The last picture show
As the Academy Awards were being handed out in Hollywood Sunday night, the AMC Classic 10 theater in Winston-Salem was showing its last film. After almost 27 years, the multiplex on Reynolda Road closed its doors for good. When the credits ended, and the screen went black, it did so forever.
When I came to North Carolina in 1998, the theater was then the Classic 10, and it quickly became my “hometown” theater, simply because it was the one closest to me. Even better, I immediately established a friendly rapport with management and staff. I inquired if I could attend movies for free, adding that I expected to primarily attend matinée screenings so that if it was a big blockbuster, they’d lose no ticket revenues from a potentially sold-out evening show.
The answer was yes, and it stayed that way for the next 22 years, and when I began working for YES! Weekly, I asked if they’d like copies delivered to them. The answer was yes, and it never failed to amuse – and flatter – me when I’d stroll in for a Friday matinée, and the staff would be reading my reviews. “Boy, you really hated that one!”
More often than not, they agreed.
When I did an article on digital projection, the management graciously allowed me and my friend, filmmaker Richard Clabaugh, to look over the new technology. As Clabaugh said then: “You’re looking at the future, my friend.”
Indeed I was.
The memories of movies that I saw there, both good and bad, are innumerable. It was there that I saw Zodiac (2007), which is probably my favorite film (thus far) of the 21st century. It was also there that I sat through Eye See You (2002), which may be Sylvester Stallone’s worst film, although there’s competition on that score. Originally titled D-TOX – now there’s a marketable title, only slightly less bizarre than Eye See You – the film had been dumped by Universal Pictures and picked up by DEJ Productions, which specialized in the direct-to-video fare.
A producer friend explained that, in order to qualify for a tax write-off, a film had to be shown in at least one theater in each state. Lucky me, Eye See You played the Carmike 10 right here in Winston-Salem.
Zodiac was a far sunnier affair, so to speak. I’d mentioned to an assistant manager how eager I was to see it and was told that the print had arrived and they’d planned to build the film that night. If I didn’t mind a start time of about 10:30 p.m., I was welcome to watch it along with members of the staff.
This was not new to me. When I worked at the Rutgers Plaza Cinema in Somerset, New Jersey, where I grew up, I saw Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984), Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985), and Aliens (1986) the same way – before they officially opened. It was a perk I had not asked for but wasn’t about to turn down, nor did I take it for granted.
Then there was the case of Phone Booth (2002), the thriller starring Colin Farrell as a hotshot New York publicist trapped in a phone booth while an unseen sniper taunts him over the phone. The film had been scheduled for release in the fall of 2001 but was postponed following the events of Sept. 11. Its release was – understandably — postponed yet again following the wave of sniper killings in Washington, D.C. Phone Booth became something of a hot potato. As a result, it was garnering considerable press coverage before it had even opened.
Well, it just so happened that I’d been corresponding with filmmaker Larry Cohen (It’s Alive, Black Caesar, Q), who’d written Phone Booth. The studio publicist had even arranged a sneak preview at Carmike 10, but when I informed her that I planned to run the review alongside an interview with Cohen, she wasn’t excited by the additional coverage.
On the contrary, she was angrily, vehemently opposed. I couldn’t understand why, and I still don’t. It was only later I discovered that this publicist had an unpleasant tendency to dictate – or attempt to dictate – coverage of “her” films. She’d actually banned at least one of my fellow critics from screenings as a result.
I wasn’t about to stand for that. Publicists do not dictate what reviewers cover. That’s been a cardinal rule in this critic’s playbook since day one. She then upped the ante by announcing she would cancel the screening. When I protested, she launched into a frantic diatribe that culminated with her declaration, “I am canceling the sneak preview in Atlanta! I’m canceling it!”
“Fine,” I said. “Cancel the Atlanta screening.”
“I will! The Atlanta screening is canceled!”
It was then that I calmly reminded her that I was in Winston-Salem, and she was in Atlanta. I learned later that she suffered memory problems – which I’d have been more sympathetic to had she not been so aggressively nasty – and that some of her co-workers didn’t like dealing with her because she was petty and underhanded.
A day or two later, I got a call from an assistant manager. “You’re not going to believe this,” he said, “but the print for Phone Booth just arrived.”
I started to smile. “Can I ask you something?”
He started to laugh. “You don’t have to. Some of the staff want to watch it. How does 8 o’clock sound?”
It sounded great, and even greater was that the front page of the arts section boasted both my review and an exclusive interview with Larry Cohen (who, sadly, died last year). I don’t know how the publicist reacted to that, and I didn’t care. It didn’t matter, because she wasn’t there much longer.
So, on Sunday, I paid a last visit to AMC Classic 10, not to see a movie but to simply thank the staff for their courtesy and kindness over the years. It struck me that the majority of current employees were probably wearing Pampers when I first came to the theater in 1998. It was a good run, and I’m sorry to see it end. All good things must come to an end, and that theater was a good thing.
See Mark Burger’s reviews of current movies on Burgervideo.com. © 2020, Mark Burger.