Journalists like to think they are hardened to the point that sentimentality can never find a way through their shells. It's an affectation, of course, as we learn every time we feel a moment of connection and fond remembrance.
I learned it again the other day, as I toured the pristine wonder of the renovated Uptown Theater in Minneapolis. The owners had just spent a million bucks spiffing up the place, and it is magnificent, with deep, cushioned seats, a spacious lobby and, most importantly, the bright razor-sharp image shining on the huge screen. The murals on the inside and the carvings on the outside have been restored. The beacon high atop the tower has been re-lit.
Yet I know I was not alone among the guests at the opening reception who felt surprising nostalgia for the old Uptown — the place with the lumpy cushions and unkind springs, the floor sticky from an ocean of spilled sugary drinks. In the old days you climbed to the balcony with a sense of unease and looked over the railing with a feeling of danger. It seemed too low to be of any use, until you sat down and found it was a perfect height for a footrest.
The young lady from New York who showed us around admitted she wasn't sure which door Prince would now use if he ever decided to slip into the Uptown, as he has in the past.
I don't know how many times I have entered the Uptown's dark cavern over the years. My beloved and I used to live a few blocks away and sometimes we went there a couple of times a week. We were such regulars that we knew where to find the "safe" seats, as in sturdy and non-injurious. Over the years we saw a lot of great art film. Occasionally we wallowed in the B-movie trash that the alchemy of hipsterism resurrected as cinematic treasure.
All movie theaters elicit a sense of adventure. It's a cliche, but these are the places we go to join gangsters and pirates, scoundrels, and heroes. And there is the wonderful human element too. The simple human connection of sitting in a crowd sharing an experience, whether it be laughter, terror, or sadness is one of the joys of being alive. I once sat amidst a large group of gay men, who called themselves the Twin Cities Movie Bears, to watch "Milk." I had already seen the film about the openly gay San Francisco city supervisor who was gunned down in City Hall, but watching it with the Bears added whole dimensions.
But my favorite memory was going to see a matinee of "Pieces of April," a wonderful little independent movie in 2003. It stars Patricia Clarkson and Oliver Platt as parents who reluctantly accept a Thanksgiving invitation from their wayward daughter, played by Katie Holmes. It's a poignant story, and it rang true for me as a real-life parent of teen-agers. The emotion welled up as I sat in the dark with my wife, Jane, and our son. At the end it became too much for Jane, and she left for the restroom as the credits rolled.
"What's the matter with her?" our son asked. I tried to explain as we stood in the lobby, at the foot of the stairs leading up to the ladies' room. I noticed another father and son standing on the other side of the stairs, clearly caught in the same emotional dynamic. The guy looked familiar, but I couldn't place him. We all turned as we heard someone coming down the stairs.
It was Jessica Lange.
Which meant the guy I couldn't place was Sam Shepard.
Their family gathered and headed out the door, blinking into the late afternoon brightness. Jane came down the stairs soon after, still looking a little red-eyed. Those eyes opened with wonder when she learned who had been snuffling in the next stall.
There are fewer and fewer places where we gather to share an experience nowadays. Movie theaters are still one of the most popular. It's good to celebrate them, and the memories they evoke. I like the new Uptown. But I loved the old one.