Monday, August 03, 2009

The wrecking ball claims another one

From my New Orleans buddy John Guidry comes the melancholy news that yet another picture palace where I dallied during my formative years -- the Robert E. Lee Theatre, one of the last great "roadshow" houses built in the Big Easy during the 1960s -- is about to become history. I took the above photo during a sentimental journey to N.O. just a few months back -- partly, I suppose, because I was amazed to see the once-magnificent structure had survived so long, 18 years after its closing.

The Robert E. Lee is where I saw for the first time such diverse movies as Funny Girl, M*A*S*H, The Exorcist and (during an early '70s theatrical re-release) Lawrence of Arabia. (I'd like to say I saw Gone with the Wind there, too, for obvious reasons, but I didn't catch that reissue until it played at the Pitt Theatre, a long-gone second-run house where I also saw for the first time, during a Saturday matinee in the mid-'60s, Plan 9 from Outer Space. No, really.) But my most vivid memory of the Robert E. Lee is one focused on the night a friend and I saw Johnny Got His Gun -- Dalton Trumbo's grueling 1971 film version of his own novel about a World War I soldier who's turned into a basket case after sustaining horrific battlefield injuries. You have to understand that my friend and I both were of draft age at the time, and had to cope with the possibility of winding up in Vietnam. And we couldn't help thinking while watching the movie that, well, there but for the grace of God... Except that God hadn't yet revealed Southeast Asia definitely wouldn't be on our agendas. So there remained the possibility...

After the movie, we walked slowly out of the lobby and into the parking lot, looked at each other in the moonlight -- and burst out laughing in the way that only very frightened people ever do when they're too scared to actually talk about something that's terrifying the hell out of them. We wound up holding onto each other for support, because our frantic guffawing left us so weak, we were in danger of collapsing before we made it to his car.

I've often said that, if you're of a certain age, you can remember everything about the theaters where you saw the great movies you saw during your youth. (Indeed, if you think hard enough, you can probably remember what day of the week you saw certain movies, what the weather was like, and who you were in love with at the time.) For me, the Robert E. Lee was one of those theaters.

4 comments:

Cajundweeb said...

Saw several movies there, including the 1976 remake of "King Kong"- at that showing, they stuck a big statue of Kong climbing the World Trade Center on the roof- THAT was cool1

Pamhaik said...

My grandfather was supervisor of a crew that painted the interior before it opened. I remember he stayed with us while he was working there. He lived in St. Louis. I remember it also had some fancy wallpaper that was gold and orange and it had a fuzzy texture. Not sure what walls it was on.

Unknown said...

Today,the blacks would picket the place because of its name! So disgusting how soft this country has become!

Mike Thiac said...

I remember seeing Raiders of the lost Ark there. What am I awesome flick.