Chris Walsh (chris_walsh) wrote,
Chris Walsh

Multiplexes I have known

A movie theater I've been going to on and off since 1987 is, if contracts go through, soon to be demolished and replaced with -- by now, Portlanders can sing this in unison -- mixed-use development. We're getting A LOT of that; a whole theater going away for it, though, surprises me.

Lloyd Center 10, across the street from the Lloyd Center shopping center, opened in 1986; I've always found it a striking exterior. The insides are, to me, basic-multiplex (and grew more cluttered as time went on and remodels happened). I've seen good stuff there: Innerspace, Roger Rabbit (1988, with my Grandma Dorothy; I hope it didn't confuse her), Parenthood (1989, with family), Unbreakable, Punch-Drunk Love (the theater never actually debited my card on that one, so technically I saw it for free!), Apocalypse Now Redux, the final version of George Lucas's nicely perverse THX-1138, the extended The Fellowship of the Ring and The Two Towers, and the awesome Attack the Block -- Lloyd Center 10 may have been the only Portland theater that showed it, if I remember right.

(Also, I believe it hosted one of the secret previews of Titanic a few months before the film came out, where audiences were so overwhelmingly positive that the film, dogged by production trouble, began to look like it would be a surprise hit. Which, of course, led to Titanic becoming a true pop culture phenomenon that we still talk about. I kind of wish I'd been at that screening.)

I never saw as many films in Lloyd Mall 8, the other multiplex at Lloyd, that one in the mall and in worse shape. Lloyd Mall 8's since been completely closed, to be replaced by offices; that ended the frequent confusion of "Are we going outside the mall for this film or inside the mall for it?" But that closed only a few months ago; now we get the new-new situation.

For me, this theater's been middle-of-the-road, whether run by its original owners (when it was an Act III theater -- remember Mr. Movie, that Steve Dallas-like mascot? "Score some corn!") or its longer time as a Regal theater. I've gone to better multiplexes --

-- like the long-gone Merrifield Multiplex south of Vienna, VA, which was huge and still had some flair: an open, well-lit arcade area on one side of the lobby; a willingness to show more obscure films; curtains that it actually used artfully, like when framing the smaller screen dimensions of 1990's Fantasia revival; an honest-to-God Tyrannosaurus Rex sculpture sticking out of the roof for Jurassic Park (William Castle would've been proud)* --

-- and I've also gone to multiplexes that were probably in worse shape than this one, but which I still liked more. Like the old Fair Oaks Mall theater between Fairfax and Chantilly, Virginia. That place was a hole. But it was somehow charismatic. It was in a separate building in a sheltered corner of the mall parking lot, a building later repurposed as a catering business (a newer theater is in Fairfax Towne Center, a half-mile away). The theater belonged to United Artists, but felt less corporate. One sign of that: unlike a lot of big-name chain theaters, Fair Oaks would screen and have posters for NC-17 films, which had quickly been ghettoized much the way X-rated films had been. Earlier than that, it showed 1985's Day of the Dead. I didn't go to that -- I was no horror hound, and I didn't sneak into films -- but at some level I was glad it was shown. The theater was also the area's Rocky Horror Picture Show weekly screening site, advertised with cheap line animation of a creature playing guitar who said "United Artists...Midnight Madness! Every Friday and Saturday, the ultimate late night this United Artists Theater!"

The Fair Oaks theater was where I nearly laughed myself sick at a showing of Raising Arizona.

And of course, I've been in theaters that were worse. The first theater at Tysons Corner Center, for instance, stuck in a corner of the basement and the only theater I've been in that's lost power during a showing (The Little Mermaid, 1989); the mall added a second, four-screen theater in the mid-'80s, which was nicer but was my first time I really noticed the rising cost of theater food. (I got annoyed when I went there for Big in 1988 and saw a "Mini" popcorn for $1. For 1988, that was high!) Both theaters are completely gone and replaced with a third-floor theater; the mall didn't even have a third floor when I lived in Virginia. Things change. Including Portland losing 18 screens in the Lloyd Center area in less than two years.

Portland has plenty of screens, but the two Lloyd theaters were the last in central Portland to have both a lot of screens and a decent amount of dedicated parking: most other Portland theaters are smaller and in neighborhoods. In one way, Portland's lucky: lots of 1920s and 1930s neighborhood theaters are still operating; one, the Clinton Street, opened in the 1910s. They show a mix of huge films and small films, first-run and second-run and revivals. MANY HAVE BEER -- more than half, I think. Many are locally owned: I heard Troma's Lloyd Kaufman say, all the way back in 2001, that Portland then probably had more independent theaters than New York City. But has that made the multiplexes step up their game and be better, more satisfying places to see films? Would Lloyd Center 10's closing be enough for that?

* The Merrifield Multiplex was also one of only three theaters in the entire D.C. area to show Terry Gilliam's The Adventures of Baron Munchausen -- one was in suburban Maryland, one other was in D.C. itself. I feel damn lucky that I got to see that film, now one of my favorites, there.
Tags: portland

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