McPhersonSentinel - McPherson, KS
by Garon Cockrell
The Temporary Closing of the Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar: Harbinger of a Movie Theater Renaissance.
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By Garon Cockrell
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Jan. 11, 2013 12:01 a.m.

By Adam Ruhl
It was raining when I arrived at
the Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar location for the last time in its original
form. Its facade, still converted into a Frankenweenie ad from last year’s Fantastic Fest, bore a marquee that said it all, “Last night at the Alamo”. While
it’s true that in nine months’ time, South Lamar will be back on its feet, newly renovated with a stunning lobby and three additional screens, at that
moment I was sad to think of the original building going away. It had the
character and charm of the early Alamo locations, when the company found
abandoned movie theaters and occupied their shells like Cinephile hermit crabs.
However, nothing lasts forever and Alamo Drafthouse is no exception. Their
tremendous success has led to growth and Alamo is now moving into a new era.
Renovation of a flagship location like South Lamar is an almost perfect
metaphor for what is occurring to Alamo Drafthouse as a business. <>
All these thoughts went through my
head as I stepped into that alien-invasion themed lobby on January 3rd
for the closing night events. There was a crowd gathered for the sendoff celebration;
a night of special movies that included, among others, premieres of
Texas Chainsaw 3D, John Dies at the End, and Wrong. Founder Tim League was
giving interviews to local news outlets in the center of the oddly long, hallway-like
lobby of the current building. Lining the walls were tables with silent auction
items and at the back of the lobby a costume photo op had been set up. It was a
sendoff party in grand Alamo Drafthouse style but, if this is the first you’re
hearing of the Alamo, you may be wondering why I’m so sentimental about a movie
theater. <>
Let me
paint a picture that I’m sure will be familiar to a lot of you. You decide that
you want to go to a movie. You arrive at the theater and a ticket costs you 10
to 15 dollars. Once you get inside, you find a massive line for your film.
There’s no telling where you’re going to be seated and if you have a group it
becomes even more complicated. The snack bar has put a massive price tag on
popcorn and soda and again there are separate lines for food. Once in the theater, people around you talk, text, and answer their phones. During three consecutive visits to
a multiplex I had someone nearby answer their phone and have a conversation. Maybe there’s
a ‘please silence your cell phone’ ad attached the movie but who cares; good
luck finding a manager and if you do, good luck in getting him to solve the
problem. The pre-show 'entertainment' consists of commercials, that’s it, they may try to
dress it up as movie news but make no mistake, they are ads for Coke and
network television shows. This summarizes my night out at most theater chains over the
last twenty years.<>
Alamo Drafthouse is a 16-year-old theater
chain founded by Tim and Karrie League and it is an entirely different creature.
It started with a small location in Austin showing second-run movies and has grown to more than 11 locations in several states. The venue serves
a full menu of food and liquor; and that’s wonderful. Trust me, many a sub-par
movie came up a whole letter grade in my estimation thanks to beer (*I do not
drink when reviewing films for articles). The menu is often crafted to the theme of the movie and the beer and wine
selection is expansive, featuring a wide variety of local brewers. You have a
table in front of your seat and can order as much as you like from a server
using little cards so you don’t have to talk during the movie. Alamo Drafthouse
also features all-reserve seating; no more lines ever. <>
Tim League introduces John Dies at the End on South Lamar Closing Night.
Director Don Coscarelli (Phantasm
series, John Dies at the End) called Tim League the “Ultimate Showman”; showmanship
is key to Alamo’s success and another way it is truly different from other
cinemas. Here, the pre-show is tremendously entertaining;
made up of old movie clips and offbeat videos themed by the feature you’ve come
to see. In addition to new movies, all manner of old and rare films are
screened, often with the director or other special guest in attendance.
Different nights have themes with titles like, Girlie Night, Terror Tuesdays,
and Action Pack. There’s even a group called Master Pancake that holds live
MST3K style screenings. <>
Last and best of all is Alamo’s No Talking Zone policy. They have a constant rotation of new and amusing Public Service Announcement trailers
stating that once the movie starts there is no talking or texting allowed.
People who cause a disturbance during a showing can and will be ejected. One
of Alamo’s no talking PSAs,
‘Angry Voicemail’, was recently a big hit on YouTube.
So the
Alamo Drafthouse is great, but why is South Lamar closing so important? Over much of the
last decade and a half, Alamo has been a hotbed of innovation, but remained confined to Austin and Texas. There were four
Austin locations, all preexisting venues
that Alamo converted, and not much else. In the last few years word of mouth has grown and Alamo
has begun to open locations in other cities and states. A year ago, they opened a new Austin location, Slaughter Lane (that’s the proper name of the road, not a
clever subtitle), and it is distinct because it was the first Austin site to be
built ground up as an Alamo Drafthouse. The Drafthouse is poised to go
nationwide and start competing head to head against the other cinema chains.
New buildings custom made to be Drafthouses represent a shift in the company
identity from local small business to national corporate player.
The conversion
of South Lamar is a point of no return from one state of being to the other. It
carries tremendous hope for providing many more people a superior film-going experience but comes with the fear of losing an Alamo Drafthouse that was familiar, local, and personal. Last year, myself and a couple of thousand other film fanatics all but moved in to South Lamar for eight days of genre films at Fantastic Fest. Sixteen hours a day for eight days, we ate every meal there and between every screening we huddled in the front, comparing and critiquing films we'd just seen. It was a home away from home and this amazing, classic venue for the best cinema experience of my life. Its facade was a marvel, I will miss its style.<>
Till we meet again.
So now,
the party is over at the old South Lamar and it is closed for its metamorphosis. It’s time for the next phase, Alamo Drafthouse is moving onto a much
larger stage. They have nine locations across Texas, as well as locations in Missouri
and Virginia. Additional locations are under construction in New York,
Colorado, and California with more to come. Just today, Alamo Drafthouse was
given permission by city planners in San Francisco to proceed with the
renovation of the New Mission Theater. The New Mission was built in 1916 and
Alamo will restore its main screen and add four additional screening areas. When
the South Lamar location opens in nine months, just in time for Fantastic Fest 2013,
it will be as a fully modernized showplace, with improved lobby and parking. <>I do look forward to this brave new cinema with all
that is new and flashy but I hope that South Lamar will retain the Alamo
Drafthouse style, love of film, and creativity that helped make going to the
movies a truly great experience again.

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