The Laurelhurst, a 1920s-era movie house that became a second-run/repertory theater in 2000, is going back to being a first-run theater. The owners, who restored the theater 19 years ago, crunched the numbers and recently announced Our attendance has dropped for six years, and with more films being released for home viewing sooner than we can get them second-run, we're likely to lose more viewers without a change. Tomorrow will be the first day since one in 1979 that the Laurelhurst will show anything that's still first-run. (The first week's films are The Death of Stalin, A Quiet Place, Isle of Dogs, and Chappaquidick.)
Ticket prices are up starting tomorrow, too, no longer $4 for evening shows or $3 for matinees, though they're competitive with Portland's other independent first-run theaters and definitely better than multiplex prices (with $6 matinees and a "Terrific Tuesday" plan where all screenings are $6). The owners have said they're committed to keeping concessions reasonable, and I'm glad: it's good food and drink, decently priced. They also hope to return soon to holding repertory screenings again, though the prices would have to be the same as for first-run films.
The Laurelhurst has been a comfortable, reliable place for me since I first visited in fall 2000, before I'd even moved here. I drove out from Dundee to the airport to sit with cousins about to fly out — back before 9/11 when people who weren't flying could go farther into airports — then drove back into town to try a revival showing of Wes Anderson's 1996 feature debut Bottle Rocket. That was the first of — I checked — at least 54 films I've seen there. The last two, on the same day recently, were Pixar's Coco followed by Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Also, in early 2002, the Laurelhurst opened one of its largest auditoriums for free so people could watch Super Bowl XXXVI. With beer and pizza, of course, the theater still needs to make money.
I've always liked its decor, some of it goofy like the painting of the owners as Bob and Doug McKenzie saying "Good movie, eh?" Vintage posters cover the tables in front. The chalkboard signs announcing each film are cleverly drawn. There's a disco ball. A cardboard standee of Leonard Nimoy as Spock, I recently noticed, looks out from one projection booth. I don't know this firsthand, of course, but recently the woman's restroom got a chandelier. There's still a ticket booth, basic by early-20th-century movie theater standards but still a special vault where someone gives you your ticket. And neon: nice, nice neon.
How will the Laurelhurst feel to me when I go there next? (It's my blog, I'm allowed to make this About Me.) Maybe not that different, I kind of hope. It could still feel scrappy and eccentric, especially since it's owned by two guys, not a corporation. Corporate-owned movie theaters can still be eclectic, well-run and worth visiting simply as A Place To Experience...
...but, speaking of places like that, I keep thinking about The Bagdad. I also first went to that McMenamins-owned theater in 2000, when it was a second-run/revival screening place (I first saw the South Park movie). And the Bagdad was really eclectic in both the older films it booked and its non-movie events: comedy shows, author talks, special football games, the Atomic Arts troupe performing one-night-only stage versions of their wonderful Trek in the Park shows, and — especially this — the Cort Webber- and Bobby Roberts-hosted TV show screenings and late-night films that were a big part of my life from 2007 to 2012. A Battlestar Galactica showing with special guest writer Mark Verheiden; another BSG with special guest actor Katee Sackhoff (where a cute young woman dressed like Sackhoff's Starbuck told her "You're frackin' hot, So Say We All"); viewers losing their minds over the final episodes of Lost; 600 people hooting, cheering and clapping when we all saw the first Isaiah Mustafa Old Spice ad, one of the best reactions I've ever seen to a commercial; and dozens of movies, revisited with audiences both raucous and respectful. Since 2013, the Bagdad's also been first-run. This cut down on special events there. The crowd is far different. I'm simply not as drawn to it, and as it's a place I used to attend over a dozen times a year, I miss that. The Bagdad is still great, with a larger screen than before and better sound than it used to have, but...it's now less likely to happily surprise me.
The Laurelhurst still could. I will still support it. I want to help it stay around and stay interesting.
Recently, as a memory exercise, I made the following list. It's an as-complete-as-possible list of each film I've seen at the Laurelhurst. I may be missing some. This seems like a good time to share it, just before the theater changes...at least changes a bit.
Films I've seen at Laurelhurst (R = Revival screening, otherwise second-run)
The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1989) - R
Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues: R-rated recut version
Bandits (dir. Barry Levinson)
The Big Sleep (1948, dir. Howard Hawks) - R
The Blob (1988) - R
Bottle Rocket (1996) - R
Captain America: The First Avenger
Captain America: Civil War
Clue (1985) - R
Darkman (1990) - R
Die Another Day
Drunken Master (1978, Jackie Chan) - R
Eddie Murphy Raw (1987) - R
For Your Eyes Only (1981) - R - tribute booking for the late Roger Moore
Gerry (dir. Gus Van Sant)
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984) - R
Iron Man 3
Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005) - R
Kung Fu Hustle
Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1974) - R
The Nice Guys
Ocean's 11 (2001, dir. Steven Soderbergh)
Once Upon a Time in the West (1968) - R
Pain & Gain
Solaris (2002, dir. Steven Soderbergh)
Star Trek: Nemesis
Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith
Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi
Stop Making Sense (1984) - R
Strange Brew (1983) - R
Super Bowl XXXVI, February 2002
Time Bandits (1981) - R
Top Secret! (1984) - R
Toy Story 3
Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (1992) - R
Westworld (1973) - R
You Only Live Twice (1967) - R