It was usually a Tuesday or Wednesday. I would hop on the #9 Alma… it dropped off right in front of the doors, which was convenient for me, as I was generally cutting it pretty close, for catching the early show. And I never, never miss previews.
You usually bought your ticket from a sweet senior sitting in the tiny booth, the smell of popcorn already wafting out the open front door. The huge lit-up sign out front was old and shabby, but had a certain nostalgic charm about it; you could certainly envision how in years past, she must have been gorgeous… state-of-the-art for her time. Even her name was regal: Hollywood.
Every time they took my money I felt a slight pang of guilt and excitement at the price. When I first discovered this art deco theatre in my early twenties, I had just moved to Vancouver. It was $5 for a double bill. At that time (and still, currently) regular theatres might charge you slightly less for the ticket, and then gouge you on snacks. But not the Hollywood. It was cheap to get in, and cheap to eat popcorn for dinner. And I did both—regularly.
I would always choose the same seat. Sneak up the dark curtain-draped side staircase into the balcony. It had super threadbare 70′s (60′s?) carpet—a remnant of many years past—but it all added to the charm. The mystique. Besides, it was so dark up there you couldn’t really see the details (which, in the end, was probably in the best interest of everyone).
Although I have ridiculously long legs, I always sat in the front row of the balcony. There I could kick off my shoes and perch my feet along the well-worn wooden ledge. It was never comfortable. But it was tradition. There were no railed barriers in this theatre, like you see in newer lawsuit-paranoid multiplexes (ones that prevent small children or drunken teenagers from dropping 30 ft. onto their heads). Here we were free to place feet or sit upon the ledge, or fall to our deaths. It was a throw-back to a time of user self-responsibility, and I loved it. I loved it like only a 5’11 pretzel jammed tightly into the front row of the balcony, could.
Although she was old, but she had beautiful bones. I sat among ghosts in that balcony. While waiting for the first film to begin, or during intermission, I liked to imagine all the people who had sat in these horrifically uncomfortable seats. In my mind’s eye I could see a time-lapse movie of 75 years worth of comings-and-goings. Dapper suits to scrappy kids, teenagers throughout the ages who came to drink beer and make-out in the privacy of the balcony—hippies to hipsters. We have loved you, all of us. A common thread to tie us together.
I saw Garden State there 4 times. This was a feat in of itself, being that each double bill only has a run of 1 week. But that was during a particularly rough and lonely time in my life, and I found comfort and solace in that film. It gave me hope, it broke my heart, it made me happy.
I formed nightly crushes during each of my adventures to the Hollywood. To pass the time I would choose who would get to be my unsuspecting movie-boyfriend for the evening. He would be cute and solo, the only prerequisites (although depending on how many patrons there were that evening, ‘cute’ might be used in the loosest possible sense). We would never actually interact of course, but I would imagine that solo-movie-watching-him would see solo-movie-watching-me, and we would come together and bond over the coolness and liberation that comes from watching movies alone. Generally speaking, when given a chance, I will choose to watch movies alone. Without question.
People who go to the movies alone are awesome. There is a quiet coolness about it. A certain self-assured “I don’t give a shit if I don’t have a sidekick” confidence. Often I wouldn’t even care what the films were, I would just go to be out in public; I would go and stare at the screen, basking in the glow of it all and just have time to think. When you are a tiny speck in a rickety balcony, regardless of what’s going on in your life, problems feel smaller. You get lost in the darkened distraction.
The Hollywood Theatre has been owned by the same family for 75 years. They have quietly opened her doors night after night, despite lack-lustre sales and ridiculous corporate competition. They have only reluctantly raised prices in the last couple of years, but even when it topped out at $8, it was still an insanely good deal. But for the longest time, it stayed at just $5. I always wondered how they could afford to do it, being in Kitsilano—one of the most expensive neighborhoods in Vancouver. The cinema itself was rarely busy, and there were nights I would sit through 4 hours in the balcony, completely alone (which admittedly always kicked ass). It was out of love they did it, I’m sure. Certainly not fame or money. But I suppose there is an end to everything.
The Hollywood Theatre is closing this weekend. Or rather, she is “changing hands”, which NEVER bodes well for beloved established businesses. I’m sure if she remains a cinema, she will be gutted and renovated; stripped of charm and fitted with dolby surround sound and top of the line technology. The movies will become first-run, and the tickets will become $13. That is if they don’t decide to bulldoze her to the ground to build condos. She was an institution. She was a Vancouver landmark. She was mine.
I wonder what they will do with her glorious tattered sign? With the incredible old architectural details like the seats and deco fixtures and signage in the powder room (which was always much fancier than a regular bathroom, on account of the chandelier).
Originally when I heard the news of her closing this weekend, and I checked the double bill, it was disappointing. A shitty movie with Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson, and some animated movie I’d never heard of. It seemed extra sad to see that she was going out with a whimper rather than a bang. But when I checked a minute ago, I see they have added CINEMA PARADISO as the first film… which seems a rather more fitting goodbye.
I will go this weekend, and sit solo in the balcony. Breathe in the sights and smells and back-wrenchingly uncomfortable seats one. final. time. I hope for once she is packed to the gills. I hope that everyone who ever laughed or cried or made-out or had terrible or awesome first dates will go and pay respects. I hope that the Fairleigh family will see how much she was loved and how empty that spot on Broadway will be without her. She will be sorely, surely missed.