Sunday, November 18, 2012

Another St. Pete Landmark Dead.

I hate it when things I love close - especially when they were integral parts of my childhood, helping to shape what I was to become as an adult.  

The Beach Theatre on Corey Ave. in St. Pete Beach was always tentative, as long as I was alive.  It was a dump.  The fabric on the seats was held together by gum and old popcorn oil. But it was the only place in the entire area that would DARE play artsy films or second run stuff.  Most people in St. Petersburg never got the chance to see some of the more brilliant movies of our time because those movies - they just didn't come down South.  This theater, on the other hand, showed them all.  

Most clearly I remember seeing My Favorite Year, one of the most charming and under-appreciated films of the 80s (where the HELL is a DVD edition?), in which Peter O'Toole portrayed a movie star struggling with alcoholism and his own personal insecurities while trying to prepare for his turn as a guest celebrity for a live television broadcast.  I saw it when I was 12.  Everything about that movie, from the "How High the Moon" by Les Paul and Mary Ford intro music, to the wonderful portrayal of a Brooklyn Jewish Mother by Ms. Lainie Kazan, has stuck with me for my entire life. 

They were also the only theater in the 80s and 90s brave enough to show any movies by that infamous communist director, Mr. Woody Allen.  He's one of my all-time favorites. My friend Gina and I - we had all of his greater movies memorized, and would at times hold entire conversations that were absolutely nothing but quotations from these films. 

Gina - "SHE STOLE."

Me - "Have it your way. The Pacific is greater."  

Gina - "The universe is expanding." 

Me - "You take a knife." 

You see how it goes?  Needless to say, we, along with the rest of the "intellectual elite" of St. Petersburg and environs, flocked to this theater.  Mr. Allen, happily, is enjoying a more mainstream audience these days and one might even hope to encounter a run of his latest motion picture at a regular theater.  Back then, though, we had to search. 

The final sad thing about the death of the Beach Theatre - it was the local venue for The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Now, I don't know about kids these days. I don't know what draws them to that film.  When I used to be rabidly obsessed with it, I was struggling with my sexuality in ways I didn't even understand yet. I was 14 the first time I saw it.  I knew I was different - but I didn't know that it could be a) accepted and even more interestingly, b) cool.  This movie was responsible for my being able to come to terms with the fact that I am a big old gayfer (as they call them in St. Petersburg).  It saved me. I'm pretty sure it still does that for some people.  

While the closing of a movie theater isn't really the end of the world now that we have instant access to almost everything ever made if we search hard enough, it's sad in that seeing a movie like Women On the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown or Radio Days - one you know you'll be one in a group of people who are probably more like you in many ways than if you were just seeing Iron Man or Breaking Dawn - is just not the same watching it in your living room by yourself.  

Change - I don't care for it.

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