THE WILDEY THEATER, Edwardsville, IL

Posted in PALACES, ONE AND ALL: A Valentine to screens in small towns, big cities and odd corners of the country where I have received salvation at 24 frames per second. on February 28th, 2010 by Jim Delaney


Between 1975 and 1977, I suspect I visited The Wildey Theater at least once a month. I saw some of the greatest movies of the 70’s there. When my older brother Ed was away at Boy Scout camp in 1976, I was thrilled to go out with my folks on a school night to see a re-release of THE STING. I also saw ROCKY, THE SPY WHO LOVED ME and yes, even STAR WARS. There was more to The Wildey than emerging cinema classics and glorious 1930’s art deco re-design of a turn of the century opera house. The first double-feature I ever saw was at The Wildey: FOOD OF THE GODS with EMPIRE OF THE ANTS, both written, produced and directed by drive-in master Bert I. Gordon. Ed spent his allowance from our weekly chores to take me to that show for my birthday.

In the days before STAR WARS, when it was rare for a movie to open on more than a couple hundred screens, we used to have a cool tradition of … I don’t know if anyone else has coined a phrase for it yet, but let’s call it Regional Cinema. With these regional movies, someone would raise a pocketful of money and shoot a movie, and then shuffle their one print around a few towns in their area. John Waters’ earliest efforts are good examples of this. Some movies, like the original versions of GONE IN 60 SECONDS and WALKING TALL, would catch the interest of a larger distributor who would crank out a few more prints and slowly role it out state by state.

Others, like RETURN TO BOGGY CREEK, would never escape the midwest, the same way Giallo movies would never escape 42nd Street and Hollywood Blvd. I recall KDNL, then a local UHF television station, airing commercials for RETURN TO BOGGY CREEK. The big selling point was “Featuring Dawn Wells from Gilligan’s Island!” ten years after Gilligan was off the air. Here’s how cool The Wildey Theater was: not only did I see RETURN TO BOGGY CREEK there, I also saw SASQUATCH: THE LEGEND OF BIGFOOT in the same year! For a seven year-old to have not one but two Bigfoot movies play in their town within one year, well … is it any wonder I ended up a nerd?

When my cousin Freddy and my aunt Connie visited from New York, my Dad took Freddy, Ed and me to see SINBAD & THE EYE OF THE TIGER. The film featured Ray Harryhausen animation and naked Jane Seymour, and the evening featured Freddy doing a goofy impression of Trog, one of Harryhausen’s monsters. Until this moment, movies had always been like church to me: sit there, shut up and enjoy it and allow others to enjoy it too. Freddy’s Trog impression made me laugh so hard that I wasn’t making sound and my ribs hurt. He introduced me that evening to the great Grindhouse tradition of “audience participation.” I’m not talking about muttering and giggling with your friends and annoying other paying folks, I’m talking about making a bad movie good (or a good movie great) with spot-on one-liners delivered loud enough to crack up the whole theater.

My family moved around a bunch of times, but ended up back in the St. Louis area in the early 90’s. I visited The Wildey in 1992, and found it boarded up, but with signs of potential restoration work under way.

I snapped a few pictures out front, then wandered down an alley between The Wildey and the Quality Meat Market, and climbed up an I-beam to reach the fire escape.

The door at the top of the fire escape was open, allowing me to sneak into the balcony. I took a few more pictures, but they were pretty blurry from the low light.

I stood and listened to the voices of elementary school friends for a bit before climbing back down the fire escape.

I went and peered through the glass doors out front … and a man inside waved to me! He came, opened the door, and asked if he could help me. I told him a little bit of what you have just read here. “Well, we’re just starting to get the

place cleaned up,” he said, “but you’re welcome to take a look-see if you like.”


