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Going Home: Urban Movie Houses

By tt stern-enzi · March 12th, 2013 · The Alternative
Cincinnati is home to my body and my head. After almost 13 years, I’m grounded here thanks to a strong network of friends and family. 

But, my heart, well, let’s just say it’s holding out. Home, for my heart, is all about those extra-special intangibles, which in part come down to movie memories. How hard could it be to have a gaggle of cinematic flash frames to draw from for a film critic, right? Movies are much more than a job for me; I’ve said it before, more than mere magic and escapism, movie moments (the best of them) are as vivid and real to me as experience. Sitting in the dark, I can come alive.

Of course, it isn’t limited to what’s onscreen. Sometimes the projection up there just blows open a doorway and the audience, all of us, rush through. We let it carry us back out into the real world. 

In 2003, I had the chance to sit down with Joey Kern, a Cincinnati guy who at the time was making a splash in Hollywood with performances in Grind, a skateboarding buddy pic, and Cabin Fever, a flesh-eating zombie genre exercise known as the breakout for director/actor Eli Roth. During our chat, Kern divulged a few gems from his days growing up in and around the Queen City and spoke generally about the impact of seeing movies downtown. That faraway look in his eye said it wasn’t about a specific movie; it was rooted in a place, a distinctly urban vibe.

I’ve had the same feeling recently as I’ve taken my own stroll down memory lane. Although in my case, as I wander along the streets of downtown and Over-the-Rhine, there’s no trigger to take me back to seeing either a particular film or to remind me of a cherished instance with friends. I’ve never seen a movie, in a movie theater, in Cincinnati. 

Newport on the Levee.

Check. The Esquire in Clifton. Check. The old Showcase in Norwood (or Norhood, for those in the know). Double check.

My movie memories start, though, in Asheville, N.C. The Plaza on Pack Square was one of those spots — you know, the kind filled with memories you imagine you’ll always remember, even in your twilight years. 

That’s the place where I saw my first movies. I can’t even recall the very first movie I saw there, but I can say I’ve got more than my share of memories after that, some not so much for the movies themselves but thanks moreso to the experience of that space and the audiences.

The city changed as I got older, as cities tend to do, which meant the emergence of multi-screen houses in outlying areas, but my friends and I fought against the changing tide as best we could. We would arrange for our parents to drop us off and then make the late-night pickups after the midnight screenings on Friday nights, which I can thankfully say our parents did until we were old enough to drive ourselves.

And while I don’t remember the first movie I saw at the Plaza, I certainly remember the last picture show that played there. My crew and I laid down our hard-earned cash for tickets to the 11 p.m. screening of the Burt Reynolds movie Stick. We bought popcorn and drinks and sat, for one last time, in the balcony section, which they opened up for this last show. 

Looking back, the memories are fond and fun rather than truly sad. We soaked in the sticky feel of the floor beneath our feet, squirmed a bit against the loose springs in our seats and talked back to the dimly lit tough-guy characters onscreen. 

And once it was over, we remained long after the credits; the staff didn’t seem to mind. I suppose they weren’t all that concerned with cleaning up this last time (when was the last time they probably cleaned the place anyway?).

It was like a graduation. Not the major transition from college into the real world. No, something smaller, like the recent trend celebrating advancement from elementary to middle school or going from junior high into high school. I didn’t understand what losing the Plaza would mean to downtown. We were already starting to drift outward to the multiplexes and the second run theaters closer to our homes.

I recognize the difference now, though, and apparently Asheville does, too. The Plaza might be long gone, but there’s the Fine Arts Theater that used to show skin flicks, but now is a first-run showcase for art and independent releases. During my last visit this past fall, I marveled at the marquee which included Leos Carax’s Holy Motors. 

I’m waiting for the day when Cincinnati makes me feel truly at home with options like this.

CONTACT TT STERN-ENZI: letters@citybeat.com



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