For your reading pleasure here is an article from today's Billings (Montana) Gazette. It's about Carmike Theatres, which owns all the theatres in Billings, and particularly about their now-closed dollar house....
‘Buck joint’ memories were worth every penny
By Ed Kemmick
Cine 7, still referred to in my family as the “buck joint” long after it raised ticket prices to $1.50 and then to $2, is no more.
I know a lot of people will say good riddance, thinking of the movie theater’s broken seats, the sticky floors, the faulty projectors and the screens with more holes than a backwoods stop sign.
Not me. As a lifelong devotee of dives, whether they’re serving up food, alcohol or movies, I note the passing of the Cine 7 with a tear in my eye.
The buck joint was owned by Carmike Cinemas Inc., the Georgia movie conglomerate that bought every theater in town and then all but emblazoned its motto on every screen: “Take it or leave it.” Georgia is a long way from Billings, and when people here complained about shoddy treatment, I think their lamentations faded out in mid-Missouri, never reaching Carmike’s inner sanctum.
For years, it was a chancy proposition going to any of the Carmike theaters in Billings. Even the full-price joints were plagued by constant problems, from minor ones like projectors that wouldn’t focus to occasions on which the movies simply stopped, the lights came up and patrons were kindly asked to leave, with a rain check.
One time, 15 minutes into a movie, the projector suddenly went into hyper-fast motion, speeding through at least 10 minutes of film in a matter of seconds before shutting down. There was one of those long pauses during which weary patrons all wondered whose turn it was to go fetch the “manager,” though we all knew the “manager” was a 17-year-old kid making minimum wage.
So somebody finally went to find him, we waited five minutes and then we heard the “manager” up in the projection booth, wrestling with the projector and swearing so loudly that every choice obscenity was heard by everyone in the theater. He eventually “fixed” the problem, but the movie started up where it left off, minus the 10 minutes.
The problems encountered at the full-price Carmikes were nothing compared to the incredible snafus that were a daily occurrence at the buck joint. Half the fun of going there was wondering how they could possibly top the last screw-up. God bless them, they almost always managed to do it.
On one occasion, on a hot summer day, the temperature in one of the buck-joint auditoriums was hovering in the mid-50s. I had packed a sweater along, well aware that Carmike knows no seasons, so I thought I was going to be all right. But as soon as I sat down, I heard the loud, echoing plunk! of dripping water. The enormous drops continued to fall at 10- or 15-second intervals, so loud and annoying that I knew I wouldn’t last five more minutes.
I walked around in the dark theater until discovering the bucket of water, nearly full, that was catching the drip. So I went to the “manager” for an explanation. He gave me a big smile and said, “Yeah, that’s the air-conditioner. It’s busted. We can’t turn it down.” He said this as if announcing that it was a special attraction, for which there would be no extra charge.
For real enjoyment, though, it’s hard to top being directed into one theater, seeing the wrong movie come on the screen and then being herded into another auditorium. As we shuffled up the aisle, I kept waiting to feel a cattle prod hurrying me along.
A garden-variety nightmare at the buck joint was a projector that seemed to think it was being aimed at a much bigger screen. The actors’ faces were hilariously elongated, bulging right off the screen. It was hilarious, I might add, for a minute or two, when viewing it became a form of torture.
Sometimes the sound would come blaring out at ear-shattering levels, and it would stay there until a delegate from the audience would find a “manager” and get the thing turned down. Other times, the sound was fuzzy or blurred from the start, and there was nothing that could be done about it, evidently. You just sat there and tried to figure out what was going on as well as you could.
Then there were the collapsing chairs, the broken cup holders that you used at your peril and the movies that appeared on the screen upside down. Sometimes the picture was cut in half, and sometimes, I swear, the movie must have caught on fire, because smoke came seeping out of the projection booth.
You may ask why I submitted myself to so much abuse over the years, why I expected anything more at a “buck joint.” Well, I’m cheap. Most of the time, I just couldn’t see shelling out 15 or 20 bucks to take half my family to the movies, or just one of my daughters and a friend. And the fact is, way too many movies, especially the ones aimed at kids, are worth just about a buck.
Things have improved in Carmike Land. The company’s new Wynnsong 10 theater next to Rimrock Mall hasn’t insulted my intelligence or my sense of decorum yet, and I don’t recall any recent blunders at Carmike Cinema 7 on Overland Avenue.
The buck joint’s problems continued right to the end, which came two weeks ago. Carmike never did explain the closure, keeping as mum as it had on every other occasion over the years. But it filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on Aug. 8, citing “higher theater costs and depreciation associated with the significant number of theaters we opened in 1999.”
In other words, the money Carmike spent on its new Wynnsong-style theaters apparently led to the closure of the buck joint.
It should be reassuring to witness the demise of a dive and the creation of a new, much-improved theater complex in town, but I miss the buck joint already.
I could try to re-create the experience at home, renting well-worn videos, watching them on an upside-down television and eating popcorn topped with 30-weight oil, but it just wouldn’t be the same.
Misery, and movie-goers, love company.