To my great regret, last weekend I missed a showing of Ishirō Honda’s Mothra at the Journal Square Loew’s in Jersey City, New Jersey. In part, my disappointment stems from the fact that the movie is a great personal favorite, containing as it does the first big-screen appearance by charming vocal duo “The Peanuts”, seen above in 1964’s Ghidrah, the Three-Headed Monster, as well as the razing of the bizarro New York, “New Kirk City”. Just as much, though, I regret every missed opportunity to gawp at the Journal Square theater’s impressive Mayan-Mughal mass and extravagantly gilded interior, which, for those not within driving distance of Jersey City, can be viewed in Whit Stillman’s The Last Days of Disco or, more recently, in the video for The Strokes’ “Under Cover of Darkness.”
Instead, I took my first tour of the interior of Olana, the painter Frederic Church’s 1872 Victorian-Moorish folly in Hudson, New York—its imported orientalism perhaps a precursor to the extravagant and exotic movie-palaces of the century to come, a subject of which I never seem to tire. Just last week, through the magic of the Internet, I found myself “paging” through Architectures de Cinemas, a 1981 tome published by Editions du Moniteur, which traces the evolution of cinema structures from the music-hall to the salles Odéon. And as I looked upon the greatest excesses of Gaumont and Pathé, I thought it was perhaps high time to look back upon some of the “palaces” that meant so much to my formative moviegoing years.
I have often thought—and I do not care that this is a hackneyed observation, as it happens to be a true one—that the history of architecture in the 20th century, if not the history of the 20th century itself, is a story of steadily diminished expectations: Introduce a cut corner to see if the public will swallow it, standardize these “simplifications,” repeat. Nowhere is this more evident than in cinema architecture. There is not a single really attractive structure in the list to follow, and only one that I would even classify as giddily ugly. But they are nevertheless the personal property of my memory, and I reserve the right to accordingly sepia-tone them.
Super Saver Cinemas 8 Forest Fair Mall, Fairfield, OH
The first thing that anyone born in Greater Cincinnati during the Reagan era will tell you about the Super Saver Cinemas is the story, possibly apocryphal, that it was sued by an apoplectic man for inducing him to seizure. It certainly seems possible, as the madly-strobing façade of this dollar second-run joint opened into a lobby/concession area that was hectic with disco bowl/roller rink neon and doodling lasers, blacklit for optimal display of dandruff. Forest Fair Mall, where the theater was located, was optimistically opened in 1989 with a full complement of upscale retailers that promptly began abandoning their leases like scuttling rats off a sinking ship. By the time I had a license and was routinely driving north for discount movies there, Forest Fair was at probably 25% capacity, with roving youth gangs sullenly stalking past the Rube Goldberg structure next to the Food Court that had long ago fallen still. For some reason my most vivid movie-related memory from Forest Fair, however, is coming across an enormous bin almost completely loaded with VHS copies of the John Cryer film Hiding Out.
Central Parke Plaza Cinemas Norwood, Ohio
Norwood is a resolutely blue-collar neighborhood which, though surrounded on all sides by Cincinnati, was never incorporated into the metropolis, and thereby retained its particular hardscrabble, pebble-dash, hash-house identity. This makes doubly humorous the attempted elegant, uptown urbanity of the “Central Parke Plaza,” not precisely the sort of place you would go in a tux. This second-run house shuttered sometime around 2000, and was followed into oblivion by “Showcase Cinemas Cincinnati,” which was also, somewhat confusingly, actually located in Norwood (or is it actually nearby Bond Hill?). Regardless, the latter theater remains visible from the Norwood Lateral, a sepulchral cinderblock slab adrift in a sea of cracked parking lot asphalt, now returning to the elements. My friend Dave, a native of Norwood, once told me a rather pitiable and hilarious anecdote about being dropped off by his dad at the then brand-spanking-new Showcase Cincinnati for a 7th grade date to see Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, which, after being stood up, he watched alone through a blurry veil of tears. Sometimes it seems there’s just too much sadness in the world, I tell ya.
Oakley Drive-In Oakley, Cincinnati, Ohio
Due East of Norwood lay gentle Oakley, and this handjob hot-spot, where generations of tri-county teenagers were dutifully unburdened of their genetic goo. The last thing I remember seeing here was Deep Impact, for what was inexplicably the second time. The first? “Crocodile” Dundee II.
Tri-County Loew’s, later Showcase Cinemas Tri-County Tri-County Mall Area, Sharonville, Ohio
It was here that my mother took me to the 1983 theatrical re-release of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, from which I had to be carried out of when my demonstrative shrieks of horror at every appearance of Queen Grimhilde threatened to drown out the movie (“Will someone shut that kid up?”). It was here that I saw 1985’s Baby: Secret of the Lost Legend, and only barely managed to restrain my panic as the principles’ inflatable raft charged towards a perilous waterfall. It was here that I finally demonstrated my mettle, staying glued to 1987’s Jaws: The Revenge past the shocking arm-snatching opening, which sent my panic-befitted friend Ben Ritchey into the lobby, where my mother, by now used to this sort of thing, ministered to the shaken-up boy by feeding him quarters to play Ikari Warriors or Bubble Bobble or something. And it was here that I saw Robert Zemeckis’s Who Framed Roger Rabbit (“Overrated”) and Peter Manoogian’s Eliminators (“Awesome”) and Paul Michael Glaser’s The Running Man (“Almost so awesome as to belie description”).
I cannot find any evidence of this theater’s existence on the internet, much less an entry in Architectures de Cinemas. When I picture a “movie theater” in my mind’s eye, however, I am most probably thinking of the threadbare orange carpet and greasy-fingerprinted concession island of this hideous, long-demolished structure, which stood in the parking lot of Cassinelli Square, across from the Service Merchandise and Toys R Us, and which stands forever in my heart.