When daylight saving time ends, when darkness falls early, when October goes – then it is time to cocoon in our classic movie theaters.
Western New York is lucky to have several gems. The movie palace once called Shea’s Buffalo shows movies sometimes. So does the whimsical Riviera Theatre in North Tonawanda. Old-time neighborhood theaters like the North Park Theatre on Hertel also hark back to an age when people dressed up to go to the movies, when it was an event.
Find a lovely old theater, and the escape begins before the movie does.
At the Aurora Theatre, on Main Street in East Aurora, you can stand outside on the sidewalk and feel as if you have stepped onto an old-time movie set. Vidler’s, the famous five-and-ten, is across the street. Fowler’s Chocolates is next door. As dusk closes in, the theater’s 1950s marquee lights up in fanciful colors. Chaser lights zip along the edge.
Inside, floor-to-ceiling murals, original to the theater, depict slim, unclad nymphs. The artist was Margaret Evans Price, the children’s book illustrator married to Irving Price, co-founder of Fisher-Price.
“Boys walk in and giggle,” confessed Lynn Kinsella, who bought the Aurora five years ago. She said the murals spent several decades in storage, and later, puritans placed plants strategically to give the nymphs some cover. Now, the nymphs appear just as God, and the artist, made them. Nearby looms a vintage projector. Over the concession counter is the original marquee. This place takes the past seriously.
The concession counter is situated so you can buy treats without missing the movie. Lucky for me, because the theater’s new Popcorn Shop offers flavors including cheddar, caramel, Buffalo chicken wing and dangerously delicious apple pie. Traditional popcorn is soaked with butter on request. I requested it.
Teens were drifting in, in groups and in couples. So were seniors. We followed along – a big group, including my sister, my two teenage nieces, Rose and Millie, their exchange student, Rodrigo, and their wild little brother, George Henry. I doubted George Henry could sit through “The Intern,” which had no light sabers or pirate ships. But we would see.
Settling into two back rows, we seemed to enter a new dimension.
Kinsella jokes about how it sounds when the Aurora is packed with children, all crunching popcorn. “It’s like termites,” she said. This evening, a weeknight, was less crowded. But we sensed our fellow moviegoers out there in the darkness, like distant planets.
“The Intern” had enough slapstick to please George Henry. The other kids, scarfing popcorn, seemed happy too. Millie, our younger teen, got misty over a sweet scene in which Robert De Niro and Anne Hathaway, who is half his age, watch “Singing in the Rain.” The clip shown was Gene Kelly crooning “You Were Meant For Me.”
“That’s my favorite movie,” Millie whispered. About De Niro: “I wish I had a friend like that.”
Nostalgia washed over me. That one moment bridged so many generations, in so many ways. To complete the picture, I had just learned that the Aurora had opened June 2, 1925, the day my mother was born. Surely she was with us, in spirit.
That is what a classic theater gives you – beauty and a sense of timelessness. Seek one out the next time you go to the movies. The nights are long. The marquees beckon.
You might even want to dress up.