Observing from beyond the solar system, a cultural outsider looks in.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

The Multiplex Experience vs. The Senator

I had an interesting experience a week or so ago, which made me realize that since I've been hanging out at The Senator, I've really been spoiled for other theatres. I may never be able to go into a multiplex again without critiquing the presentation in my mind.

I went to see "Night at the Museum: The Battle of the Smithsonian" with my family a while back at a multiplex that shall remain nameless, because I'm being kind. Tiny screen. Bad projector adjustment so there was an actual line at the bottom where you could see just a hair's breadth of the top of the picture. Something slimy-looking glistening on the screen in one place. Sound that came only from the speakers at the front and wasn't loud enough. Some lady came and plunked down in the seat in front of me, blocking half my view --- it was then I realized the seats weren't even staggered. Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaack!

Seriously, for the first 10 minutes or so of the movie, I just wanted to get up and walk out. The only reason I didn't was because my family just wouldn't have understood. I just tried to tell myself it was better than watching it on TV.

Let's not even talk about the fact that I felt like I was sitting in a little box that was merely decorated to look like a movie theatre or that I knew the popcorn wasn't worth bothering with and would not have real butter on it.

Now, I mostly grew up with multiplexes, so that experience is what I've come to expect. But there is a historic theatre in the town where I grew up, Ann Arbor, Michigan, and when I was little I think there were at least two in somewhat original form. The Michigan became a non-profit, was restored to its original glory, and is today a beautiful place to see a movie or live performance. I don't think the screen size in relation to the auditorium size is as perfect as at The Senator, nor do I think the underlying structure of the architecture is as elegant, but that's not to disparage the Michigan as much as to point out that The Senator is a rare gem even among historic theatres. Actually, I love the Michigan and go there almost every time I visit Ann Arbor, so I almost feel bad about saying I love The Senator more...almost.

The other historic theatre from my childhood that I think I vaguely remember being intact, the State, was in the 1980s made into four theatres with both the main floor and the balcony being divided in two. Today, there are only the two small auditoriums that were once part of the original balcony and there's an Urban Outfitters downstairs. So, you can see that from my hometown background I have two tales of historic theatres to tell -- one a great success story, the other a cautionary tale.

Let's get back to The Senator for a bit. Pink Floyd's Pulse, which was shown there last weekend, was probably the recent movie that showed most starkly the contrast between the multiplex and The Senator. Huge screen, incredible colors, and kick ass state of the art surround sound that made it seem almost like I was actually at the concert.

I've seen a lot of great movies at The Senator, but the musical events, whether movies or live concerts, are always the most impressive because the acoustics of the place are so gorgeous. Years before the music even existed, The Senator was made for rock and roll! Tom Kiefaber is always telling me there is something futuristic about The Senator, something that was way ahead of its time. The fact that The Senator seems perfect for music that didn't even exist when it was built is to me the most tangible example of that.

The Senator is going up for auction on July 21, 2009. Unfortunately, the city's efforts to control the future of The Senator have put it into a situation where the future is a wild card and the theatre is available to the highest bidder. My hope is that some people with vision will put together an ownership group that can buy the theatre and turn it over to a non-profit that will protect and restore the building while ensuring its future as Baltimore's premiere multi-purpose arts and entertainment showplace...with music! Let's make the story of The Senator a triumph, and not a cautionary tale. I hope I'm not dreaming.

(Photo credits: duskfallphotography and crazyjamerz06 on Photobucket)

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