I spent the next half hour meandering around and snapping the occasional picture where I thought the light beaming in from the balcony might be strong enough. I stood dead center in the seats an clapped a few times, but heard barely an echo. This nearly century old theater had cleaner acoustics than most modern multiplexes — and unlike a multiplex you’d damn sure never hear the movie next door drowning out your show at The Wildey. I’d like to tell you that I could still taste the popcorn or smell the cleaner that they used to sop up the Cokes we rugrats spilled, but that would be inaccurate. What came back to me was how many times I’d been scared and thrilled, heartbroken and tickled, amused and amazed in this hall.

As a child I had wanted to climb up on the stage. All those years later, I was able to feel the stage creak under my feet, before discovering there was a way down behind the stage — as a kid I’d never imagined there was anything back there!! Backstage I found remnants of what must have been dressing rooms from the opera days, and I found an old ticket booth. It was too dark to take pictures, so I touched everything I could reach, hoping for tactile memories to fill in where photos could not. Later I asked the man about the ticket booth. He was unsure how long the booth had been down there, but guessed it had been a long long time. I agreed with him, because I don’t ever recall there being an outside ticket booth. I only recall hoping I lived in Edwardsville long enough to work in the Wildey when I grew up.

I took the photo on top in the summer of 2008. If you want to know more about The Wildey Theater, they’ve made it easy and fun: http://www.wildeytheatre.com

Share

DIRTY PRETTY THINGS (2002)

Posted in THE LUNCH MOVIE CHRONICLES: The original e-mail announcements that were sent through our office the evening before we rolled a Lunch Movie on February 28th, 2010 by Jim Delaney


From Tuesday, April 25, 2008
Directed by Stephen Frears, starring Chiwetel Ejiofor, Audrey Tautou & Sophie Okonedo.

A London hotel employs illegal immigrants from across Europe and Africa. The advantage to an illegal work force is that they cannot call the police when they notice crimes within the hotel. When on of the bellmen, Okwe (Ejiofor) discovers a human heart in a guest room, he and his coworkers become trapped between immigration officers and whomever cut that heart out of it’s owner.

Steven Knight’s original screenplay was nominated for a BAFTA, an Oscar and by the WGA, and won the 2004 Humanitas Prize. No bad for a fella who’s previous gig was writing for the UK “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?”

It’ll finish Thursday,
Love, Jim

AFTER THOUGHT from 2.28.10
I recall writing this blurb in a rush, in time to send it through our office before leaving for the night. I did not begin to do DIRTY PRETTY THINGS justice. The phrase “Hitchcockian” has been tossed about so often since his passing that it doesn’t mean much anymore, but I honestly feel that if Hitch were still alive, he would have wanted to direct this screenplay. This movie fires on so many burners: it’s a look into a world most of us will never know, made all the more fascinating because it is right beneath the surface of the life we see every day. It is a longing love-that-can-never-be sort of love story on the order of WITNESS. And it’s all kinds of scary: intense, shocking, creeping, unnerving. I’m at a loss for a better textbook example of film noir for the entire decade.

I could say so much more, but I would begin to give away plot points. Do yourself a favor: rent it. If you’ve already seen it, rent it again, and ask yourself when was the last time you’ve seen a hero with as noble and decent a spirit as Okwe.

Share

TORCH SONG TRILOGY (1988)

Posted in THE LUNCH MOVIE CHRONICLES: The original e-mail announcements that were sent through our office the evening before we rolled a Lunch Movie on February 23rd, 2010 by Jim Delaney


From Friday May 1, 2008
Directed by Paul Bogart, adapted by Harvey Fierstein from his play, starring Harvey Fierstein, Anne Bancroft & Matthew Broderick.

Arnold Beckoff (Fierstein) is a Greenwich Village drag queen who performs under the name Virginia Hamm. We follow Arnold from the early 1970’s thru 1980 in his quest for a man who will love him enough, and for the respect of his mother (Bancroft). Arnold’s rambunctious sarcasm is his best defense against the slings-n-arrows he encounters.

