MEMORIES OF A MOVIEGOER
Other Articles by Richard
is talk of a brand-new 14-screen, state-of-the-art movie multiplex
on Santa Fe's burgeoning south side. The news brought this writer
a rush of memories about the "bad old days" of film-going in this
town. And lemme tell you: They were BAD.
When I arrived here in
1971, Santa Fe had just two indoor theaters, the Lensic and the
El Paseo, practically next-door to each other downtown on San
Francisco Street. On Cerrillos Road were two drive-ins, the Yucca
and the Pueblo. In the Pen Road strip mall was an X-rated house.
St. John's College had an art-film program on weekends. And that
was just about it.
But the scarcity of screens
was only the beginning of Santa Fe's film woes back then. Both
downtown theaters and one drive-in were run by the small Commonwealth
Theaters group, which treated this city like an unwanted, unloved
Most movies that came
here were B-grade clunkers that few people had ever heard of.
The occasional major title that found its way to town usually
arrived months or even a year or more after its national release-presumably
because booking them then was cheaper. I filed reviews from newsmagazines
and the Albuquerque papers, to remind me what such movies were
On the occasions when
I did go to a movie here, I often wished I hadn't. the prints
usually were scratchy, streaked and spliced, from being old and
used. But the worst thing of all was Commonwealth's custom of
stopping films in midstream-often in mid-sentence-at the end of
a reel, to impose a false popcorn break on the audience. It was
enough to ruin a movie.
Every house in the country
had figured out by the 1930s how to synchronize reels to give
an uninterrupted show. But commonwealth pretened it didn't have
the technology to do that. At one film that jarred midway to a
halt, an audience member, obviously a stranger to town, cried
out: "I can't believe this!" Someone else replied: "Welcome to
The drive-ins also showed
old film, and one of the theaters closed for winter. Fleeing to
St. John's didn't help much, either. Although the films were well
chosen, visibility was terrible in the flat-floored room, and
the students would try to impress each other by making quips to
the actors onscreen.
Believe it or not, I
never checked out the X-rated place.
Some slight relief came
when Commonwealth opened the two-screen Coronado Twin in the Cordova
Road shopping center and shut down the El Paseo. But this little
duplex was so flimsily constructed that sounds form one movie
could be heard in the other hall, as could noise from the adjacent
bowling alley. And these brand-new theaters kept up the false
The local movie scene
did not really begin to improve until a maverick independent named
Ralph Lindell opened a two-screen house at De Vargas Mall in 1974.
Bidding fiercely for first-run movies, and also booking innovative
filmfests and classics requested by his audience, he finally brought
Santa Fe into the modern movie era.
Facing competition, Commonwealth
cleaned up its act as well, dropping the intermissions and updating
its selection. And though Lindell eventually sold out to his rival,
things never reverted to the bad old ways.
The rest of the 1970s
and then the 1980s brought more improvements. The most significant
was the opening of the Collective Fantasy (in the theater now
named the Jean Cocteau) by a brave young group of idealists determined
to give Santa Fe its first true art-film house. An array of foreigh-language
and low-budget independent films, too small to be of interest
to the big boys, added delicious richness to the local mix.
Today ours is a terrific
movie town, with some two dozen screens, long-run current releases,
art theaters, ambitious offbeat programs, and more. And soon,
it seems, a new multiplex. But lemme tell you-we didn't always
have it so good.
Articles by Richard McCord