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Site of the Week – Cinema Treasures

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Whether you’re looking for the best place to see The Dark Knight or trying to find out what happened to the Roxy in New York, Cinema Treasures can help. Film historian Ross Melnick and web designer Patrick Crowley started the site in 2000 to help save classical movie theaters, but it’s really a celebration of moviegoing — past, present and future. “We learned that you can’t classify anyone’s theater as not important,” says Melnick. Though many cinema lovers are preservationists, “People forge this weird bond with their theater no matter what it looks like or how historic it is,” adds Crowley.

The site’s theater database has information on over 20,000 theaters from 150 countries and includes 200,000 comments about the theaters, left by patrons and former employees. “You see people who actually worked together 30 years ago reconnect through the site,” says Melnick. “You see them talking about the way the theater, which now may be a church or demolished, was when it was a movie house.” To find a venue, you can search by name, city, number of seats and even current function. (Guess how many movie theaters are now auto repair shops.) If you think bigger is better, look at the listings under “Megaplex 30” – most of them are in Texas. And if the site doesn’t list your favorite theater, you can add it.

Crowley and Melnick haven’t been to all the theaters on the site but they’ve seen more than most. “I went to San Francisco and I was going to photograph as many theaters as possible in two days,” says Crowley. That turned out to be 26. Melnick spent his Hawaiian vacation taking photos of sugar cane plantation theaters built in the ’20s to give the workers something to do during the recreation time. The plantations and patrons are long gone, but he says, “you can still see the names of the theaters with original lettering from decades ago.”

Both men worry that today’s theaters will also fall out of favor, as people turn to the Internet, high-def 50″ flatscreen TVs — and even their phones — for entertainment. “We started the site to save classical movie theaters but I wonder maybe if we’re trying to save movie theaters in general,” says Crowley. When Melnick taught a course on the history of moviegoing at UCLA last winter, he found that although his students share his love of movies, they don’t share his love of seeing them in a theater: “They’re not as connected to the venue as our generation and that’s something that should be alarming.”

For those that are interested in going to the movies, Crowley recommends the Alamo theater chain in Austin, Texas. Why? “They’re run by people who absolutely love movies.” You can order a bucket of your favorite beers, watch cool short movies before the feature starts and sometimes they have special events related to the movie they’re showing. “For Iron Man, they hired someone to come to the parking lot and fly around it with a jet pack,” he explains. One of Melnick’s favorites is the Wellfleet in Cape Cod. It has a single screen drive-in, a multiplex, a mini golf course, a restaurant and a flea market and he says, “it’s really hard to argue with Americana like that.”

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