As regular readers of this site know, I’m trying to tackle 15 to 25 classic or non-new release films on the big screen in 2012. Since I’m fortunate enough to live in a major metropolitan area, there are several options for theatres that occasionally show classic or non-new release films. There’s a rotation in the city of St. Louis of at least five theatres where I can see films like The African Queen (1951) in widescreen splendor. In the process of trying to determine my options, I discovered the Wildey Theatre in Edwardsville, Illinois. The Wildey has a really magnificent story.
From their site:
Located in Downtown Edwardsville on Main Street, the Wildey closed as a full-time movie theatre on March 8, 1984 after more than 400 people attended the movie “The Big Chill.” The Edwardsville Historic Preservation Commission later designated the Wildey Theatre as a “Local Landmark” in 1986.
Recognizing the importance of the Wildey Theatre to the overall downtown development efforts, the City acquired the property (or theatre) in 1999 with a state grant. The City has now finished the renovation, and the resurrected theatre is ready to once again be a venue for live performances and classic films.
Their movie lineup is composed exclusively of classic films. I have visited the Wildey twice, for Psycho (1960) and The Last Waltz (1978). The theatre itself is wonderfully majestic, adorned with paraphernalia from before their closure. I particularly enjoy the nod to The Big Chill in their lobby, a tip of the cap to the last film they showed before shutting down. The theatre has a comfortable balcony that supplies a dead-on view of the screen. Some of the employees are volunteers, and all of the extraordinarily friendly employees are united by their love of film. Concessions prices are miniscule, and the managers on duty will gleefully tell you of their upcoming schedule. It really is one of the best theatre experiences I’ve found because it caters to the cinema lover with such relish.
I’m writing about the Wildey today for two reasons. First and foremost, I feel like it deserves the attention and I would like to raise awareness. The crowds I’ve seen aren’t small by any stretch, but I imagine they require larger crowds since they can’t supplement their 1/3-full showings for classic films with a packed house watching the latest blockbuster. It’s precisely the type of venue that deserves your money.
Second, refurbished theatres are a magical trip into the past, a link to our movie-going brethren of yesteryear. Multiplexes serve a function but they clearly lack character. The refurbished theatres have character spilling out of their doors. Last year, I saw a haunting, heartbreaking link on the IMDb Hit List. Someone had compiled a series of 75 pictures of abandoned theatres around the US. Just two months ago, St. Louis’ Avalon Theatre right down the street from me was demolished after more than a decade of inactivity. It’s a shame. It had been open for 64 years. A theatre can amass a lot of memories, a lot of ghosts of happy movie patrons knocking around the seats over the course of six decades. With one swift kick in the pants from a wrecking ball, a place that had once introduced people to The Godfather, Jaws, Casablanca, and Sunset Boulevard was destroyed. If that doesn’t tug at the heartstrings of a cinephile, nothing will.
And that brings me back to the Wildey. The Wildey, and places like it, are phenomenal places to see a movie. You can take the next generation of movie lovers, your own children, to see a film in the same seats that swaddled you as a child. They deserve a better fate than abandonment. If you live anywhere near theatres like these, you owe it to yourself to patronize them.