Requiem for a Movie Theater - The Village Theater Is Officially Gone

The Village in the 80's.
I originally wrote this precisely a calender year ago as a column for a website I used to work for. Yesterday, when in my home town to visit friends and family, I saw that the marquis for the Village Theater had finally come down. She's off life support now and who knows what she'll become? I'm sad to say that it looks like the bargaining phase of grief that I was going through a year ago makes this writing more in the acceptance stage. A "eulogy".

July 31st, 2009 - Requiem for a Movie Theater

Individual movie theaters are almost completely a thing of the past. Some cities are well known for their unique movie theaters, there’s Austin of course. (Regretfully, I did not get to go to the Alamo Drafthouse when I was in town last April.) Atlanta seems to have its fair share, of course New York City has more than a few unique places still standing. Most major cities are lucky that way, there’s enough population for small movie theaters to generate income and keep their doors open. But this is mostly not true anymore in small town America anymore. At least, not for me in Indiana.

My problem isn’t even the multiplex. I love the multiplex. There are things about these large chain theaters that are fabulous. Even though it’s usually true, in this case I don’t think that bigger = evil.

The building that housed, "The Village" circa 1920ish.
But there’s been one theater closing in particular that has truly bothered me for the past few years. My beloved, “Village Theater" in Plainfield, Indiana has been closed for the last few years. First it was exciting, because it was closed with the prospect of being remodeled. Then slowly, we all realized that the person who bought it either ran out of funds to remodel or simply abandoned the job. When cryptic political messages started to show up on the marquis, I think we abandoned all hope completely, not knowing what would become of this historical theater.

What really makes it sad was my last experience at The Village. It was, “Van Helsing”. I was excited for it due to my deep and abiding love of monsters, so excited that I dragged both of my parents out to see it. I very much enjoyed Stephen Sommers’ take on the first Mummy movie, and I was thrilled at the notion of him having a go at the rest of the monsters of the silver screen.

They were well loved icons in my house growing up; to this day they maintain a year-long presence in our home via the films, paintings, pictures on the wall and more. So it seemed a fitting way to bid adieu to THE theater of my childhood in its original state, the perfect material to transition us from old to new. I’d since moved away from the area for college and I longed for the sight of the worn red carpet down the aisle and the scent of popcorn filling the whole building. I had spent so many hours in those four walls growing up, so every time I got around to seeing a movie there, it honestly felt like going home again.   

When we bought our tickets, still only a few dollars per person, we walked through the theater doors only to be shocked at just how gutted the place already was. No more theater chairs, just stiff wooden ones like you might find at a dinner table. Plastic drop cloths hanging everywhere, no carpet, and a dirty screen. (Splotches where some disenchanted kid had likely thrown a Coke at the screen.)

In a way, it was perfectly atmospheric for a monster movie. At the time, I had a lot of nervous excitement wondering what they would do to the theater to re-model it. Looking back, after being closed all these years…it was actually just sad foreshadowing sending the place out with a whimper instead of the bang it deserved.

The Village was our only theater when I was a kid. I grew up in a tiny mid-western town. No stoplight, not really even on most maps. The Village was a mere 10 minutes away though, and to get to another theater it was an hour drive to Indianapolis or a sometimes treacherous (and nausea-inducing) drive through a winding country road to Danville, where they also had a quaint independent theater. (It still stands and is mostly rented out for concerts, events and parties. It lost it's 80's glamour and is now very chic. Bummer.)

I saw everything at The Village, every Disney neo-classic from The Little Mermaid on. Every kid’s movie that got slammed by critics but made me laugh when I was little, including, “Ernest Scared Stupid”. Most importantly, there was, “Star Trek IV”, probably one of the most important movie-going experiences of my life, for reasons entirely too detailed to go into right now. Suffice it to say, that is my very first memory of seeing a movie, and I remember it like it was yesterday. 

I had my first hand-holding in that theater, I logged hours there with one of my sisters who has since passed away. It’s an important landmark to me, and I’d wager that you can find at least a hundred other people my age who can tell you why it matters exactly as much to them for their own reasons. On top of all that, the building itself is old enough to surely have some kind of historical significance to it.  

That theater was run by a father and son team, and it was a labor of love from them to the community. The son once told my Mom and I that they had never run an R-rated movie there, and looking back, it’s true. That theater was mostly for the kids of our tiny little conglomerate of then-small towns. The population has since boomed and my home county is now one of the fastest growing in the state in every category. There's permanent road construction adding lanes to accommodate this fresh population. But back then it was a place that parents could come to the movies and buy a ticket for their child for $2.00. Two dollars. It may have gone up to $3.00, but never beyond that. Because they understood what a movie theater meant and though money was necessary to keep the place alive, you could tell it wasn’t their motivation. Everything from the films they ran to the ticket prices told you that.

Then the first multiplex moved in, to Avon just a couple of towns over. Eventually, Plainfield also got its own multiplex, and remember, I love those places too. Their seats are comfortable, their sound systems are amazing, and you’re never turned away because there’s always room for more. But they also don't have the history, the sentimental attachments, or the atmosphere that older theaters have. I don't know why The Village had to change ownership, if it was because of the multiplex or simply a family decision. Whatever the reason, it's a bummer, and I'm sure they didn't foresee the fact that when they handed it over, it would shut down forever.

Back in the day, we used to get turned away from sold-out shows at The Village on a regular basis. Lines would form around the block. One especially vivid memory I have is of not making the cut in to see, “Aladdin” as a kid and running into an aunt, uncle and cousins who also didn’t make it. So we just stood out underneath the blinking marquis excitedly talking about what little scraps of footage we’d seen in the TV commercials and promising to try again tomorrow night. That was a part of the charm of the theater, the suspense of knowing that you might not get in and having to arrive early enough to get a seat. 

I miss the single-theater experience. I dream of buying The Village Theater. I can only think of a million things that I would do with it. I’d remodel the inside, something along of the lines of a Vaudeville art deco look with the traditional red velvet seats. I’d add curtains to the screen, re-open the concession stand to include a wide variety of candies and drinks at low prices. I’d re-adopt cheaper ticket prices if you can still get away with that today. (I know that studios get ticket money and concessions earn theater owners their profits.)

I’d have free nights and audience participation shows. There would be costume contests, film festivals, old movies, sing-along musicals, a new sound system, matinees, movie marathons, midnight shows, theme nights, parties, outdoor projection nights in the park, and I could hope after all that…lines around the block.

I spend so much of my time trying to introduce people to important movies, movies that I think will make them think, change their minds, teach them something or enrich their lives. I didn’t get a degree in film studies for the money. I did it because I love what movies can do for people. Film is art too, not always, but it has the potential to be. I’d love to have the opportunity to share that on a larger scale, with an entire town. I’d love to show the kids what they’re missing and the parents too. Not just for the film, but for the building. To keep the historical experience of smaller theaters intact, to prevent the extinction of that type of experience. 

Because running a theater shouldn't only be about making money, it should be about making people happy.
Heck, if I had a home to mortgage to buy the place, I honestly would. 

(“You're not gonna lose the house, everybody has three mortgages nowadays.”) So if there’s some investor out there reading this, though I doubt that there is, get a hold of me. I’ll make a business plan, we’ll work it out. Let’s bring The Village back to life.

P.S. (July 2010) Of course, I didn't buy the theater. I don't think anyone did. Now the sign is down and that artifact is gone forever. A moment of silence for The Village theater...

1 comment:

  1. The canopy and front entrance to the theater are being completely rebuilt/restored right now as part of the Plainfield Streetscape project.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.