A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away... Oh wait, that's another article altogether, though given the current trend of movie audiences, that opening sentence could just as easily be used here to describe the current pattern of many movie audiences. Once upon a time, going to movies was a social and sometimes even monumental event. People would get dressed up and go to their local theatre, where they would see a group of people they know and enjoy the latest that Hollywood had to offer in a gigantic building with hundreds of seats and a real enchanting and special atmosphere. Sadly, the day of the single screen neighborhood theatre has long passed, with today's moviegoers seeing the latest movies in one of many screens at multiplexes, many of which have 20 screening rooms of varying sizes and are often showing the same movie on multiple screens so that if you come late for the 7:00pm show, you can always catch the one at 7:30pm. Movie-going has become boring; neighborhood theatres can't compete with the suburban big box-type theatres, which all feature template designs and very little ambiance. Nothing about them screams anything special or unique, and it's hard to tell just exactly where you are. I could be in Toronto or Vancouver, and I wouldn't be able to tell from the theatre design itself. The uniqueness is fast becoming a thing of the past.
Just last month, one of Vancouver's landmark theatre multiplexes shut down, making way for another googleplex with more screens, bigger sound, and better picture, as well as a cornucopia of concession options. Simply put, it replaced its corporate brother theatre which had long been past its prime and seen better days from technical and upkeep standpoints. At first, I heralded the arrival of this new theatre, but now after a couple visits, it's nothing special and just another place for me to see a movie. Sure, the seats are more comfortable, the food tastes better, and it's more flashy, but really when it comes down to it, the movies are the same and it's just another building. About a month prior to this occurrence, Vancouverrites quietly lost another theatre – The Park – which has been delighting moviegoers on Cambie Street since 1940. However, unlike the corporation who found it not financially viable given our modern economy and moviegoing trends, people in the area were disappointed to hear about its closure, and soon a bevy of discussion popped up as to a possible reopening. Now, a couple months and a lot of hard work and sparkle later, moviegoers will once again be able to purchase a movie ticket and step into a classic movie palace.
The theatre is owned and operated by Leonard Schein – a man who is no stranger to the Vancouver film and theatre community, having been involved with the Varsity and many other theatres, as well as launching the Fifth Avenue Cinemas, a local haven for arthouse and independent non-mainstream releases. The Park Theatre is reborn in a magnificent way, which will hopefully delight moviegoers for years to come. Completely revamped and renovated without losing its old charm, the theatre now features a brand new Dolby Digital sound system backed by JBL speakers, new screens and light fixtures, and updated concession stand offering a healthy assortment of fresh-baked goods as well as the usual popcorn lovingly popped in canola oil and with real butter at no extra charge. The real difference, though, comes in the form of newly-installed seats, which are by far the most comfortable I've had the pleasure of sitting in. Coined by Schein as 'love seats', they feature removable armrests that are padded on both sides – allowing viewers to get that much closer to their partner – as well as lumbar support for those who find their backs get sore at movies. Every conceivable element of the theatre has been restored and made new again with the moviegoer in mind. New additions include a bench in the lobby for people to sit on during pre- and post-show discussions, as well as nice marble counter tops at both the concession and the box office. It really makes for a glamorous old fashioned-style night out at the movies without losing that all-too-important digital sound and breathtaking picture quality audiences expect.
During my recent tour of the facilities, which is set to open officially on Friday May 27th after an audience and community appreciation night screening of Casablanca in glorious 35mm, I had a chance to talk with owner Leonard Schein as well as theatre manager George Mah, and got the sense that these two men are movie fans first and business people second. In a time when screens are dominated by countless Hollywood features which seem to be of lesser and lesser quality each year, The Park Theatre plans to program mostly independent and non-mainstream features, not unlike the Fifth Avenue and Tinseltown, as well as Canadian features and other movies that might otherwise be overlooked at the box office (although Leonard has not ruled out showing the occasional Hollywood blockbuster when the timing is right). A big part of the focus of the re-launch is the chance to bring the theatre back into the community, and while pre-show slides will be shown as a way to offset operating costs, don't expect to see full motion video ads for Pepsi like you might at one of the suburban box theatres – and that is fine by me.
Although the paint was still drying and the floors were covered in cardboard, I could tell that even in this unpolished and unfinished state, this is a theatre I'm going to enjoy frequenting. In recent years, my attendance at The Park was limited to the odd promotional screening, but now with the new seats and a more friendly environment, I plan to make the trip up to this Cambie Street venue a little more often. After all, if we don't support the neighborhood theatres, then soon they will forever be a thing of the past. I can't remember the first time I ever went into The Park Theatre, but I can recall seeing a picture or two there during my youth, and I for one hope that people will seeing movies unspool on this screen for many years to come.
More information on The Park Theatre can be found online at www.parktheatre.info or by calling the 24-hour film information line at 604-709-3456(FILM). The Park Theatre is located at 3440 Cambie Street in Vancouver's Kitsalino neighbourhood.
Mark McLeod has always loved film. In addition to his roles with ShowbizMonkeys.com, Mark also works on many film promotion projects in Vancouver, BC, through his company, Mark McLeod PR.