Book Review: Theatres Of Portland

Theatres Of Portland (Images Of America), by Gary Lacher and Steve Stone

There is a feeling of considerable melancholy in looking at some of these images of the past.  And there is a certain degree of mixed feelings about its contents as well, not because the content is poor by any means, but because the sad state of so many of the theaters of the past in Portland at present prompts thoughts about the vanity and futility of our plans, about the way that our desire to maintain or recapture glamour is often hindered by the cost of the task, and the way that contemporary theaters tend not not be as enjoyable as buildings as the ones discussed here, but which are useful because they show a lot of films, at least one of which someone would likely want to watch.  And the fancy downtown theaters or the scuzzy and small second-run local neighborhood theaters both have had a hard time competing with the suburban multiplexes, with rather predictable if lamentable results.  There truly was a golden age of film where there were attractive young ladies dressed at least somewhat provocatively to promote films, but that golden age of films has long gone, and with it most of the theaters discussed here.

This particular book of a bit more than 100 pages is divided into five chapters.  After acknowledgments and an introduction, the first chapters (which takes up about half of the entire contents of the book) looks at the various film palaces that were located in downtown Portland during the early half of the 20th century (1).  There is a sense of unease knowing that the experience and the glory of this particular golden age of film will not last, but there are a great many beautiful black and white photographs of theaters and patrons and staff to be found.  After that the book turns its attention to the downscale nature of these theaters as time went on and going to the movies became a less formal occasion (2).  The third chapter examines smaller theaters that got lost in the neighborhoods, some of which remain active but many of which have been repurposed by new owners (3).  Finally, the book closes with a look at some of the surviving theaters which remain in use (4), although not always in their original guise as movie theaters, as well as some of the final scenes of theaters which have been demolished because crowds of filmgoers went somewhere else (5).

This book is a reminder of a few things that builders and developers should pay attention to.  For one, just because one builds a glorious building or even a group of buildings does not mean that these buildings are going to last.  The survival even of expensive and massive film palaces, no less than smaller neighborhood theaters with only a single screen or a few screens, depends on the choice of people to go to a particular place at a particular time to watch movies in the company of others.  Judging from the way that some of these theaters tried to hold on as grindhouses or through showing blaxploitation films, and by the way at least one film hangs on barely by weekend showings of the Rocky Horror Picture Show, owners of theaters will go to great lengths to try to survive, not that it always ends up working out well for them.  In recent decades, of course, the importance of technology and certain conveniences and the general architectural blandness of metroplexes has made it difficult for film palaces or small theaters to compete unless they go to second-run bargain price showings or repurpose in a way that still encourages class and formality among patrons, and neither of those is a sure path to survival.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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