so long hollywood dreams

A few weeks ago, on a junket through Vancouver, I was revisiting a bunch of memory lanes, courtesy of the BC Transit bus system, and happened to pass by the old Hollywood Theatre on West Broadway, on my way out to my old alma mater, UBC.

A few weeks ago, on a junket through Vancouver, I was revisiting a bunch of memory lanes, courtesy of the BC Transit bus system, and happened to pass by the old Hollywood Theatre on West Broadway, on my way out to my old alma mater, UBC.

As the well-remembered marquee passed by me, I noticed there were no movie titles on it, just a message saying goodbye and thanks; the cinema was closing its doors after 75 years of continuous operation under the same family ownership.

I had other things on my mind, at that moment, but I still had time to feel a small pang of nostalgia, and even, oddly, a little pin-prick of guilt, as that marquee flashed by.

The nostalgic reaction was easily explicable: as a much younger man, 20 years ago and more, I passed any number of rainy weekend evenings in the Hollywood, which specialized in second-run movies, two for the price of one admission, if you were willing to stick around for the second one.

Even in the mid-‘70s, it was a slightly funky and run-down, but homey and clean little cinema, with good popcorn and hot dogs; the seats were uncomfortable, especially come the second sitting, but the screen was of respectable size, and the sound system perfectly good – though not at all high tech, even for the time.

It was at the Hollywood Theatre, probably in the winter of 1972, as a callow, hippy-dippy freshman, that I saw my first certifiable “art film”- Alejandro Jodorowsky’s El Topo (The Mole), a semi-psychedelic Spanish-language Western about a bad-ass gunslinger who morphs into a kind of Jesus figure to a bunch of subterranean mutants and dwarfs. He ends up getting all his followers killed as they leave the cave, so he kills all the people who killed his people, and then sets himself on fire. At the same moment of his self-immolation, his son gets born, and rides away with his mother, all dressed up in a scaled-down version of his dad’s black gunslinger outfit.

Pretty heady stuff, for a still-teenage Yukon yokel, and nothing I would have been able to see at any of the more mainstream, franchised movie houses downtown.

I have now reached the age where nostalgic shocks become commonplace, as places of major or minor importance in your life go the way of mortality before you do; the one I felt in the BC Hydro bus that day was just another instance of a familiar sensation.

It was guilt reaction that gave me food for thought as I rode on to the university, and why that moment stuck in my mind enough to warrant it becoming the subject of a column here.

Not having been resident in Vancouver for any significant amount of time for more than 20 years, now, I of course have nothing to do with the failing fortunes of the Fairleigh family, who have owned and operated their business since 1935.

Business realities are hard realities, and all businesses – and even most industries – will sooner or later lose their market and their reason for existence.

The English-speaking world is full of people called Cooper and Cartwright and Shoemaker, but there are not a whole lot of barrel- cart- or shoe-making shops around, anymore.

The neighbourhood cinema operator is going through the same process of evolutionary de-selection; and that is at once an inevitable thing, a good thing, and a sad thing – and a thing for which I, like most of us, am at least indirectly responsible.

As someone who has never been much of a fan of the predictable Hollywood blockbuster, I in the past was very much dependant on niche-market establishments like the Hollywood Theatre (and the now-demolished Varsity cinema, near UBC) my cinematic fare.

With the advent of the VHS and DVD home movie systems, though – and even more with the advent of internet video streaming – I, like most people, have been finding and watching most of that kind of content at home.

That process has been in action since the advent of the first home videotape players, and is now reaching what appears to be its technological apogee with high-quality home video and sound systems.

This new home video technology is a fairly minor threat to the big cinema chains, who can still rake in mega-dollars on even quite lousy big-budget or big-name film offerings, often profiteering in the first few weeks of a release that the public quickly discovers is a despicable dud.

