Chelsea Asplund/The AS Review
I’ve always hated the way movie theaters look in films. Not always, but quite often, the theaters shown are cute, old-fashioned buildings with red velvet stage curtains that hold 24-hour “Star Wars” movie marathons or special showings of classics like “The Wizard of Oz” or “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.”
Nowhere have I ever seen this kind of theater.
I was raised in the generation of big-box multiplexes. I am talking the multiple floored, 15-screen theaters with all the technological bells and whistles; the kind of theaters wedged inside shopping malls, where you have the pleasure of sharing the movie with obnoxious pre-teens who throw popcorn and laugh far too long and too loud. But who am I kidding? I was that pre-teen.
Since 1998, the Pickford Film Center has been the-little-engine-that-could of movie theaters in Bellingham. The nonprofit organization was founded by local film fans, and since its beginning 13 years ago has expanded into a fully functioning two-screen cinema, thanks to community donors. In its new, upgraded digs on Bay Street, the Pickford is truly a diamond in the rough of downtown.
When I first walked in, I had no idea what to expect. The new Pickford is completely opposite of the flashy multiplexes I grew up with. A mix of old fixtures and new technology, the walls contradicted each other, one red brick and the other plain sheetrock. Soft lights hung from the ceilings and hit the playfully patterned carpet. The front of the lobby housed a small seating area, with large windows facing the street. The tables were small and seated two people, the perfect space to share an intimate date and conversation.
After I got in, it was almost awkward. I had no idea where to go. There was no obvious ticket counter where you slide your card to a worker inside a glass box. A long counter held two registers, one specified for ticket sales and the other for concessions. I appreciated the simplicity of ordering a box of Raisinets or just a small bucket of popcorn, without the elaborate, flashy combo deals and irritating cashiers who heckle you to upgrade for only a dollar more. I appreciated even more that I could order a glass of Chardonnay or bottle of beer to pair with my artificially flavored chocolates.
As an elderly couple stood in front of us, buying a bucket of popcorn to share; it quickly became clear to me that my roommate and I were the youngest there. Up a small flight of stairs were the two screening rooms. I was surprised at how big the actual theater was: spacious but quaint, with tiered seating of plush, blue chairs.
An employee gave an awkward introduction, standing before the dozen or so of us, warning us that there may be technical difficulties. I heard a woman a few rows ahead of me whisper that happened the last time she attended, which made me slightly uneasy. She proceeded to announce the winning number of the gift of the night—two free coffees and donuts from Rocket Donuts.
Everyone around me got out their ticket stubs and I realized I had missed the memo to keep mine. I had crumpled my stub and it was now hopelessly buried in the bottom of my purse. It gave the place a “members only” kind of feel, and I, the outsider, was left to dig through my bag in the dark. Despite being initially confused, I thought this gift giveaway only added to Pickford’s charm.
But with that charm comes some drawbacks, such as lack of surround sound and movie selection. I found at times the movie to be too quiet for my taste, and with the warning ahead of time, I can only assume the technical difficulties were due to the new set up. If you are not interested in subtitled foreign films, Sundance winners or political documentaries, this theater may not be for you. But again, being a local entity, the Pickford prides itself on simplicity and alternative films, and I kind of love that.
The movie itself, “Win Win,” had the sweetness and unsophistication that one should expect out of a Sundance film, but nonetheless enjoy. Paul Giamatti was flawless as a small-town attorney and volunteer high school wrestling coach, whose life becomes complicated after he takes on the guardianship of his elderly client.
The Pickford includes bi-monthly senior matinée series, monthly sci-fi series and special events for schools and organizations. Upcoming screenings include a Charlie Chaplin series and “Potiche” (the French slang for a trophy wife), a film about a housewife who takes over her husband’s job after he falls ill.
As the credits rolled, I found myself not only picking up my trash, but recycling it too. For the approximately 50,000 people who enjoy the Pickford each year, they’ve come to love, respect and hold the organization dear to their movie-going hearts and it is clear to see why.
Having experienced one myself, I can now confidently say these little old-fashioned movie theaters do exist, and are quite likeable in their own right.