IS THE ROMANCE GONE IN MOVIE GOING?
In an age of corporate run movie theater multi-plexes that are all designed and built the same, I sometimes wonder if the movie going experience hasn’t had the true essence taken away somewhat. And I’m not talking about the rude behavior of other patrons which is a story in itself. I’m talking about how all these big theater chains look alike, so it doesn’t really matter which one you go to other than convenience of proximity or perhaps a dollar or two difference in price. Obviously, if you have been to this site before, you’ve heard me speak of my beloved Oritiani Theater or possibly mention a few other theaters that were and still are of personal importance to me. These were theaters that were individual entities, at least to start with and had their own look, especially the older theaters like the Oritani and the Fox in Hackensack which had beautiful architecture and it gave these theaters their own identities…made them unique.
There was something romantic about these old theaters that enhanced the movie going experience, something I think today’s movie audience is sadly denied with cookie-cutter movie theater multi-plexes. Sure you have stadium seating, digital picture and sound and in some places you can order dinner and drinks, but it still comes wrapped in a very generic and souless package. You can’t tell one from the other once inside…and the outsides aren’t exactly special either. Can you become endeared to one of these places such as I did to say, the Park Lane theater in Palisades Park where I saw Jaws and Smokey And The Bandit as a kid, or even the Hyway Theater in Fair Lawn where I saw 80s cult classics like Re-animator and Maniac Cop? These theaters had character and atmosphere. They had their own personality. Today’s theaters…most of which are situated in or next to an equally generic shopping mall…have all the bells and whistles, but for me, anyway, they don’t have the charm or soul of say The Rialto Theater in Ridgefield Park, where I saw the original Friday The 13th on Friday June 13, 1980. Today’s generation of movie goer doesn’t know what it’s like to walk into one of these old theaters to watch a movie bathed in that theater’s atmosphere unless they are lucky enough to live near one of the few remaining such theaters like The Warner Theater in Ridgewood or The Claridge and Bellevue Theaters in Montclair. And even those are split into multiple auditoriums. Only a few like the Fox Theater in Hackensack closed their doors as a single auditorium theater as did also the Queen Anne Theater in Bogota…which was a beautiful old theater that showed only adult movies in the early 80s…and The Rialto theater in Ridgefield Park which closed in recent years after a run as a quaint art-house theater.
The Fairview Cinema in Fairview NJ, the first movie theater I remember going to.
Photo: Gregory Speciale
I’m from a different generation and as a film lover and movie geek, I grew up when movie going was about more then just the film, but the experience. The first theater I remember going to was The Fairview Cinema in Fairview, N.J. I remember the excitement I felt when the lights went down and the curtains opened to reveal the screen…that’s an experience all but gone from today’s movie going world, but when I was a kid, a few theaters still had curtains over the screen and when they opened it was magic, especially to a little kid. Who cares what was playing, you were at the movies! The first films I remember seeing there were odd live action movies based on Rumpelstiltskin and Puss in Boots, which I recently found out were German and Mexican films, respectively, dubbed into English. The Fairview had Saturday matinees for kids where they showed older movies like the two I just mentioned, as well as, the old Universal Frankenstein and Dracula and The Seventh Voyage Of Sinbad, in addition to it’s first fun features. I remember seeing Escape From The Planet Of The Apes there and The Golden Voyage Of Sinbad when they opened. There were other theaters I went to with my family, like the before mentioned Park Lane and the Linwood theater in Fort Lee, but my first memories of being in a movie theater were here.
The first predecessors of the multi-plex showed up in the 70s. For me in New Jersey it was the Stanley Warner Triplex where I saw Star Wars opening weekend and the Century Twin where I saw my first James Bond film in a theater, The Spy Who Loved Me, both in Paramus. And I can’t forget The Showboat Quad in Edgewater N.J. where I saw some B-movie classics like Damnation Alley and The Crater Lake Monster. These theaters still had a bit of their own style, but the proverbial writing was on the wall. The future was starting to arrive, as we approached the 80s, as more multi-plexes opened and some of the old favorites like The Fairview Cinema, Park Lane and Oritani soon became either twins or triplexes to keep up…and already multi-screened The Stanley Warner became a quad and then, over time, grew to a ten-plex before closing in recent years. Some of these multi-screen theaters kept their atmosphere and charm, especially the Park Lane and the grind-house Oritani, but once those places closed and other theaters where chopped up even further, the personality of the local theater became lost as the corporate juggernaut took over and now almost every mall comes with a theater attached with at least ten screens, each theater and their lobbies and auditoriums all looking the same.
The few remaining local theaters in various towns, like the Westwood Cinema in Westwood, N.J. are all that are left of this bygone era where the experience of movie going was more than top of the line speakers and a waitress bringing you a turkey club wrap. It was about the atmosphere and the personality of the theater you were in. Obviously, as you know, I love movies and I love going to the movies, but the experience isn’t as gratifying as it once was, at least not to me who was there to experience that time where going to the movies still held a romanticism and the theater you went to had it’s own unique style. To those of this new generation who grew up on the mall multi-plex and have never experienced that local theater complete with an actual stage and curtains across the screen, it’s sad that they may never know this wonderful part of the movie going experience. Maybe this doesn’t matter to the casual movie goer, but if you love movies like I do, it can make even the worst movie a special memory.
There are still a few of these small local theaters out there…though most, as noted, are now broken up into multiple screens, but still have their charming lobbies, box office booths and an actual marquee in front, something I miss seeing upon approaching a theater…and if you have the opportunity, I suggest you go, even just once, to get an idea of what I am referring to…before all the romance in going to the movies is completely gone. And from my point of view that is something sadly lost no matter how good the movie is.
Cozy, isn’t it? The interior of the now closed Rialto Theater in Ridgefield Park.
Photo: Sol Lang
A trailer for Puss In Boots, one of the first movies I remember seeing in a theater when I was a kid.