THE MARVEL CINEMATIC UNIVERSE & A BROKEDOWN PALACE

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A lucky kid in the balcony of the Crandell Theater in Chatam, NY for an advanced screening of Avengers: Infinity War

Back in the day, before Netflex, before DVDs, the internet, before Block Buster Video, HBO and cable TV, if you wanted to see a movie, you had to actually go to the movie theater in order to view it. There was no cineplex rotting away at the now defunct "brick and mortar" shopping mall yet, because most towns, if they had any real value then, they would usually have a movie theater of there own.

When the cities spilled over into the country side and developed into suburbs between WW1 and WW2, town planners carefully designed their village shops to be self contained. Everything that was needed could be obtained right in town. There was a butcher, a bread maker, a cheese shop, a fish store, a liquor store and nothing was harvested from human waste in China with Walmart's "Great Value" logo slapped on the side.

And most importantly, if you wanted to spend a night being inexpensively entertained, you would head into town to your local movie palace, not just to see a Dukes of Hazard or Gilligan's Island reboot, but two feature films, news reels, serials(short films), cartoons- even live entertainment, vaudeville, magic or music were usually offered too- all for the price of an one quarter ticket.

The Movie Palace as they were called then, was the crown jewel of any large or small town. Theater architect George C. Rapp (Rapp & Rapp) dubbed the movie house the "peoples palace," a place where rich and poor would share space and hopefully exchange ideas. They were faux opulent, with plaster columns designed to look like marble and other trappings of royalty, like sweeping, grand staircases that led to the balcony. Most of them were stylized in a particular theme, like French baroque, Italian Rocco, Moorish, or sometimes several styles swirled together like Thomas Lamb's legendary "Lowe's State" in Syracuse, New York were "directed by uniformed ushers through the lobbies, absorbing the wealth of colors and materials such as marble and terrazzo. Rich tapestries, exotic furnishings, and filigrial chandeliers also adorned the palatial theatre."

The movie palace era also generated it's own architectural style named "Atmospheric." Created by architect John Eberson, atmospheric theaters consisted of putting lit small holes into a dark blue painted ceiling to look like stars, with skylines of old Peruvian villages on each side of the stage to give the illusion of being on a hill outdoors at night.

After WW2, with the invention of television, movie palaces went from being the center the entertainment universe to abandoned, irreverent artifacts lost by "progress."

Some theaters held on, but too fell into disrepair over time. Only a small percentage were not "twined" or quartered by the 1960's.Others were torn down to make room for bigger parking lots or apartment buildings.

A cinema revival began in the mid 1970's with the summer "blockbuster" films like Jaws and Star Wars, that kids lined up for blocks at their neglected local movie theater to be converted to "The Force." For many of Generation X, these abandoned, broken down palaces, became temples of juvenile mischief and creative thought. The dingier they were the better. The ripped curtains, the rusted, squeaky chairs, the broken fountains, the dusty, haunted chandlers and walls and cold moldy air was what going to the movies was all about.

Then came the deluge of entertainment formats of the 80's, 90's and beyond just about wiped out film going all together. The cineplex stripped the movie going experience from the architectural. They didn't even have balconies. Herded in like cattle past overpriced snacks into small rectangles for Air Bud 2, movie lovers felt like the film industry was starting to silt its own throat.

But there is at least one town in America where the old movie palace experience never died. Like a beacon light amidst the hurricane of modern life, The Crandell Theater in Chatham, New York has kept their movie palace- and the balcony- alive and well.

Built in 1926, this small Spanish mission movie palace is now the gem of Columbia county. It may not be the grandest theater ever built, but its still there and in operation. So hats off to the Chatham community for keeping her alive the last 92 years.

And just when it appeared- with Netflx, Hulu and Putlocker- that cinema going altogether was all but dead in 2018, The Marvel Cinematic Universe gave the world a reason to go back to the movie theater.

With Black Panther in February and Avengers: Infinity War this weekend, the golden age of the super hero film has only just begun.

Starting with Blade in 1998, Marvel's cinematic imprint began to truly take shape and after 9/11, with the licensed out Spider Man and The X-Men in the early 00's. Film aficionados and pop culture academics would point to several overlapping cultural and political reasons that pivoted cinema towards the current avalanche of super heroes swashbuckling on the big screen.

One of course was 9/11. But credit is also due impart to the unsettling New England wasp pretending to be a Texan in the White House. A sissy layered interior with a phony cowboy exterior was not exactly comforting to most of America. Vice President Dick Cheney did his best Clint Eastwood, but the tough talk did not match his four heart attack geriatric physicality.

America needed heroes after 9/11. A lot of them. Cops did not cut it, despite the PR push, because as we all know, cops can turn on you and become villains.

Marvel Comics, under the Marvel Entertainment Group was just beginning to test the waters in Hollywood. There had been a few false starts in the 80's and 90's. The result, with the special effects lacking to show off Marvel's super hero powers, bad scripts and cheesy by-the comic-book-costume-designs, both films (Punisher 1989, Captain America 1990) were colossal, unwatchable disasters.

Generation X came of age on Marvel comics at time. What Jack Kerouac and the "beat" writers were to baby boomers , comic book writers Frank Miller and Allen Moore were to Generation X. So when we got to see our favorite Marvel charters in film, the lines began to form again outside the theater like the 70's. This time they brought their children. Millennials gravitated to the genre too.

In September of 2005, Marvel Studios was formed and rolled out it's first title, Iron Man, three years later on May 2, 2008 (ten years ago today).Nineteen films later(and a $4 billion Disney buyout on New Years Eve, 2009) and after the global phenomena of Black Panther last February, Avengers: Infinity War smashed all opening weekend box office records, grossing $257,698,183. Costing over $400 million to make, it would be another few days of box office revenue to break even and turn a profit.

After viewing Black Panther at a cineplex and Avengers: Infinity War at the Crandell, the old movie itself gave the film much more life. The rolling hills of Wakandan nation, revisited in A:IW, shined while bouncing between the viewer's peripheral vision and the Crandell's interior.

And it is between the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the old movie palace- like the Crandell- where the magic of cinema has officially been reborn.

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