My earliest memories of going to the movies are from the mid-1970s in East Lansing, Michigan. On the main drag was the Campus Theatre, a cavernous 1,500-seater with a ceiling that revealed a night sky when the lights were turned down. I can’t be certain, but my first film there might have been The Return of the Pink Panther. At some point during those first minutes, as Inspector Clouseau battled his butler in a gripping slap-stick, martial-arts sequence, I got hooked.
My life has been filled with movies ever since: as a student in film classes, a clerk at a video store, a manager at an art-deco movie theater, and eventually as a film archivist – working to preserve the incredibly fragile, beautiful wealth of movies shot throughout the 20th century. The theaters we built in our towns to watch those movies are equally fragile and beautiful, and are an invaluable part of our cultural heritage. But we’re fast losing them.
With the advent of home video, cable, and on-line streaming, and also the rise of the multiplex, theaters are being closed or demolished at a greater rate than ever. Pittsburgh hasn’t been spared, and its list of closed or demolished theaters is tragically long: the Warner, the Arsenal, the Belmar, the Bijou, and even recently, the Squirrel Hill. And the list goes on and on. Sadly, yet another wave of industry change is squeezing out many of the remaining small cinemas. As companies such as Kodak greatly reduce their film production with every passing year, movie distributors have recently begun to embrace the inevitable shift to delivering movies on a format called DCP (Digital Cinema Package) rather than on film. The result is that movie theaters that haven't converted yet will need to purchase and install digital projectors. For small theaters the price tag for the conversion can run in the $75,000 range. Many won’t be able to afford that cost and will shut their doors forever.
I’m sure many of you have fond memories of going to the movies when you were young, perhaps even at the Hollywood Theater. Dormont’s little independent gem opened nearly 80 years ago and has somehow beat the odds thus far. Actually, the somehow is really the somewho. The theater is still open thanks to the hundreds and thousands of community members, volunteers, staff and patrons of the Hollywood who care about keeping it open. The theater needs you all now more than ever.
The Campus Theatre where I watched my first film was torn down in 1987 to make way for a Hudson’s department store. The Hudson’s is now long gone too. The question for movie lovers in Dormont and Pittsburgh is – will we come together to make sure the Hollywood Theater doesn’t meet the same fate? I can answer that. We will. As its new Managing Director one of my first priorities is to install digital projection. It will take some effort, but we can do it. In the coming months I’ll be writing more about that, as well as on the many interesting films and events we have coming up. And I look forward to getting to know many of you. See you at the Hollywood!
For information on the Hollywood Theater, please visit www.thehollywooddormont.org.