At the St. George Theatre, a 2,672-seat movie palace I helped manage for one magical overwhelming year, 1976, I spent a good deal of off-time sitting in a mostly empty auditorium, under its consolingly magnificent dome. If the Czars of Russia had their winter palace, well we had our summer one. Czar Nicholas had fireplaces, but we had a giant central air conditioner, reminiscent of the 1930’s. As I recall, it was no easy feat getting the thing — almost the size of a city block — up and running: it shuddered and shook, reminding some of us of Frankenstein, when the monster awakes.
Summer has traditionally been “block-buster” time in the movie business. Epics or big-themed movies with lots of action seemed to go well in the dog days. Why is this? The original experience of movie watching in theaters was a first, primitive kind of virtual reality, the ultimate escape: in hot summer the more overwhelming, the better. These days blockbusters are largely special effects driven, but in the summer of 1976, titles as various as Futureworld, The Omen, and Silent Movie kept people entertained in the cool dark under one kind of dome or another.
With the exception of The Omen, whose reels we somehow got our hands on, other 1976 summer titles went to the first-run houses who could afford to bid for them. Our fare for June, July and August consisted of small-bore stuff like Godzilla vs. Megalon, or used titles that had been some other summer’s blockbusters, like Jaws (1974) or even the slightly-antique Deliverance (1972).
The Exorcist had never been a summer movie, having enjoyed it’s original release date in December of 1973, but I will always think of it when dog days come around.
It became our private blockbuster, the only flick we ever showed that made a clear profit and filled our Spanish Baroque cave with people shoulder-to-shoulder, happy to be terrified, in the cool dark, under a soaring dome.
Stay cool this week wherever you are. Air conditioning is too ubiquitous these days to seem transforming, but there are still theaters, and some of them have domes.