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This I Believe: I Believe In Movie Theaters

Essayist Rebecca Inlow

I believe in movie theaters.

The first time I went to a movie theater, I was about 6 years old. My parents took my brothers and me to the Rowland Theater in Philipsburg to see the original Disney version of 101 Dalmatians – it was around 1969.

I remember sitting in the balcony. I remember a night scene where a car was barreling down a road with a network of dogs barking. I was scared and I was fascinated, and, doggone it, I couldn’t see the whole screen. There was a bar that ran across the front of the section, and it cut through the middle of the screen blocking my view. I had to keep scooching down in my seat, trying not to spill my popcorn. Cruella DeVil terrified me, and yet I wanted to see everything.

I grew up going to matinees at the theater, as did almost everyone in my generation who grew up around Philipsburg. We all have memories of the 102-year-old movie palace that still draws people to our beloved town. This theater ties us together.

The years have flown by since that early memory. Motherhood and work put a dent in my theater visits. And this crazy thing called HBO happened in the seventies, followed by cable, which made it easier to not go to the movies. But a funny thing happened on my way to an empty nest. I became a volunteer at the non-profit Rowland Theater. At the same time my son left for college, I left for the theater.

Now you’ll find me working there as a volunteer, often making popcorn. Nothing compares to movie theater popcorn. The work is not always glamorous. I’ve scraped Junior Mints off the floor of the auditorium with a putty knife. The truth is, I’ll do anything that’s needed to keep the doors open. The story of the Rowland Theater is as interesting as any movie. It’s a 1,000-seat treasure that beat the odds to survive.

I’ve rediscovered the magic of a movie theater. A theater brings people together. For a few hours at a time, we aren’t strangers. No matter our differences, we all speak the universal language of movies. People still applaud at the end of movies, and I love that. Who applauds in their living room?  Memories are still being made here. I see it all the time.

Which gets me back to my first memory. One day when I was working upstairs at the theater, I sat down in the front row of the upper balcony, which we close off because it holds the original 1917 seats. As I sat down, I noticed the brass bar in front of me. It was at just the right height to obstruct a little girl’s line of vision. I scooched down to place the bar in front of my eyes. For old times’ sake.

I still believe Cruella DeVil is a pretty scary villainess. I believe in getting popcorn every time I sit through a movie. And I believe movie magic happens when you’re sitting in a theater seat surrounded by others, even if you can’t see the whole screen.

I believe in movie theaters.

Rebecca Inlow is an author and a board member at the Rowland Theater. She will be a part of a panel discussion titled, “A Century of Cinema,” at the Rowland Theater on November 8th during the Centre Film Festival in Philipsburg. The festival will run November 8th through 10th.  

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