The Big Picture —
Some time ago, I talked about a theater on the way out, in an entry called The Little Theater. I talked about how they didn’t own their property, didn’t have a lobby to speak of, had basically taken the idea they were a utility and then turned around and demanded a million dollars from the world so they could go on. It was quite a negative entry, and I had no proof my opinions were relevant.
Let me correct all that by telling you about The Big Picture.
While travelling through Vermont to do a couple of interviews for GET LAMP, I found myself with a little extra time. I drove around the countryside near Waitsfield, Vermont (near the Mad River) and saw that there was a movie theater near the main road. I drove down to investigate, just to see what sort of place it might be, and what sort of stuff they might be showing.
The Big Picture might look kind of like a weird house out in the middle of a field near a lot, but coming closer, you start to see the interesting way it was built; hints of art deco, pretty lighting, and a functioning clock telling you of the next showings. Its marquee is clean, bright, and distinct. It invites you in.
Once inside, however, you’re in for a real treat.
Some modern theaters might have a dingy, anaemic lobby that wants nothing more than to shuffle you past a selection of overpriced candy to get into the film box, or provide a gymnasium-sized impersonal box covered with ads for whoever paid the big nickel that week. But The Big Picture has an expansive, windowed lobby that offers not only ice cream, candy and soda, but has an entire sit-down bar and restaurant coated in beautiful hardwoods and soft lighting worthy of a classy bookstore. Before you even decide to walk down the hallway to one of the two actual theaters, you’ve already got a variety of activities you could do, whether it be to have a pre-film meal or enjoy a couple of drinks while talking with your friends in the comfortable leather couches and chairs.
I don’t drink, but I’m not the average person, and the average person would definitely love a place that lets you enjoy a good beer or wine and some snacks before making your way into the plush theatres for your films. Some might think this is all window dressing, but it’s not. It sets the stage for enjoying a film, and enjoying the company of others. You could come down early, have a meal, talk with friends or make new ones, and then make your way leisurely into the screens and enjoy a good show. In a world fighting rooms with big screen TVs, this is a heady defense against them; providing a place that’s worth not being alone in. Oh there’s free Internet.
Of course, this is all secondary to content, and what the theatre might have to show. This past weekend was “Movie Lover’s Week” and I took a shot of what was in store.
Delicatessen! !Enter the Dragon! Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown! Thai Chi Master! Run Lola Run!
Kung Fu Hustle! The Eel! The Drunken Master! Karate Kid! The Gods Must be Crazy! If you can’t find something in the lineup that played across just the last weekend, tell me where to send the flowers, because you died.
Just browsing the website for this theatre shows the care that’s gone into putting stuff together. Not only are there specials for “dinner and a movie”, but you have the choice of brunches, and a special kids/parents night out on Wednesdays. But what’s this? A speaker?
I had struck up a conversation with the owner, a real great lady, and she showed me the two theaters. One of them had a lot (and I mean a lot) of space up front, more than adequate for someone to put on a sock hop or a game of dodgeball. She said they’d had bands, presenters, and a whole other range of activities in there. Glancing at the website, you can see the forthcoming appearance of Scott Ritter, who was a UN Weapons Inspector from 1991-1998. Yes, in person. At this theatre.
If I was a kid living in the surrounding area of Waitsfield, Vermont, it’d all be here: mom taking me to great movies in the middle of the week, and me seeing cooler and cooler stuff with all my friends, hanging down at the Big Picture as I got older, watching all these great movies I’d never heard of, and maybe when I got to a certain age, even being brought or going myself to hear a speaker talking about something of world import, right here in my town of about 6,000. Not a bad childhood at all.
I spent some time talking with the owner, who owns the land and the building (hooray) and told me about the effort put into making the place great. The events, the arranging, the billion little details in keeping a concern like this going. The surrounding area isn’t heavily populated, but she’d renovated the place to be what a modern theatre should be: a destination, not just a way-station on the way to somewhere else. Truly a charming (and smart) lady.
If you live within a hundred miles of this place, it’s worth the trip, a full day you could spend enjoying yourself and seeing movies in a way they’re meant to be seen.
It can be done. A theatre in the modern age of plasma and THX in the home can survive, thrive, and give you something you can’t get 20 feet from your bathroom. I’ve seen it with my own eyes. I hope I see it in Waitsfield (and many other places) for decades to come.
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Jesus H. that’s amazing!
Not really a fair comparison, because you might expect this kind of thing in a big city, but I live in London and there are lots of smaller cinemas that have taken this approach to heart for years and remain beloved both by locals and by Londoners in general. For example, The Ritzy (http://www.picturehouses.co.uk/cinema_home_date.aspx?venueId=ritz) offers loads of events and special screenings, alongside the big blockbuster fare – everything from short cinema events to a regular momâ€™s matinee where breastfeeding and crying babies are expected and welcomed. If a film is released that I want to see, I always check the Ritzy, because where I see a film is usually as important (sometimes more important) than the film itself.
Then thereâ€™s the Prince Charles Cinema (http://www.princecharlescinema.com). I moved to the UK from Montreal10 years ago and while I was looking for work, I went to the Prince Charles and watched loads of films at rock bottom prices. Their secret? Show the latest films a few weeks after their major release, for less. The demand is smaller but consistent and just right for their size of theatre. Prince Charles was also the place for the regular screening of the Rocky Horror Picture Show (thereâ€™s one cinema in every city that does this), but added an even bigger, more theatrical sing-along element than usual, turning it from an in-joke into something else entirely. The they did the same thing with The Sound of Music and the crowds started lining up. The cinemaâ€™s so popular that, during the press junket, Tarantino said: â€œThe day that Kill Bill plays the Prince Charles will be the day that it truly comes home to England.â€
All of this to say that these kinds of cinemas donâ€™t have to be oddities, they can be integral to a whole new cinematic business model, above and beyond the â€œwe offer nachosâ€ kind of thinking that pervades most theatres. And despite the fear that most theatre owners no doubt harbour, the audience is there for this kind of cinema. They just have to take the chance.
*Phew*, that was long-winded, wasnâ€™t it? Thanks for listening and good work on the site.
This place is super close to Sugarbush, one of the Northeast’s nicer ski resorts, and one I always longed to go to while in my school’s ski club growing up. If Albany and Glens Falls had snow, Sugarbush was entombed under powder.
A nice long winter weekend could easily consist of hitting Sugarbush and then catching flicks at night (and Sunday brunch!) at the Big Picture.
I’m impressed with how well done their website is as well. Truly top hat.
Also, as an aside, the rural Northeast just *loves* vinyl and aluminium siding. Do not let it fool you. Yes, most of the time, those exteriors do house something not all that impressive on the inside. But if you shy away, you miss out on gems like The Big Picture which make it all worthwhile.