The play of TORCH SONG TRILOGY benefited from a longer running time than the film. A few moments in the film might feel rushed, but Harvery & Co. make it resonate when they need to. If Arnold had been a straight character, TORCH SONG TILOGY would be recognized along with HANNAH & HER SISTERS and WHEN HARRY MET SALLY as one of the quintessential New York romantic comedies of the last generation.

It’ll finish Wednesday,
Love, Jim

AFTER THOUGHT from 2.23.10
I’ve long had a problem with folks who say they “like music or movies that make you think.” I wonder why they weren’t thinking before. In fairness to those folks though, I see their point when I encounter a song like Bruce Springsteen’s “Nebraska” or a movie like TORCH SONG TRILOGY. These two pieces of art showed me a point of view with which I was unfamiliar, which I guess is what some mean when they say it “made me think.” “Nebraska” and TORCH SONG TRILOGY were watershed moments in my adolescence; they were events that divided everything I thought up until I experienced them, and everything after.

I used to be staunchly pro death-penalty, until “Nebraska” asked me to walk in the shoes of a death row inmate for three minutes. That song made me want to know more about Bruce’s convicted murderer — but if society executes him, we lose the chance to understand how he became who he is. Bruce showed me that I didn’t know as much as I thought I did about convicts.

I knew that I didn’t know anything about gay people when I saw TORCH SONG TRILOGY. I knew that I was nervous around them, due mostly to years of misinformation from narrow minded straight people while growing up in the Reagan 80’s. Harvey Fierstein’s opening monologue immediately had me questioning where my peers had gotten their notions about gay people. When the movie arrives at Fierstein’s growling showdown with his mother by the side of his father’s grave, I had learned that the best thing I could do if I want to understand someone who I think is so different from me is to shut up and listen to what they have to say.

Share

I’M NOT THERE (2007)

Posted in THE LUNCH MOVIE CHRONICLES: The original e-mail announcements that were sent through our office the evening before we rolled a Lunch Movie on February 11th, 2010 by Jim Delaney


From Tuesday May 9, 2008
Written & Directed by Todd Haynes, starring Christian Bale, Cate Blanchett, Marcus Carl Franklin, Richard Gere, Heath Ledger, Ben Winshaw, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Michelle Williams, Bruce Greenwood and Julianne Moore.

Bob Dylan has worn many masks throughout his career. He’s been the humble disciple of Woody Guthrie, the angry young man who electrified folk music, the recluse who hid form the world at (arguably) the height of his fame, the fire-n-damnation leader of the Rolling Thunder Review, a husband and a father, and a mystery who answers reporters questions with more pointed questions than they fire at him. How do you make a movie about all these lives of Bob Dylan?!

If you’re Todd Haines, you get 6 actors of varying ages, ethnicities and yes, even gender, to attempt to sort our the puzzle that is Bob Dylan. Not content to revel in the minutiae of Dylan lore, Haines draws from sources as vast as The Beatles, John Steinbeck and Federico Fellini to flavor his stories. The final result is a puzzle as beguiling and captivating as the man it seeks to understand.

It’ll finish Friday.
Love, Jim

AFTER THOUGHT from 2.11.10
This email went out the night before I’M NOT THERE was released on DVD. I received a few replies asking if I had gotten hold of an Oscar screener, or else how was I going to show a movie that wasn’t available ’til tomorrow. Simple. I loved this movie so much that I snuck out of work in the middle of the morning, ran to Borders and bought a copy in time for lunch. It took less than 15 minutes, which I justified by reasoning that my coworkers who smoke take 30-60 minutes out of each day for their addiction, so what’s 15 minutes out of one day for mine?!

This movie so captivated me that I needed to own it as soon as possible. I have come to enjoy it the way I enjoy PULP FICTION — the scrambled chronology of both means that I can pick either up at any point on cable and still be drawn in. I don’t think I will ever fully understand everything Haynes intended in I’M NOT THERE, but like many Bob Dylan albums, I know I will understand it a little differently with each experience.

Share