*please note new “feature” at the bottom of each post going forward, the “Twin Peaks Image of the Day”. I know, random. But nice, yeah?
A few years ago I was walking around my downtown neighborhood and for the first time realized a particular building on Washington St (between Water and State streets; see below) looked like it had some sort of marquee attached to it, one that really didn’t make sense as to why it was there at all. Why did it take me so long to notice this? Maybe the sight of it became too familiar and thus I didn’t pay much attention to it. But, being the smart guy that I am (ha), I put two and two together and realized that, along with the small brick tunnel under the marquee that still has cases lining it’s walls to display movie posters, this could have been a movie theater. My sense was it wasn’t – WHY WOULD THERE BE A MOVIE THEATER HERE? – WHY WOULD THERE STILL BE REMNANTS THERE? – but after doing some searching online, I realized it was indeed a movie theater back in the day, called the Pi Alley, which apparently was around for a long time. Here is a picture in it’s current form, still sporting a sign calling this now functionless building “Pi Alley”.
This instantly made me sad, thinking of all the old 1, 2, and 3-screen cinemas that were scattered around the city (and the country for that matter) up until about 15 years ago, but have now been replaced with just a few of these multiplex theaters that have degraded the movie going experience in many ways. Granted, for sure, theaters are better now – sound systems are incredible, stadium seating is comfortably ideal, etc. The care (most) filmmakers put into their craft are able to be displayed in the most modern up-to-date environments possible. I am all for that. What is still missing with the multiplexes however is the experience of going to different theaters – depending on the movie you were seeing. For instance back in the day, when a new Woody Allen movie would be released here in Boston (which is once a year to this day I might add), you would go to the single screen Paris on Boylston St to see it as they premiered his films exclusively …
Or when A Clockwork Orange had it’s long Boston run, you had to haul over to the Cinema 57 downtown…
Or when Star Wars was released, it had it’s exclusive run in 70mm at the biggest screen in Boston at the time, the Charles (next to MGH) …
Today no matter what movie you are going to see you basically have 2 theaters to choose from (the Boston Common & the Fenway). Where’s the fun in that? No more cute and cozy twin cinemas to visit anymore. We of course do still have the Coolidge, the Brattle, the Somerville Theater, which are all fantastic. But when art-house theaters have also gone the way of the big chain multiplex (for example, Landmark Theaters, with their theater in Cambridge’s Kendall Square), the quaint factor is just gone. My dream is that we still had all these lovely small theaters all over town, but those were updated and modernized to the standards of today.
So now two years later and I am finally finishing this entry, thanks to a good friend of mine who inspired me after sending me some lovely pictures of old theater marquees from the 70’s. It made me go back and search around online, and in doing that found out that the downtown Cinema 57 has re-opened! Strangely, it’s been open over a year now, and still so little publicity that this cinephile had no idea. I remember going there with my friend Maria just one time back before it closed, which unfortunately at the time was playing second run films and first run B-movies. The charm of the theater to me was one; it was just the fact one of these old twin cinemas that was still around, and two; it’s location, tucked away in a hotel where you had to go through the lobby to get to the entrance. A little cinematic hideway for the nerds in all of us! Now for the amazing news – it’s back! It is now independently owned and operated as a single screen cinema under the name Stuart Street Playhouse, showing exclusively art-house films.
I know having this theater making it’s return is more than I can ask for in this day and age, but at the same time hopefully it could mark the beginning of the return of these small churches of film and cinema into our cities and towns. There’s nothing cinematically more exciting than to go to theaters that are owned and run by other passionate film obsessives, instead of these film factories that shovel such mass-market/churn ’em out/maximize profits drivel like ‘Eat Pray Love’ and the next Tyler Perry fiasco. Don’t let the ‘Cecil B. Demented’ cinematic terrorist side of me come out!
Below are a few pictures of some more victims of cinematic down-sizing here in Boston that should not and will not be forgotten …. at least by this sentimental fool!
Other great honorable mentions:
Allston Cinemas – Boston
Copley Square Cinemas – Boston
Nickelodeon – Boston
Orson Welles Cinema – Cambridge
Andrew W. Bush
43rd President of the United States of America