Friday, June 22, 2007

Goodbye, Alamo Drafthouse Downtown

This weekend will see me taking one of my semi-annual trips to Austin to see friends and to say goodbye to one that's not so old, but certainly will be missed, the original Alamo Drafthouse Cinema. The first time I ever went to Austin was to attend an event at the Drafthouse, and every time I've gone back, be it for work or pleasure, that location is always the focus of my trips. I go to Austin for the great movie events that you can only get there, like SXSW, QT Fest and Butt-Numb-A-Thon, and they're always at the Drafthouse. God forbid I should go to Austin to just see my friends, take in the local culture (apparently there's a fairly large music scene in Austin) and hang out, but then again, my friends are at these events, too, so I guess it all balances out. As I've mentioned before, it's thanks to this place that I've made so many friends in Austin, seen some incredible movies, had some truly memorable experiences and fell in love with the great city of Austin. The Alamo Drafthouse downtown location has become more than just a movie theater, it's become like a second home, and even though a new one will rise from the ashes over on Sixth Street, it's going to be tough to say goodbye.

My first visit to the Drafthouse (and to Austin) was in August of 2001 on the bequest of my friend Anthony Timpson, who just a month earlier recommended coming down for QT Fest V, which he knew I would enjoy. I tossed in a business trip to Dallas to a certain video industry behemoth the day before and did the 3-hour drive not really knowing what I would be in for. I'd heard of the Drafthouse thanks to its numerous mentions on Ain't It Cool News and stared in complete jealousy at their amazing programming, but I didn't know just what this place would really be like. The setup was indeed a little odd (lots of spaces in between the rows and what are these tables doing in front of the chairs?) and it didn't really look like an average movie theater. But once you understand the way things work - and especially once you order your food - ho-ly shit, I was in heaven. It was the first night of QT Fest that year with a Lee Van Cleef triple feature (an IB Tech print of FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE, a flat 16mm print of DEATH RIDES A HORSE and a scope 16mm print of DAY OF ANGER) and I remember it vividly, except for that 30 minute stretch where I dozed off during DEATH RIDES A HORSE (hey, I'd been up a long time), though I did eventually see the entire thing (and enjoyed it very much). The next evening brought the all-night Sci-Fi/Horror marathon and by the early morning (I got out of there at around 9am) I was a committed fan. I didn't get back there until SXSW 2004, but I've been back twice a year since then and my stays keep getting longer and a lot more fun. Some of the best movies I've ever seen I've seen there, and I always associate the place with being the place to go to in order to see a hidden gem or something just totally fucking cool. New York City has lots of places to go see movies, but it's got nothing like the Drafthouse, and to be honest, I hope it never does. I like that it's something I can only get in Austin; wouldn't be special otherwise.

And I can't write about this place without mentioning the staff, all of whom have become close friends and all of whom have stories to tell. Like Lars Nielsen, show runner of Weird Wednesdays (free screenings of mondo movies every Wednesday night at midnight); Kier-La Janisse, a dear friend who I actually knew before her Drafthouse days and the master of Music Mondays; Zack Carlson, a newer member to the crew and the man behind Terror Thursdays; Henri, who I don't really talk to much, but I think he's a robot; and Tim and Karrie League, the folks who started it all and who kindly put me up when I hit town. What they do isn't easy. Booking and shipping film prints (all on top of their impressive print collection), getting and dealing with guests, finding new films to screen, the Rolling Roadshow, Fantastic Fest, and Tim's crazed Gulf War I flashbacks, makes it all really, really hard work. On top of that, the place is a bar and a restaurant, and the food is all damn good, so you've got service people and cooks and bartenders and it's all just crazy. But it's the one movie theater in America where I feel I don't give enough of my money to, because it gives so much more back. You don't just get a movie, you get an experience. To those for whom movies are their religion, the Drafthouse is The Vatican.

Yes, I know that there will be a new Drafthouse location over by the old Ritz Theater on Sixth Street (on top of the South Lamar and Village locations) and I'm sure it's going to shine, but the original will always be just that, the original, the place that broke the mold. Yes, it had its problems (you could always hear that fucking nightclub next door and I'm not crazy about the popcorn), but did I ever say it was perfect? I can be a sentimental bastard sometimes (to the point of annoyance), but as much as I'm looking forward to it, I'm not looking forward to it at all, because when it's all over, I will never set foot in the original Alamo Drafthouse, my favorite movie theater, ever again. Goodbyes can be a real bitch.

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