With its brocade curtain, 2,672 seats, gilded dome and full stage, the St. George had been the island’s premier house, run by the Fabian Chain, which had also owned the Paramount, a few other now-defunct theaters and a briefly-successful drive-in, whose land had been sold off to build the Staten Island Mall. In our year, at the St. George, the “District Office” (in faded gold lettering) — an office which stood at the back end of our theater’s elegant corridor — was already a storage room. Was that where Sy Fabian had held court in his time? The St. George had been a flagship, first-run, but by 1976, we were reduced to battling the Jerry Lewis and others for scant second- and third-run product, movies like Blazing Saddles (1974), Jaws, and Dog Day Afternoon (both1975), not to mention Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974). It was hard, if not impossibler, to book first-run movies. Once, desperate and ashamed, we ran a xxx porn title I can’t recall the name of. It drew a sad and scanty audience.
Twelve years later, when I saw Cinema Paradiso — and years before I began to write Starts Wednesday — I longed for the St. George, and I wondered what was happening to the movie business anyhow? Better still, these days I wonder in a whole new way, what gives with the habit of going to movies? Will it vanish?
Mike Nichols once said in an interview (a slight paraphrase), “Film is an act of the unconscious... [You are] sitting alone in the dark, and the dream begins.” I’m ready.
It’s my birthday on President’s Day, this coming Monday, and I’m going to Manhattan, to that rarest of rarities in NYC, a single-screen theater, The Paris, to be exact, something called Concrete Cowboy. I can almost taste the popcorn!