Thursday, May 25, 2006

Going to the Movies: The Neighborhood Theaters

"Everybody knows when you go to the show you can't take the kids along
You've gotta read the paper and know the code of GP, G and R and X

And you gotta know what the movie's about before you even go

Tex Ritter's gone and Disney's dead and the screen is filled with sex."

...From the song, "Whatever Happened to Randolph Scott" by the Statler Bros.

I don't know what happened to Randolph Scott, I never saw one of his movies. I think he was an old Western hero, the kind of movies boys piled into for a Saturday matinee back in the day - the day before I was born.

But I do know what happened to the neighborhood movie theater. Something called video - VHS - came along and killed the movie houses all around South Philly, as well as in other cities and towns. Suddently, you could rent a movie at a mom & pop store on the corner (before Blockbuster) as long as it wasn't already rented out. But before that, the movie houses ruled. It used to be a movie had it's first run in the Center City theaters, moved down here to the small houses, and then finally to the TV screen. Now, it goes from the big screen to DVD in a matter of weeks, then maybe HBO or whoever is showing them on cable or the dish.

If you're in your 40s or later, you remember the neighborhood joints. The last to go was the Colonial at 10th & Moyamensing. The owners kept it alive a lot longer than they should have. In the end, the place should have been condemned. Townhouses (ok, glorified rowhomes) stand in it's place now. The last show I saw there was Wildcats with Goldie Hawn, and I never went back again. But I had spent many weekend and summer nights there, so I have good memories, more of time with friends there than the Colonial itself.

Besides the Colonial, there were many others here in South Philly, theaters you could go to see a movie at a decent price and have a good time. I can remember the Broadway (Broad & Snyder), The Stadium (later Cinema South at Broad & Hartranft), the President at 23rd & Snyder. I remember seeing Animal House at the Stadium one Sunday afternoon. Given the type of movie it was, we call came out of there acting as juvenile as we were. Walking up Broad, I can remember Anthony C. yelling "Run!" and seeing him and a few others scramble, with three older guys in pursuit. Seems that Anthony threw something at one of our other friends and missed, and hit one of the older guys. Not knowing what was up, a few of us didn't run. The ones who did got smacked around a bit. Nothing serious, but enough to learn something.

The last flick we saw at the Broadway was Poseidon Adventure, now remade as many movies are, maybe better, maybe worse. I guess there aren't many original ideas left. If it was filmed in the 70's, it may be around again, but don't count on it being too good, or at least what you remember. Now the Broadway's gone, it went on to become a Gino's, then Roy Rogers, and now a Walgreen's drug store. Progress? I don't think so. Everything changes and we have to accept that. But still, it was nice to be able to go to a place nearby and watch a movie on a big screen.

Anyhow, you can't go to a neighborhood theater anymore. They're nowhere to be found. If you live here in South Philly, your closest option is on Columbus Blvd, and you'll pay more than you would have here in the neighborhood places. And when you add popcorn and a soda, you'll break the bank. I thought prices were high at Citizen's Bank Park when I went to a ballgame there, but the theaters seem worse. It's just not the same, watching a DVD. It's just gathering around the TV set, I don't care if you have a hi-def screen with surround sound system or whatever. Kids today won't know the good times of hanging with friends and putting down a buck to watch a movie close to home. So maybe you did have a rat run across your feet during the declining days of one of the local houses. But you still had a good time.

...Drive-in theaters. There was one on 61st & Passyunk that survived through the early 80s. A concrete processing plant now sits there. I never got to go to a drive-in. One of those pleasures of life I was cheated out of.

..."no one will be seated during the last two minutes." There were a few horror movies back in the 70s or 80s that used that line to draw crowds. But if you got there in the last five minutes and saw the dramatic (or so they say) ending, you blew the movie when you stayed to watch it again.

..."Bambi vs. Godzilla". I hadn't seen that one. We got ripped at the Colonial one night (no, not drunk, but ripped off). They advertized that you could pay to watch Phantasm, and stay for the midnight flick which started with Bambi v. Godzilla. We saw Phantasm, but were ushered out the door when it ended. I don't know if there was no midnight movie, or if you had to pay a separate admission. Anyhow, someone told me the Bambi movie was just a gimmick, a shorty where Bambi is grazing in the field and Godzilla's massive foot comes down to crush him. I didn't miss so much after all.

...Being the jerk who made the wrong choice of movies. A few of us wanted to go to the show, but the choice was "Towering Inferno" at the Stadium or "Tidal Wave" at the Colonial. Someone won out and we saw the latter, a low-budget Japanese movie whose only American actor was Lorne Greene of Bonanza fame. Although I remember a wasted two hours watching a bonehead film, I can't remember who made the suggestion. So because we have short memories, whoever got us to go see that fiasco won't have the stigma of being remembered as the person who suggested it.

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