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By Jeremy Knox | June 20, 2007

In the mid-fifties there were almost 5000 Drive-In’s in the United States, by 1990 that number had dwindled to a little less than 1000. By 1998 that number was down to 800. Family owned independent theatres have suffered a similar fate, and the decline continues as the giant corporate chains take over. If this keeps up the independent theatre experience will be only a distant memory. 

And good f*****g riddance. 

I remember Drive-In’s and I remember the small, family owned theatres. At the time, it was sort of fun. Then again I was ten and thought “Who’s The Boss?” was quality entertainment. 1980-83 was also the age of tiny home televisions so any screen larger than a laptop computer monitor seemed huge and exotic. I’d recommend going in much the same way I’d recommend drinking at a rough biker bar. It’s an experience that’ll give you character, just don’t blame me when you end up in the emergency room with a knife in your a*s. 

All kidding aside though, those places sucked. 

Indie theatre? Who the hell wants to sit in a squalid 20 x 40 room with 300 people and no air conditioning while watching a movie on a screen smaller than Calista Flockhart’s a*s? If you really want the experience you can invite me over. For ten bucks I’ll burn/cook some cheap popcorn, water down your soda, soil your couch, smear Vaseline on the screen and disconnect some speaker wires so you can’t hear anything from the left side. After that I’ll go roll around in some manure, then sit next to you and m********e while you watch the movie, occasionally slapping you in the back of the head. That should give you the full tiny a*s movie theatre experience. For an extra five bucks I’ll call Australia and talk loudly for the duration of the film. 

Drive in? Gawd… You could barely see the screen or understand a single f*****g thing from the lousy mono speaker. Not to mention all the people who walked or drove in front of your car. A typical night would run like this: You’d show up 2-3 hours early with a few friends in different cars. Someone would break out the beer and cooler from the trunk, the guy with the customized van would turn on the disco ball and quadrophonic 8 track system, and then everyone would hang out and chill and get loaded while it got dark. Then the previews would start and no one would pay any f*****g attention at all. When the movie eventually did play they’d watch for 10-20 minutes and if it didn’t grab their limited attention they’d just hop back in their cars with their dates for a lil’ in and out, or continue the party outside with the disco music blaring at top volume. Nobody gave a s**t. Does any of this sound like fun for the people who went to actually see the movie? Do you really wanna watch a washed out print of Texas Chainsaw Massacre while a drunk a*****e pisses on your door and makes kissy faces at your girl? Granted I don’t speak from absolute experience, but I’ve been to genuine drive in’s often enough to know that 4 times out of 10 this is how s**t went down. Those are the kind of odds I can’t live with. It’s like the annoyance from the phone a******s in the regular theatre multiplied by a million.

Give me one of those 40 screen megachains any day of the f*****g week: Big a*s seats. Nobody’s head blocking the screen. Nice AC. Toilets that work. Ushers that don’t look like muggers. No waiting for tickets. Clean toilets. A concession stand that sells candy made by companies that weren’t shut down by the food and drug administration. Heaven! So what if it’s not “”family owned”? People throw around that designation as if it means anything. Slums and sweatshops are family owned you know. So are cockfighting rings, massage parlors, whorehouses and betting shops. 

Oh sure, there’s a few indie theatres that rock. Concordia/J.A. DeSeve where Fantasia plays every year is pretty damn sweet. It’s huge, well laid out, and the seats aren’t too bad. The AC works. The projectionists know what the hell their doing and the movies rule. Every city has a place like that. Just like there’s a few Drive-in’s that are worth going to because an effort is made to make the viewing of a movie PLEASANT to the audience. However, you won’t see me mourn the death of most of the other, lesser, places because they’re shitholes. That’s why the big chains are eating them up. It’s the same thing as why Wal-Mart is killing small stores. Because no one wants to spend 50$ on a toilet seat lid while being rung up on a NCR brand Cash Register from the 40’s by a man who just might be wearing an adult diaper. It’s disconcerting to enter a dimly lit “store” that looks like someone’s garage and have the clerk kind of pop up behind you looking as if you’d just interrupted him from committing suicide. 

