Sometimes I walk into a place and it immediately affects me—good or bad. I’ve been known to enter a restaurant, take a whiff, and literally turn on my heel and leave without glancing at the menu. Same is true for clothing stores. Once in a while, though, I’ll walk into a place and the sights, sounds, and smells envelop me. Such was the case the first time my wife and I went to the Bijou Art Cinemas in Eugene, Oregon.
Built in the 1920s, the Bijou was initially a church. Then it became a funeral home. In 1980 it morphed into a theater that was eventually bought by some of the employees. It’s now owned by a kick-ass woman named Julie whose acquisition of the Bijou is a story itself. She was a terrific resource during the writing of Screen Kiss.
The outside still looks like a church built in Spanish-Revival style, and newcomers might easily dismiss it as such, except for the small marquee on the west side that announces shows and show times instead of clever Bible verses.
The moment we stepped inside I knew we’d found a special place. The lobby, once the vestibule of the church, was spacious with vaulted ceilings and large windows. Stuffed sofas and side tables projected the feel of a living room. We purchased our tickets at a small counter and the concessions stand was just big enough for two people to work–and the prices were reasonable! A large popcorn didn’t obliterate our entire entertainment budget for the month. By the time we headed into the ninety-seat theater, I was already thinking of plot ideas and my fictional version of the Bijou.
I was also reminded of the great theaters of my childhood in central Phoenix—the Palms, the Cine Capri, and the Kachina. As a kid growing up in the early ’70s, the multi-screen theaters were still a few years away. We only knew the single-screen cinemas with the large (and sometimes gaudy) lobbies and the enormous screens. Once a week during the summer, my mom would drive my friends and me to the Palms. Armed with an enormous grocery bag full of popcorn for our weekly movie, we’d each buy a large drink at the concessions stand. Then we’d rush down to the front row, slouch down in the chairs and stretch our legs out for two hours of escape. Those days were some of my best memories of childhood. Eventually, all three of those theaters were demolished, the land too valuable to just “show a movie.” The multi-screen theaters arrived and we were all introduced to a new concept: theater-hopping.
You can probably guess that I love the movies. But it’s never been the same in the cookie-cutter movie theaters, especially after the prices increased with the arrival of movie blockbusters. The theaters had lost their charm. Now, my wife and I watch most of our movies from the comfort of our family room in our jammies. We rarely go to a theater except to see a film that will best be enjoyed on a wide screen with the latest audio technology, think Wonder Woman. Or, we’ll go to an indie film that might never make streaming because it’s too low budget.
Yes, we love the reclining seats (and a twelve-foot high Gal Gadot is always a plus), but we hate the screaming babies, whose parents must often bring them along because the cost of a babysitter can’t be budgeted into the already-exorbitant evening at the cinema. And we can still hear the chatter of teenagers, whose squeaky voices defy the incredibly advanced sound systems.
For me, the movie experience was—is—as much about the place as it is about the film. Fortunately, I’ve found the Bijou. What about you? What are your memories of the movies?