Cinerama

I’m super sensitive. My mother says it’s because I have an overactive imagination. Ever since I was a little kid, I could cook up out of nowhere horrible thoughts and Stephen King worthy images that would completely stress me out. Which is why I can’t watch scary movies. I don’t do well with horror movies of any kind and even the ones that have absolutely ridiculous monsters. 

When I was eleven years old, one of the biggest movie releases was Lord Of The Rings. If you hadn’t seen it you were a pariah. I insisted that I had to see it, so my parents took me to the Cinerama and I fell in love with that place the second we got our tickets. I will never forget how excited I was the first time I tried the chocolate-covered popcorn. I learned quickly though that the idea of pouring chocolate over popcorn is cool only in theory. Flavor-wise, it’s not really my thing.

The moment I stepped inside the theatre, I was awestruck. It’s amazing what an impact a large and almost empty interior space can have on you. I felt like I was in the belly of a hollowed-out beast; there was so much room and drama. There wasn’t a bad seat in the house and they were all comfortable. I don’t know how many people have noticed this but even the ceiling is beautiful. It’s covered with randomly arranged pinholes that have light shining behind them to mimic the night sky. I was able to count 56 tiny little holes the first time I looked straight up, trying to distract myself from the godawful scary Orcs that were bashing and smashing across the screen. 

Of course, the terrifying design of these horrible Orcs came from the fertile mind of Peter Jackson. But the sharp, cutting-edge, top-of-the-line technology that allowed me to see every greasy, puss-filled boil on their faces in extreme detail was thanks to Cinerama’s gigantic screen. Being the secret scaredy-cat that I am, I became very familiar with the theatre’s calming and dazzling ceiling that night.

The Cinema’s bathrooms are also spacious and pleasant as theatre bathrooms go. And since the theatre has only one screen, you don’t have to miss the plot of the movie because you can hear the film while you’re in there. So, sure, I had to listen to the Orcs ripping the heads off of hobbits, but at least I didn’t have to see it. 

The Cinerama was a Seattle landmark for many decades before Paul Allen bought it and refurbished it in 1998. Although I don’t agree with many of Paul Allen’s choices in other parts of the city (his part in the gentrification and destruction of the architectural and cultural history of the Central District, for example), the Cinerama was one of his best projects. It became one of Seattle’s go-to destination for film fanatics from all over the world. There were even movie costumes and props on display in the lobby to ignite a spark of youthful excitement in anyone, movie nerd, or not.

The Cinerama is such an important part of our city because, to take a page from the Martin Scorsese’s school of cinematic thought, there are some movies that demand to be seen on the big screen. I saw Roma at the Cinerama with my mother and it became obvious from the first shot that a big theatre with a big screen was the only place to see it. If you want to truly fall into the whimsical, magical surrealism of that fairy tale, you need over 100 feet of space to absorb it. 

The same is true for Christopher Nolan’s very dark Dark Knight. I’ll never forget how that super-juicy surround-sound created a wave of cold chills that ran through my body as I heard the Joker’s evil laugh for the first time. Movie theaters will never die as long as movies like those keep getting made. 

Since the Cinerama announced its indefinite closure, along with too many other small downtown restaurants, cafes, and entertainment venues, the rumor mill has spinning out the idea that maybe Amazon should buy the theatre. Which would only add to Amazon’s already growing tidal wave of properties that are swallowing the downtown and Belltown neighborhoods whole.

But why stop with the Cinerama? We all know that Jeff is pulling hamstrings trying to reach for his spot among the Hollywood stars, so why doesn’t Amazon buy the recently abandoned Boeing warehouses in Renton and build a movie studio there? One that could rival Universal Pictures or Sony. It’s close to a major city, it would create a lot of jobs, it’s near an airport, and it has an IKEA. And doesn’t that description of Renton sound a lot like Burbank, California? Alexa, if you’re listening, tell Jeff he can have this idea for nothing. You know that word “nothing,” right? It’s the same price your parent corporation pays in taxes. 

If I were asked to write this as a script, I would give it a happy ending. One where the Cinerama gets to stay and is able to open up like so many other beloved businesses I’m rooting for in Seattle. I don’t know what going to the movies will look like in a post-COVID life, but I do know that I miss watching movies in theaters. I miss sinking into the seat, already giddy as the first few previews start to play. My fingers, buttery from the popcorn and my phone turned off and tucked away, leaving me free from any distractions. I miss sitting in a dark theatre with a bunch of other people who have nothing in common except that we all chose the same movie. And for a brief moment in time, we are all silent friends. 

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