Canadian Rambler – 1/2/06


Colin Moore looks at the future of cinemas

With Colin Moore

What’s to become of the multiplex?

I’m wondering if the multiplex will ever be missed, the way the one and two screen houses are today…by some. Tonight I sat in a rep theatre here in Toronto. One screen, 500 seats maybe, double leveled balcony, a hot entertainment getaway in its day. Now it reruns arty classics and wide release handmedowns from the big boys after most the blood has already been sucked. So why am I here? Why take the low road over the glam bam of modern cinemas? Better picture, better screen? No. No convex wraparound IMAXIC suprascreens engineered for enhanced retinal massage. Better seating? Definitely not. The one I sat in tonight looked like a bowling shoe without laces. It was as plush as a hubcap in a sock, though it smelt well enough to warrant not having to bend closer to see if it’s the chair or really me. Leg room was so-so. I did a bit more shifting in the bowling shoe seats than the ergonomic Captain Kirk comfort chairs at the megaplex, but not much more. Restless by nature. More cute conveniences? None visible. No cup-holders here but the ones attached to your wrists. No flash. No splash. No fuss. Hell, even the concession boy was a volunteer. So what’s the attraction?

It’s more than it just being “neat”. Neat would be seeing an old school projector in a cramped sweaty rotted out attic, and having an old school projectionist show you how to thread it, maybe hang out for a while listening to stories about some wino doing cartwheels during the second reel of “The French Connection 2”. For me, it’s partly nostalgic and partly a sign of simpler times. No duo-toned uniformed ushers giving cell-phone courtesy speeches before the show. No cell phones for that matter. No deep-fried food courts lining the lobby corridors, though if you’re going to sit passively in the upright position for 2.5 hours watching the latest Peter Jackson, might as well have a ten dollar cheeseburger digesting in you. No life-sized models of the Millenium Falcon hanging over your head. No video monitors running trailers of the film you’re waiting to see. No free magazines to roll up and leave on the back windshield or subway floor. None of that.

There was a small line up tonight, four to six person rushes, no more. Everyone was patient under the canopy, not minding the odd bit of drizzle that slapped their necks. We passed our admission through a sliding glass window, crouching a head length to smile and say “One please” or “Two my good man”, nothing more. I’m relatively happy in the bigger movie palaces I suppose, but I can’t recall smiling. I might have smiled handing over 12 bucks for “21 Grams”, but I’m quite sure I was moody for “Batman Forever”. With membership you’re paying five bucks at the rep theatre, without one, eight at the most. Refreshment are about the same percentage cheaper, with combo deals cutting it down even further. Forget price though, forget price. The difference is in the presentation. The walk to the ticket man was short, and so was he incidentally. He didn’t wear a headset or a uniform. He was my dad’s age, but still ripped the ticket well. Aside from the guy in the booth out front, the only other employee visible was 10 feet behind him working the snack bar. I like the old snack bars. Everything is laid out. There are chocolate bars and licorice, goodies and gummies, and nothing behind a sneeze guard. You can actually touch it. It’s not the Louvre after all. I appreciate the element of trust here. I like seeing it in action. One could easily pinch an Oh Henry when the pre-puberty volunteer turns his back, but no one does. And it’s cheap enough that no one wants to, I like to think.

I picked a seat in the balcony. Walking up the stairs to a theatre balcony is still a great experience. The upper level reveals itself to you slowly, there’s still a mystery about it. How big is it? How high does it get? Will that tough kid in the jean jacket with the Iron Maiden patch give me a hateful look or keep spitting ju-jubes over the side and fondle his 14 year-old moustache. You know, that kind of thing. The molding on the walls curves and juts out in cubist layers, funkified, like the music. And the coloring? Gastrointestinal red and green schemes that make you wish your cones were rods, but with the lights half dimmed it’s actually quite soothing. That’s another thing I like, the lights are always low, even before the film. The original carpeting appears to have the original spills, perhaps one your Dad made back in the day, trembling nervously back to his seat with your future Mom’s 7-Up, seconds before they fired up “Dr. Zhivago”. My folks saw that one actually, on their first date from what I remember. Not sure if they liked it, but the experience obviously worked out for them. I wonder if things would’ve turned out differently if they spent the pre-show getting to know each other over Playstation ads and bad trivia. Who knows…