For The Love Of Small Town Theatres: A Beacon Of Cinematic Hope Rises

Hooray for Hollywood
That phoney, super coney Hollywood
They come from Chillicothes and Padukahs
With their bazookas to get their names up in lights
All armed with photos from local rotos
With their hair in ribbons and legs in tights

Hooray for Hollywood
You may be homely in your neighborhood
But if you think that you can an actor
See Mr. Factor, he’d make a monkey look good
Within a half an hour, you’ll look like Tyrone Power
Hooray for Hollywood

Hooray for Hollywood, Johnny Mercer/Richard Whiting

I live in a smaller Mid West town of about 30,000 people. It is a cornucopia of architectural styles, new and old , it’s population if a wonderful mix of agrarian and emerging economies, young and old. It is a great place to raise a family and to live The emotional and spiritual center of our our little town is a city block long containing The Willard, an old hotel converted into a great restaurant/bar and the great lady of our beloved town, The Historic Artcraft Theatre.

I am more than fond of The Artcraft since in my perception it is one of the few truly pure movie going experiences left on the North American continent. Every year a cinematic survey of Hollywood’s treasured past are screened for hordes of cinema fanatics. Films like “A Christmas Story” and “American Graffiti” often sell out it the 600 plus seat theatre for four or five screenings. Prizes giveaways and more than corny skits are presented prior to the movie. A Warner Brother’s cartoon is always shown and before every movie the National Anthem is played. The Artcraft features a twin Peerless 35mm projectors on a changeover system where the reel’s have to be changed every twenty minutes. While watching any movie you can faintly hear the faint ringing of the bells announcing the change of a film reel. It is classic movie going at its best.

It is a more than amazing movie going experience. Nothing is better that sitting in the Artcraft of a early December’s eve when “A Christmas Story” lights up the 35 foot screen of The Artcraft .The whole town launches into its glorious Christmas season to the seductive bells of a changeover projector.

Because of its programming model and its ability to not be dependent on the Hollywood PR machine, the Artcraft remains a viable and dynamic experience. I have often suggested to some of the good people of The Historic Artcraft Theatre that its management should really begin to nurture similar models in various other cities as a way of seed the rebirth of movie going. I do so rather selfishly because the know day and date releasing looms large and that unless theatres take back control of their own destiny their days are numbered. I love movies and I love movie going and I want to ensure that form of beautiful Americana exists for future generations.

Two anti-trust actions are accelerating the movement towards Day and Date Releasing, one in the US against the major exhibitors and the second in Europe against the big six studios. The US action may see the weakening of theatres to have the ability to impact the economic strategies of the studios and the implementation of Day and Date. The European action is far more serious, with a possible outcome being the eradication of the European markets being determined by language and looking toward a single Pan EEC market. This would strengthen players like Netflix who are now demanding global rights when they acquire films and would accelerate the implementation of day and date.

This will change the economic model of filmmaking and distribution forever and will allow a few corporations to gain control over the global cinema marketplace. None of the players have any interest in anything other than the speed of the economic return on their investment. They certainly have no regard for the tradition they would be destroying.

The timing of these actions are more than suspect and if one has a penchant for conspiracy theories you can reach all kinds of conclusions.

The bottom line is that“Day and Date” is going to happen, and Hollywood is expecting exhibitors to comply with their wishes. It is wrong, I think it is more than short sighted but it is going to happen. Increasingly the voices of the exhibitors are being drowned out by the squeaking maws of Netflix and the other VOD services that are emerging globally. Their dominance will be short lived and what may happen to movie going is more than scary. These are all public entities that rise and fall by the fickle stock market.

My advice to the independent is to change the model. At one time prior to Lew Wasserman and the gang at Universal wanting to soop every ounce of box office gravy with a cinematic biscuit called “Jaws”, new releases were only released in downtown cores of larger cities. Most rural and smaller center theatres maybe only saw new releases maybe five weeks after it was released in downtown Chicago and New York. Now todays , innovations in technology have made this form of releasing a thing of the past, but maybe just maybe we can bring back movie going using the model innovated by The Historic Artcraft Theatre.

We have to realize that the biggest product we have as exhibitors is the promotion of that sense of true community movie going brings. This community is something that we have the ability to promote and capture, it is something that the studios can never take away. Whether the majors realize it or not , movies are intended to be seen on a big screen with a couple of hundred of your closest friends. I have had the pleasure of seeing movies like “Star Wars” . “Raiders Of The Lost Ark”, “Meatballs” all on the big screen on their first day of release and I know what a powerful experience movie going in a proper theatre with a proper audience can be. To this day my viewing of 1979’s bloodless horror film “When A Stranger Calls” remains the most horrific viewing experience in my movie going experience. It was compelling, scary and totally enjoyable. It was something Netflix could never even aspire too.

We need to celebrate that form of moving experience again. This weekend I saw The Beatles in “A Hard Day’s Night” at The Artcraft. The audiences laughed, hummed with the amazing music and were one with this low budget film made in 1964. It was what movie going is all about.

It is likely that many larger to smaller theatre chains will see massive downsizing but for the independent and the drive-ins, I would say look towards Franklin Indiana a a possible road to salvation. Look towards The Historic Artcraft Theatre in Franklin, Indiana . They may be on to something.

They just may have saved the movies.

Check them out www.historicartcrafttheatre.org