Marius, but I haven’t been successful as yet. Oddly enough, the stage to the Marius still exists—it’s underneath the floor of the USDA building. You can actually take a walk down into the basement and see how it was set up. It’s a bit dusty, but worth a look!

Blaaagh: I regret never getting a look inside the Grand Lake while you guys lived there. And I also really dug that picture of the Guild from downtown Portland, another theater I never got a chance to step into. Didn’t you see The Devils there?

Everyone: Here’s a great picture of the old Hollywood Theater in Portland. By the features on the marquee, this was definitely taken during our college days. Blaaagh was a projectionist and assistant manager here for some years. B, were you working for Hollis by the time this picture was shot, or did that come a couple of years later? I remember seeing Altered States with you and your brothers and sister at the Hollywood, and it had to have been some time around when this pic was shot too.

Adam Ross said...

I love the Hollywood in Portland and cannot believe that I have not been inside since the big renovation in the late 90s. It's really a HUGE theatre for where it is, and was still quite nice even when the surrounding area got kind of depressing. These days it's a trendy, upscale neighborhood complete with a Trader Joe's.

I think you mentioned Kennedy School's theater in a previous post Dennis, that's a marvel of a place -- I was lucky enough to see the new UCLA print of "Night of the Hunter" there a few years back and actually had my wedding in the gymnasium.

blaaagh said...

This is lots of fun, especially as the Portland theaters are so familiar and beloved to me. I worked at the Bagdad, too, before it was McMenamin's and when it was pretty grotty, though beautiful in the faded manner of Blanche DuBois. The Hollywood is a theater I always loved--I saw 2001 there with my older brother during its initial run--and while I was working there, in 1983 before high-tailing it down to L.A., I got to project a 70mm festival, beginning with the 30fps OKLAHOMA, on their giant screen (I remember opening the masking to fit the image and getting all excited), via their original, pristine Todd-AO projectors. Hollis Ballew, the manager, had worked there since the '50s, and he knew everything about it and took great pride in making sure things were done perfectly. He was a real old-school theater manager and projectionist. The two side booths which had been used for Cinerama projection were now storage closets, but I could still see the closed-up projection windows, and I had a foolish notion that one day Cinerama would return to the Hollywood. That cool photo you sent, Dennis, must've been from around 1979, right? So I was there several years later.

Yeah, the Guild was a place I saw a lot of interesting movies, including THE DEVILS, which I think was on a double feature with CARRIE! It always seemed like the art house serving Portland State students and faculty, and I know my parents would go there often to see some new foreign film or troubling art film, which they'd discuss afterward much to my tantalization and confusion.

Seems to me the story of the Bijou having been a funeral home is pretty much accepted as true around here--but that doesn't mean it is, of course. I wonder if Louise can confirm or squelch the rumor.

One more: the old Fifth Avenue Cinemas in Portland, which you mentioned, was pretty much an art house in the 70s, but they also had these wonderful weekend double features of old horror movies, everything from Universal monster movies to 50s atomic sci-fi/horror (like I WAS A TEENAGE WEREWOLF and ...FRANKENSTEIN on a double bill), and they showed an episode of a serial each week, too, and a cartoon, so a lot of us nerdy kids would go every week if we were able, to keep up on the serial's ludicrous plot, and of course to see the movies we didn't have access to unless some local TV station decided to run them.