I also think it’s telling that the people who bitch and moan about the loss of the drive-in and indie theatres tend to be the ones who were way too young to have gone to an authentic one. The ones that survive to this day are typically not representative of the breed, that’s why they survived. Most of the real places were badly managed dumps that were outdated a decade before I was born and showed shitty a*s films that weren’t 70’s retro cool, they were just shitty. It was only a matter of time before they died. Not a single one of you reading this right now would have enjoyed going there. Not a one. Don’t mourn these deaths, instead rejoice. It’s Darwinism at its finest. The good places will live and the bad will die. 

And if we’re lucky, the tide will be so strong that it’ll take all the crappy corporate jackoff places along with them too leaving only the absolute cream of the crop behind. No more phone a******s, no more theatre hopping families with 9 kids and 2 babies, no more dumbasses who keep asking questions through the viewing. They’d all be banned for life from these awesome places of true film worship. That’s a world I could dig living in.


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  1. Felix says:

    Sorry Jeremy, I’ve never been to one of those great theaters, and I really long for theaters that are THEATERS and not apart of some mini mall, or galleria, or shopping center.

    I want theaters that are theaters.

  2. Jeremy Knox says:

    See, this is what I noticed people do, and why I wrote this blog in the first place. Y’all went to good old places that showed cool films. So you kind of bunch all the theatres that aren’t corporate into the cool category.

    The couple of places I went to as a kid (and I have hardly been everywhere) were dumps. They weren’t cool, they didn’t have retrospectives, they weren’t frequented by patrons who loved film. They had every single annoyance that modern chain theatres have multiplied tenfold AND on top of that they had shitty service, toilets and food. Maybe it’s just what I experienced and if I’d only go a few miles further it’d have been different. But this piece was about breaking the illusion that all the old places were the haven of film fans.

    I miss the double features too, but when I get too misty and nostalgic I remember that those double features tended to be s**t like Heartbeeps and All of Me back to back. That clears my head right up.

  3. Felix says:

    Nah… I hate corporate theaters.

    Movie theaters should be an experience.

    GOing to theaters these days is like going to a f*****g airport terminal. It’s sterile, lifeless, and completely f*****g blande. Not to mention, I’ve never been in a theater that wasn’t apart of some f*****g mall/restaurant bullshit with yuppies there who drifted into the theater and aren’t even there to watch the goddamn movie.

    Most of these f*****g shithead are there to kill time, and I’m not, so I have to pay ten dollars for AC, and no heads in front of me, WHILE also being forced to watch people drifting back and forth, talking on their cell phones, listening to some little should have been aborted s**t head cry to his mother and rustle a bag filled with action figures this goddamn kid can’t wait to open.

    During Superman Returns, I had to sit behind a man who wasn’t there to watch the movie but sleep until a store opened in the mall.

    Sorry Jeremy, you can have your corporate s**t, I want a movie theater, I want to be in an audience of people who WANT to see the movie, I want to see the f*****g movie without a disturbance, I want to soak it all in, goddamn it!! F**K!

  4. Dave Lawler says:

    I don’t know, Man; for me the indies were the high point of my childhood. In Philly, we had the TLA, the Colonial, and the Ritz.

    The Colonial and the TLA were dumps, but they ran retrospectives, double and triple features. At the Colonial, we’d get a double feature of say “Ghostbusters” and “Fright Night” for a buck. The TLA was a repertory that played “Rocky Horror” on the weekends and director showcases during the week; we’d have a Woody Allen week, Martin Scorsese week, and so on. The Ritz was an arthouse that was the most expensive theater in the city (at $5).

    I loved my youth going to the movies.

  5. Don says:

    After going to the Alamo Drafthouse going to any corporate theater is a f*****g nightmare.

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