PLEASE REMAIN STANDING A 30+ year retrospective exhibition
For most Americans over a midcentury of age, there is a fond memory that lingers in the back of their mind mingled with the luminescent neon and the smell of freshly-popped popcorn. It is their experience of attending a downtown movie theater.
Movie theaters through the 1950’s were created especially to act as enticements, fantasy castles of sorts, enhancing the illusion that the celluloid film created on the single enormous screen in the flickering darkness. Amplifying this experience further were the ornate signage of electric color outlined in glittering lights, multicolored sugar-coated candy in uniform boxes row after row in the low glass case, the mouth-watering buttery yellow kernels waiting to be consumed, and the dim glow of narrow aisles that led to plush red seats standing at attention. Those same seats bobbed back to military neatness when one stood to leave, causing a dim recollection of life outside the theater. These were simplistic but crafty devices, completely successful in whisking away the willing audience on a journey into the most popular form of entertainment of the day, one that would help shape the ideas, goals and beliefs of their generation and generations to come.
Architecture was of utmost importance wherever the theaters were located, be it a small town or a large city. The grand theaters, better known as “Movie Palaces”, exemplified the flight of fancy that our national conscience longed for, being more popular in urban centers that could support that sort of decadence with patronage in large numbers. Those who attended a movie at one of these palaces did not soon forget it. The inside façade held its own illusions, ranging from an overhead ceiling of stars to cityscapes with balconies, reminiscent of European destinations. Although most large cities could boast of having one of these theaters by the late 1920’s, few of them remained in operation more than thirty years. While the majority of towns across the back roads of America had no need for such extravagance, their patrons nonetheless appreciated their hometown theater experience and considered them charming and enticing in their own way. Architecturally elaborate fronts demanded the attention of the passerby, and the novelty of glass, red velvet, and shiny brass lent their charms to the décor inside. Drive-in theaters had their delights as well, emphasized by the gleaming concession stand and soldier statue microphones located at a measured distance apart in the well groomed parking field, complete with a playground for restless children under the expansive screen.
The name of this body of work, "Please Remain Standing" is a nod of recognition to the manager of the Carib movie theater in Clearwater, FL in the 1970's. Prior to every single show, Clarence would request over the loudspeaker to "Please remain standing for our national anthem" after which he would play a scratchy reel of the "Star Spangled Banner". If someone in the audience did not stand, Clarence would stop the film, clear his throat (again, over the loudspeaker) and in an irritated tone repeat "Please remain standing..."; the reel would not begin until there had been compliance in the theater. The Carib and Clarence have long passed on, but that theater inspired me begin the journey of photographing this portfolio, now in its 35th year.
A quote from the book What Time Is This Place by Kevin Lynch summarizes my intentions: “One danger in the preservation of environment lies in its very power to encapsulate some image of the past; an image that may in time prove to be mythical or irrelevant. For preservation is not simply the saving of old things but the maintaining of a response to those things.” The entire portfolio incorporates color as well as black and white photographs of movie theaters and drive-ins across the United States built between 1910 and 1965, as well as stories of attending those theaters . While space does not permit viewing the portfolio in its entirety, I hope that you will enjoy my attempt to preserve the very essence of spirit and illusion that made us all so enamored by the theaters in the first place.
If you have a memory of attending a theater that you would be willing to share, please contact me through my website at firstname.lastname@example.org. I hope to someday publish these photos along with personal stories, and I would love to include yours.