In “My Winnipeg,” there’s a moment where Guy Maddin, for once, ditches the faux-archival black and white footage to register his disgust at the destruction of the old Winnipeg Arena. His father worked in the Arena, Maddin has memories of the place, and it was demolished in 2004.
For Maddin, this destruction is such an outrage he can’t even recreate it. He instead cuts to ugly video footage of the arena’s destruction before ranting about how the MTS Centre, which replaced it, is charmless and will never house childhood dreams. He does overlook one thing — the MTS Centre may look like a cross between an airport and a mall, but the old Winnipeg Arena, with its boxy brick walls, looking like an out-of-date public-school, was no beauty either. The two buildings are ugly in different ways, but Maddin’s fondness for the old arena is entirely subjective.
This all came to my mind while reading Elizabeth Meyer’s article at PBS.org about the ever-increasing struggles of non-multiplex movie theaters — the arthouses, the old cinemas, the single screens, the ones with their silent-era organs intact.
To be sure, an old theater is a beautiful thing. Yet it’s not necessarily to demonize the multiplexes driving them out of business. The corporate machinations behind that are one thing, but the actual theaters themselves are perfectly capable of sustaining love and affection for their otherwise unremarkable spaces.
Depending on where you live, for example, you might still have access to those weird transitional theaters built in the ’80s and ’90s, when seven screens counted as a full-blown multiplex. There was one like that in Austin when I was growing up, and its biggest auditorium could seat 500 people — it wasn’t old-school majestic, but it was close. At the back, meanwhile, were the tiny theaters, that looked like glorified screening rooms, so small as to make it seem a rip-off to be charged full price. Personality aplenty.
Even the sprawling, 16-to-32 screen behemoth — where, unnerving, layouts can mean that you won’t encounter another soul for a quarter-mile at a time — has its charms. There are the opportunities offered for easy, all-day theater-hopping, the broad array of crap to chose from, and the fact that if you’re growing up in the suburbs, there’s not always a whole lot else to do. You don’t have to love the idea of the multiplex to love your own particular multiplex, just as anything you have to put up with for a while becomes, one way or another, part of the fabric of your life.
[Photos: MTS Centre via Wikipedia Commons, photo by Lee Fehler, 2009; AMC Multiplex in Ontario, California via Wikimedia Commons, photo by “Coolcaesar,” 2005]