It was their popcorn, it still haunts my dreams.
Yet another victim of progress and pandemic, The Main Art Theatre in Royal Oak, Michigan has closed for good … or bad.
Opened just before the start of WW II, with one ginormous screen, it was the place to go for schlocky B movies during my childhood. When I moved back to the area decades later, it had morphed into an outstanding arthouse, independent film venue.
I saw some of my favorite movies of all time there. And had some of my favorite memories too. After watching the zany Hamlet 2 with some of our closest family friends, I was yapping with the manager about how much I loved it and he told me their promotions department gave ‘em a ton of T-shirts. Cut to me walking out into the parking lot with eight Rock Me Sexy Jesus shirts, one for each of us.
God, I’m gonna miss that place.
The first film I remember seeing there as a kid was The Christmas That Almost Wasn’t. It was a simply awful movie that was promoted on local television with the phrase, “There once was a Christmas that almost wasn’t, all because of a man named Prune.” — I didn’t have to Google that phrase; I remembered it from a thousand years ago. It’s since been named one of the worst Christmas movies of all time and soars to a lofty 29% on Rotten Tomatoes. I saw The Man Who Invented Christmas, its polar opposite, about 50 years later at the same theatre. Speaking of 50, it got about 50 tomatoes higher on Rotten Tomatoes.
It was my escape. On a Tuesday evening or a Sunday afternoon, I could park right next to it — in the spots reserved for independent movie goers, as opposed to “the other” mainstream theatre it shared a parking lot with in later years. That other theater barged right in, slinging drinks and bowling and luxury seating and 3D movies and meals and and and …
At my Main, the Frozen Coke machine was always busted. The Main boasted three screens; the theater behind it showed nine films. Progress, right? I’ve never seen a movie at that one. Don’t know if I ever will, unless I wanna rent bowling shoes, sip a cocktail and have a waitress bring me plastic popcorn.
Oh man, the Main’s popcorn.
There, I could pay for my ticket at the concession stand and ask for my usual order saying, “and layer the butter, please.” They knew exactly what I meant, filling the sack partway, squirting real butter in, handing it to me to add salt, then topping it up with more kernels, more butter, then more salt from me — held safely away from the counter so as not to get the salt crystals anywhere near the cash register. It was perfection. You just can’t get that with streaming or large, corporate movie theaters.
I sound like an old curmudgeon. Maybe I am. But one of life’s sweetest moments was sitting in the dark at The Main — that stillpoint after the previews were done and my movie was just beginning, with all the production and distribution title cards done. My popcorn was perfect; the outside world was mostly shut out; the magic was real.
Movies are experiences. The very best ones stay with you as you stroll back out into reality. My experiences at The Main felt transcendent as I drove home thinking about how my emotions were transformed.
Every year for the past I-don’t-know-how-many years, I’ve written a long, pre-Oscars review highlighting my favorite films. It was fueled in large part by my obsession with seeing movies at The Main Art Theatre. It’s difficult to disconnect the movie from the maison.
The lights have dimmed and maybe won’t ever come back up.
But I’ve read that a group of organizers is currently exploring how to possibly re-open the theatre under new ownership, maybe as a non-profit, according to WDET, Detroit.
And C&G News reports a guy from my old home town assembled a Love In at the theatre and maintains a Facebook group in support of it — Friends of the Main Art Theatre. I’ve joined that group; it’s the least I can do. I agree with what he said in the story, “It’s a really valuable part of our cultural landscape … when we lose places like the Main Art, we lose so much more than a building. It’s really about the heart and soul of what we are as a community.” — Jason Krzysiak
So there might be one more scene left to be seen. Maybe it’s one of those extra rewards the audience gets for sticking around through the end of the credits.
It’s a hopeful thought and I’m hungry for hope — with a nice layer of butter and salt.