But the small cinema dedicated to foreign, small-market, or second-run films has no such cash cow. It counts on the proven quality of its fare and the loyalty of its clientele – both of which are now depleting resources, as small-budge and foreign films find it more and more difficult to get into commercial distribution, and as the audience for those films starts looking on the internet for that kind of content, where it is easier and cheaper to find.

So I, though I was not around town to be part of the Hollywood Theatre’s specific market problem, my personal movie viewing tastes and habits are part of the changed environment that is slowly extincting their species of cultural enterprise.

Hence my twinge of guilt, though was only a twinge.

It is not the end of the world if we eventually lose all these small, local theatres, and certainly not the end of art films or alternative culture; it is just the end of a cinematic environment that, though perishable, was a sweet place to live in, when it was around.

Rick Steele is a technology junkie who lives in Whitehorse.

Just Posted

Whether the dust jacket of this historical novel is the Canadian version (left) or the American (right), the readable content within is the same. (Michael Gates)
History Hunter: New novel a gripping account of the gold rush

Stampede: Gold Fever and Disaster in the Klondike is an ‘enjoyable and readable’ account of history

Yukonomist Keith Halliday
Yukonomist: Your furnace and your truck need to go

Perhaps the biggest commitment in the NDP deal with the Liberals was boosting the Yukon’s climate target

Awaken Festival organizers Meredith Pritchard, Colin Wolf, Martin Nishikawa inside the Old Firehall in Whitehorse on May 11. (Haley Ritchie/Yukon News)
Performing arts fest plans to awaken artistic talent in Whitehorse and the rural North

‘A value of ours is to make theatre as accessible as possible.’

April Mikkelsen tosses a disc during a ladies only disc golf tournament at Solstice DiscGolfPark on May 8. John Tonin/Yukon News
Yukon sees its first-ever women’s disc golf tournament

The Professional Disc Golf Assocation had a global women’s event last weekend. In the Yukon, a women’s only tournament was held for the first time ever.

Dave Blottner, executive director at the Whitehorse Food Bank, said the food bank upped its services because of the pandemic. (John Tonin/Yukon News)
Food Bank sees Yukoners’ generosity firsthand

“Businesses didn’t know if they could stay open but they were calling us to make sure we were able to stay open.”

A prescribed burn is seen from the lookout at Range Road and Whistle Bend Way in Whitehorse May 12. (Stephanie Waddell/Yukon News)
Editorial: Are you ready for a forest fire?

Citizens for a Firesmart Whitehorse have listed some steps for Yukoners to boost safety and awareness

Caribou pass through the Dempster Highway area in their annual migration. A recent decision by the privacy commissioner has recommended the release of some caribou collar re-location data. (Justin Kennedy/Yukon News)
Privacy commissioner recommends release of caribou location data

Department of Environment says consultation with its partners needed before it will consider release

Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Brendan Hanley. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Family pleased youth will be able to get Pfizer vaccine

Angela Drainville, mother of two, is anxious for a rollout plan to come forward

Safe at home office in Whitehorse on May 10, 2021. (John Tonin/Yukon News)
Federal government provides $1.6 million for Yukon anti-homelessness work

Projects including five mobile homes for small communities received funding.

Drilling at Northern Tiger’s 3Ace gold project in 2011. Randi Newton argues that mining in the territory can be reshaped. (Yukon government/file)
Editorial: There’s momentum for mining reform

CPAWS’ Randi Newton argues that the territory’s mining legislations need a substantial overhaul

At its May 10 meeting, Whitehorse city council approved the subdivision for the Kwanlin Dün First Nation’s business park planned in Marwell. (Submitted)
KDFN business park subdivision approved

Will mean more commercial industrial land available in Whitehorse

Main Street in Whitehorse on May 4. Whitehorse city council has passed the first two readings of a bylaw to allow pop-up patios in city parking spaces. Third reading will come forward later in May. (Stephanie Waddell/Yukon News)
Whitehorse council pursuing restaurant patio possibilities

Council passes first two readings for new patio bylaw

Most Read