“I don’t go to the movies for the film. I go for the religious experience.”

“I don’t go to the movies for the film. I go for the religious experience,” Roxanne Granville tells readers of The Great Pretenders. For Roxanne’s grandfather, head of Empire Pictures, movies were about power and money, but for her grandmother, Julia, “They were her passion and she shared that passion with me. A darkened theatre was our favorite place on earth. She used to take me to matinees when I didn’t weigh enough to hold down the seat. Sometimes we’d go to the glamorous palaces like Grauman’s Chinese, but often we’d take in a double feature at a little music box of a theatre in Westwood. The false opulence, plush carpets, stale air, and palliative darkness combine to create a sacred space. A place of solace, hushed and holy. I recognized this same consecrated ambience the first time I walked into Notre-Dame in Paris.”

I share Roxanne’s sentiment. I brought my kids up with a passion for pictures. I took them to the movies before they weighed enough to hold the seat down. While they were growing up, there were three theatres in this town. In each you immediately entered an enclosed space from which all natural light was banished. Other than that, they had significant differences.

“I brought my kids up with a passion for pictures. I took them to the movies before they weighed enough to hold the seat down.”

Sunset Square had four small, stuffy auditoriums where your feet stuck to the spilled pop and popcorn on floor, and the seats were sprung. On summer afternoons mothers would often bring their kids, shoo them to the front, then sit in the back and chat the whole time. The Sehome theatre was where the artsy pictures showed, the Jane Austen remakes. The seats were sprung, but the air was not as bad. The mall complex theatres, six of them, were where you went for the Great Big Pictures. Still stuffy, but at least they didn’t smell, and sprung seats were replaced. However, thunderous artillery from the war film in the next theatre would rattle your fillings in your teeth while on your screen a tender love scene unfolded. Crash! Bang! Boom!

The Pickford

Now, all three of these theatres are closed. The mall complex is gone entirely, turned into a chain restaurant. The other two are hulking spaces, shuttered, grim, forlorn. Now, built in what was once a meadow is a new Super Duper Regal complex (sixteen or so auditoriums complete with 3-D and other mega-wonders). Entering this vast enclosed lobby, you instantly squint against the onslaught of neon and flashing lights. At the concession stands, people mill in long lines like they’re awaiting a TSA search. Soft drinks come in the size of horse troughs, popcorn in the equivalent of oaken barrels. The plush seats are so steeply tiered I get vertigo near the top.

The other local experience for film is the Pickford, the city’s arthouse cinema, now celebrating its twentieth anniversary. Supported by memberships and an all volunteer staff (except for the projectionist) it is indeed a “little music box of a theatre.” The Pickford is my favorite place in town.

I don’t know who designed this space, but they clearly had a recognition , even a reverence for the sense of community that a theatre can create. The lobby has windows! Tables and chairs invite conversation. Comfortable chairs, a small sofa also suggest connection. The Hollywood Reporter and the Chuckanut Reader (the local independent bookstore’s quarterly mag) lie on the end tables beside thriving houseplants. The lighting is warm, no florescent, no neon, the carpet simply patterned. The lobby is such a welcoming public space that my book club meets there each month. We buy a reasonably priced wine and a couple of popcorns (in ecologically friendly bags) pull some tables together and talk about books. In short, the Pickford has created a space where both cinema and community can flourish. Where the arts are nurtured, and people who love the arts feel welcomed.

In that respect, the Pickford reminds me of Cinema Paradiso from the famous movie of the same name, a place that nurtured audiences–and talent. At the Pickford a young projectionist, Ryan Covington, a friend of my sons, dreamed of making his own films while images filled the screen. On the strength of a prestigious screenwriting competition where his work was a finalist, Ryan Covington moved to Los Angeles a few years ago. His film, THE SECRETS WE KEEP, is in pre-production with a director assigned, producers and the central characters cast. I look so forward to seeing it at the Pickford! The place where it was first created as an idea.

Laura Kalpakian, author of THE GREAT PRETENDERS, a novel of Hollywood in the Blacklist Era will introduce and discuss the film, TRUMBO at the Pickford Film Center on May 2 2019.

*Photo credits: Jake Holt


And, for your listening pleasure, here is a bespoke playlist, guaranteed to evoke the romance of a darkened theatre.

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