Saturday, April 08, 2006

Tulsa's Lost Twins:
Home of the Midnight Movies

Towards the late 1960s, as many of the grand single screen theaters from earlier in the century were starting to show their age, new theaters were being built. The era of television was gaining firm ground, leaving many of the small-screened older theaters at a disadvantage. Why go to the theater to watch the latest cliffhanger, when you can get it while sitting in your living room? Theater owners started thinking differently about the way people wanted to watch movies. The latest movie theaters had to compete in a different way, by emphasizing multiple movie choices, large screen size and powerful sound systems along with wider venues allowing better views for more of the audience. Though their predecessors were far superior to them in style and architecture, these fresh modern theaters were immediately popular and over the 1970s and '80s, most of the older venues whithered away and died. Many of Tulsa's art deco theaters were destroyed during this period.

Sometime in the mid-'70s, theater owners started looking at ways to increase box office receipts. Someone decided that it would be a great idea to take second run movies (which cost them much less to rent) and play them at Midnight on Friday and Saturday evenings. These were an immediate hit with teenagers all over America. Playing campy horror flicks and sci-fi movies, they drew in crowds of kids not quite ready to go to sleep early on a weekend evening. The role of Midnight Movies took another turn in in the late '70s when a theater owner in New York started running a practically forgotten musical/horror/sci-fi movie from 1975 called Rocky Horror Picture Show. The movie revived the term "cult movie" and spread across the world quickly as it gained popularity among the Midnight Movie crowd.

The big difference between RHPC and other movies was that you didn't just watch the participated in it. When key characters Brad and Janet (played by a very young Susan Sarandon and Barry Bostwick) are singing while walking through the rain, the audience is also holding newspapers over their heads while water is falling all around, thanks to some spray bottles snuck in via large coats. When a toast is offered up during the film, squares of golden bread go flying about the theater. For nearly every line of dialogue, there's a response or addition that the audience speaks. The movie is so BAD in so many ways, you can't help but enjoy it. The songs are infectious, and it's really hard to stay seated when everyone around you is doing the Time Warp. The Village Cinema (shown above) on Garnett Rd, near Admiral was the ultimate Rocky Horror venue. We'd load up our pockets with props before we went in. The theaters had large stages below the screens and many of the participants went all out with full costumes and makeup. Many an inebriated soul would act out the various scenes and songs at the front of the theater. Some, such as myself, preferred to stay back and enjoy the spectacle of it all.

Tulsa TV Memories visitor Wilhelm Murg remembers:
"Back in the glory days in the early 1980s at the Village Theatre, the concept was not to watch the show, it was more of a way to take over a theatre, usually with a 65 year old police officer working as security (goofing off until his retirement), attempting to control 300 stoned teenagers - it was the Tulsa version of Altamont!"

Other favorite movies to see at 12am were Tron, Heavy Metal and Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Music movies were really popular too. There was Led Zeppelin's The Song Remains the Same, as well as Pink Floyd, Live at Pompeii. The later was often misrepresented as Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon in the radio ads. However, much to our disappointment, the only DSotM song in this movie is a brief snippet of an early "Us and Them" demo. Earlier Floyd always put me to sleep. Now, when they played The Wall, there was no sleeping. The lyrics and imagery were so powerful. I remember that I was only a few months away from my 18th birthday. I was going to have to sign up for Selective Services on that day. The Cold War was still very alive as it would be 10 more years before the fall of the Soviet Union. It seemed that war could break out at any moment...and we both had nukes! The Wall was deeply disturbing to me at that point in my life, when I certainly wasn't interested in going off to fight the Ruskies in the cold...or nuclear annihilation of the world for that matter.

Eventually, the Midnight Movie craze died out. By the early 1990s, they were pretty much relegated back to the art-house type theaters, who would do it for certain events, but not as a weekly thing. These days, I'm not sure I could even stay awake for two hours in a dark theater after Midnight...age has a way of doing that to you.

This collection still isn't complete. But, I've started posting some photos of what's left of these venues. They really were not much to look at...mostly big boxes. However, they were a important part of my youth and I'll always remember fondly the fun we had and the people we met. If anybody out there has any photos of these theaters when they were still open, I'd love to get a scan for my collection. Also, please give me your thoughts and comments on the subject. I'd love to hear more of your recollections of your experiences at these theaters.

The photoset includes the following theaters:

Bowman Twin Cinema
Plaza Twin
Park Lane Twin Theatre
Village Cinema

I'm still trying to make time to photograph several more. In particular, I'm still missing the Fox Theater at 51st and Harvard, the Spectrum Twin at 71st and Lewis, and the Southside Cinema Twin at 87th and Lewis. I realize that there were several others around back then too, but these were simply the ones I remember from the Midnight Movies. Unfortunately, none of these remaining are much to look at anymore. Of course, I just missed the leveling of the 4 screen Woodland Hills Cinema, and Fontana 6 looked like it had been closed down when I passed it yesterday after eating at Monterrey's. I don't remember them ever participating in Midnight Movies, anyway.

Happy Landings!

More about the Village at the link...
what about the movie theatre that had the dollar movies in it. it's gone. but the building is still there. i forget what street it;s on.
I remember going to the RHPS for my first time around '83 or '84. I sat down with my friends and a girl I didn't know walked up to me, sat on my lap and asked me if it was my first time. I made the mistake of saying "yes" and she pointed her finger over my head and yelled "Virgin!" for the whole theater to hear. At seventeen it wasn't where I was wanting my social life to be.

In the late '90s or 2000 there was a mini-revivial of RHPS at a midnight showing at the Fox Theater at 51st and Harvard. It ran a couple of weeks and I went to one showing. Either I had gotten old or its time had passed, but it just wasn't the same. In fact it seemed pretty stupid. The guys in drag were taking it way too seriously.
Midnight movies are NOT dead in Tulsa! Circle Cinema has been showing them one weekend a month since August of '05!
Oh God! RHPC at the Village!

Mammaries!!!!! -- I mean, Memories!!!
RHPS at the Village. The Wall and Heavy Metal at the Fox. I loved midnight movies. I turned 18 in '81. I must have seen all of those movies a dozen times.
I remember seeing RHPC at a midnight showing at the Williams Center Forum (by The Ice) around 1990. Can't remember how many screens the theater had.
Post a Comment

<< Home