In those brief seconds between the time the lights dim and the projector rolls, the theater stretches. Its walls flex, the ceiling floats away, the floor recedes. When the larger than life images on the screen awaken, they’ll need room to breathe. The smell of fresh popcorn wafts on the air-conditioned breeze. Ice cracks in soda pop-filled Big Gulps. Jujubes rattle in their boxes. Bodies shift, feet scuffle, and that one cougher who’s at every movie I’ve ever been to, coughs. It’s show time.

Remember when the only way to see a new movie was to go to a movie theater? There were no video stores, Netflix, direct downloads. The best part of the movie was going to the theater to see it. Now, people are watching more movies at home. Sure, there are advantages. You can pause the movie to go to the bathroom, fix a snack, answer your cell phone, Google the lead actress’ name to see who she’s dating. You can watch it in bed, at the table during dinner, sitting on the patio, lounging in your recliner wearing nothing but your underwear (and if that’s your thing, let me say on behalf of your neighbors: close the blinds).

Movie theaters in general are having to work to fill seats but in small towns, the bigger challenge is keeping the theater doors open. Here’s what some communities are doing to keep the magic of the big screen alive:

Small Town Theaters Fight for Existence

That people are going to these lengths to keep their theaters open is admirable. That many of those theaters are run by volunteers is not only amazing, it’s just damn cool.

Eventually the day will come when home viewing will win and we’ll be left with a generation of people who’ll never know what it’s like to stand in a line of sci-fi geeks for hours to see “Star Wars”. Or to jump on a car hood and dance after watching “Footloose”. (Choose a compact – shorter distance to fall. Trust me on that one.) Or to yell back at the screen with a crazily costumed crowd during “Rocky Horror Picture Show”. And the sad thing is – they won’t even know what they’re missing.

The first movie I saw in a movie theater was “The Jungle Book”. How ‘bout you?

  1. Chitty-chitty-bang-bang? I think? We had a theater in DeSmet. It is so sad when those things disappear. Wouldn’t it be so much fun volunteering with a like-minded group to keep a place like that open?

    • Kay Vallery Young says:

      Did you know that’s what happened with the theatre in Bryant? The last I heard they were still running it–I’ll have to check the De Smet News when it gets here (who notices when a weekly paper is 5 days late?)

      I think the first movie I can remember seeing was The Yearling–or it could have been Lassie, Come Home–both classics that you may still be able to find somewhere–Roddy McDowell in the first and Elizabeth Taylor in the second (I think). Oh, memories–how us “golden oldies” love to reminisce!

      • As long as the weekly paper’s not a week late, probably nobody notices! =) My dad also said “Lassie” was his first theater movie. Roddy McDowell was so good in “The Yearling” – young and earnest. And Elizabeth Taylor? Name speaks for itself. Thanks for stopping by, Kay!

    • It would be a great time volunteering but with my technology hang-ups, I wouldn’t want to be in the projection booth (the audience wouldn’t want me there, either). My mom recorded the audio from “Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang” off the TV when I was a kid and when we were home sick in bed, we’d listen to the movie on cassette on my dad’s big tape recorder. Loved the songs!

  2. I really hope that the indoor movie theaters don’t go by the way-side like most drive-in movie theaters. I have so many fond memories of the drive-in, as a child, as a teenager, and as a parent taking my girls; however, the average family can hardly afford to go to a movie any more. My husband and I went to War Horse just recently (and believe me, it would not have the same effect at home), but we nearly fainted at the cost of one large popcorn and two pops – it was way more than the tickets to get in and would buy a days groceries for a family of four. When I was a kid, our parents sent us to the movies. It was a cheap babysitter for them.

    • Our drive-in here in Pierre has been closed for years but there’s one in Miller, an hour’s drive away, that I can never talk my husband into going to. Seriously pricey to go to movies these days. Dying to see “War Horse” – was it as good as I imagine it is?

  3. Nisha says:

    Nevermind small towns, I live in a (supposedly) metropolitan city but we only have one movie theatre! And it’s in a shopping mall, and this deters me from going on a Saturday night because it just gets too busy. They losing business this way so it’s like a vicious cycle. 2 years ago, two cinema complexes closed down roughly around the same time. It was sad to watch.

    Movie downloads must also affect video stores too, I imagine. I get so annoyed with the BF sometimes when we go to hire a movie but he’s watched so many (that I haven’t) because a friend keeps downloading them for him. Grrr…

    • I worked part-time in a video store for several years and we used to be packed with people most nights. Now it’s closed, one of four video rental places in town that shut down once downloads and Netflix moved in. Can’t believe only ONE theater in your metro area. Tell the BF he’s not allowed to watch movies without you…unless it’s a stupid movie you don’t want to see!

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