The Last Picture Show

The first movie I fell asleep during was in 1996. My friend Matt and I were at the Flick Theatre watching Star Trek First Contact, and he said something witty, to which I didn’t reply. He took that as disapproval of his talking during the movie, but when I jerked awake a few short minutes later, it became clear that I hadn’t heard anything either he or the actors had said.

This was the start of an unfortunate tendency that has fairly eliminated the watching of movies, even on TV, from my list of activities. Perhaps, then, the news shouldn’t impact me, but I am quite saddened to learn the movie theatre in Crested Butte has closed permanently.

The co-owner of the Majestic Theatre, Ali Drucker, wrote a letter that appeared in both valley newspapers yesterday, letting us all know that the pandemic has done in the enterprise she and her husband Mark have labored over for 15 years. They didn’t anticipate, back on March 12, that they would be closing their doors for good, but back rent, limited seating capacity for the foreseeable future, and changes way beyond the control of anyone in the valley, clear over in Hollywood, have made any attempt to re-open untenable, she said.

Apparently the studios, struggling to get product out, have discovered the lucrativeness of bypassing theatres and taking the movies straight to streaming. Even if the Majestic could fill every seat, then, they aren’t likely to have much to show their patrons.

For me, it makes far more sense to try watching a movie at home, where I can take multiple stabs at it between naps, but if I were my younger self who could stay awake, I would much prefer the thrill of going to a movie theatre.

We already had a movie theatre in Gunnison when I was a kid, downtown, not very far from where Pat’s is today, but someone set out to build what at the time was a giant theatre, with two large projection areas, not very far from the Palisades subdivision where I lived. The Flicka (it lost an ‘A” during a subsequent change in ownership) opened in time for some young birthday of mine, 9 or 10 or thereabouts, and if I’m recalling correctly my party that year was to take a group of friends to some claymation movie about Halloween monsters.

Movies meant autonomy, of sorts, for a kid. It was a safe place for your parents to drop you off for two unsupervised hours, enough money in your own hand to buy a ticket and concessions — concessions that always, always, had to include popcorn. It doesn’t matter how many packets of microwave popcorn I’ve popped that say “movie theatre butter” on the package, nothing in the world can ever compare to actual movie theatre popcorn.

Growing older meant getting to see movies specifically targeted to older people. People who were 13, and then 18. I stood no chance of getting into a PG-13 movie without my parental guidance, and certainly not anything R, because I looked like I was 12 until my 20s. But with a note or an ID, I could leave my younger self behind. Going to older-canted movies at the theatre was a rite of passage.

Movies were an easy first date venue. This past January, I went for the first time since its closing many years ago to the building that had been the Flick/a. It is now Bethany Baptist Church, and the occasion was the memorial service of my neighbor Dave. During the service someone noted that the first date he had with LeighAnn, who became his wife, was in that very building, going to a movie. That seemed symmetrical, and sad.

The Flicka, with its large movie bays and the financial impositions on small theatres by the movie distributors, who require even small-town theatres to show their movie for an assigned number of weeks (now up to three, I think), started seeing competition from the home rental market. In a bid to beef up sales, it took on its competition by renting movies out. Then you could go to the theatre lobby, peruse the video selection and buy authentic popcorn to take home.

But videos weren’t the same as movies, lacking the Dolby Surround Sound, the rows of seats to prop feet up on (except for the time in Montrose when I got scolded for doing that), and the vast screen taking up a larger-than-life presence before you.

I loved going to the movies. It was an easy evening walk to a place where reality and perceptions could change simply by handing over a few dollars — I went nearly every week. Until I started falling asleep.

This happened about the time the Flicka changed ownership and chopped off the A. The new owner, disgusted with the notion of competing against himself, also chopped out the video rentals. And promptly went out of business, only to be bought up by the Baptists.

That left the theatre in Crested Butte, with three small bays, more like what’s on offer in the cities. I went a few times, although the 45-minute drive seemed long. At least, it seemed long until I went to a movie one Christmas Day in Denver and spent 45 minutes afterward just getting out of the parking garage. Forty-five minutes (other people manage this in 30, I’m sure they will tell you) no longer seemed like much of a price to pay, except that it made me that much more sleepy before I even got my butt in the theatre seat.

So I was not a good customer for the Druckers when they assumed ownership, but I have to say they appear to have worked harder than anyone I know to keep their theatre viable. They got a liquor license. They showed Monday Night Football on the big screen. They were a key venue for the Crested Butte Film Festival. They projected blockbusters and small independent films, fictitious superheroes and the superheroes featured in documentaries, champions of the real world.

While most people write letters to their editor when they’re feeling crabby, my friend Linda only writes laudatory epistles. She wrote one of those this week, thanking the Druckers “for the gift you’ve given us the past 15 years of watching movies in a theater. It will not be the same without our Majestic.”

She talked about the joy of leaving work early to take in her beloved Disney movies, and how much her kids loved receiving movie passes as gifts. “I know we didn’t make you rich,” she told the Druckers (and all of us), “but you enriched us with the most special small-town movie-going experiences ever.”

In this instance I am certainly part of the problem rather than the solution, but it seems a very large loss for all of us as the Majestic goes dark.

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