ReviewNostalgia for Winnipeg movie theatres focus of new film
Posted by Alison Gillmor, arts reviewer | Friday May 31, 2013
Grand Theatre (1955) interior of Capitol Theatre (1978) (Heritage Winnipeg)
There was no door on the washroom, and the men's toilet had a sign that read "Do Not Flush."
—Alison Gillmor, arts reviewer
The title of Going: Remembering Winnipeg Movie Theatres has a bittersweet double meaning. It calls up a time when going to the movies was, as one interview subject recalls, "a glamorous occasion." But it also suggests that this storied era is going, going, gone....
This is an elegy for poetically named theatres--the Rialto, the Starland, the Bijou, the Eldorado--and for the historic city that was their home.
Mixing up archival material and unhurried interviews with ordinary Winnipeggers, this loving, low-key documentary from local filmmaker K. George Godwin relates detailed memories of deluxe Thursday night previews, marathon Saturday matinees and all-night drive-ins.
Some of the interview subjects take us back to the heyday of the 1930s and '40s, when there were almost 50 movie theatres in the city. Others trace the slow decline in the 1970s, when the scattered remaining theatres were showing grindhouse triple bills.
Godwin himself remembers showing up at the Kings Theatre in St. James to see The Last Tango in Paris, only to find that the police had seized the print.
In contrast to today's standardized multiplexes, there's a sense that all these theatres had their own personalities. There were ritzy downtown movie palaces, like the Metropolitan and the Capitol, with their ornate decorations and swanky staircases.
"It looked like something out of a movie," remarks one subject, which was, of course, all part of the film-going fantasy. The Uptown Theatre on Academy, long since converted into a bowling alley, was designed to resemble a Moorish courtyard, with a ceiling studded with glittering, rotating (!) constellations of stars.
Some of the theatres weren't so glamorous. An urban myth--it's mentioned by two of the film's raconteurs--suggested that you could get in for half price at the Oak at Main and Logan if you brought your own wooden apple box to sit on. This turned out to be untrue, but the Oak was undeniably rough around the edges. There was no door on the washroom, and the men's toilet had a sign that read "Do Not Flush." Yikes.
George Godwin interviews Muriel for "Going: Remembering Winnipeg Movie Theatres" (Josh Marr)
There were also modest neighbourhood theatres that gave out pieces of dinnerware every week, "for ladies only." Women would go to the movies all year to complete their table settings.
On Saturdays, eight-year-olds would take their even younger siblings and walk to a nearby theatre and spend the whole afternoon there unsupervised, taking in serials, cartoons, shorts and the main show. ("It almost sounds like child abuse," jokes one woman.) In the complete absence of parental authority, one harassed theatre owner would walk down the aisles, occasionally whacking miscreants with a stick.
Nostalgic and very Winnipeggy, Going will appeal to people who have their own memories of the movie palaces near Portage and Main. In a larger sense, the film looks at a different media era, those pre-DVD, pre-download days when audiences shared what Godwin calls "the magical dark."
Going runs at Cinematheque on Saturday, June 1 at 7:00 p.m., and Sunday, June 2, at 2:00 p.m., with a panel discussion on Sunday featuring the filmmaker, film professors Howard Curle and Brenda Austin Smith, arts administrator Tricia Wasney, and a Skype chat with Leonard Stone, one of the founders of PACE cinema, an early Winnipeg rep house.