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Movie theaters: Here's why you should be more like the Alamo Drafthouse

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Forget the Coke-stained multiplex, the shameless cesspools of texters and talkers. You no longer have to endure those chirpy offers to supersize the syrupy soda and leaden popcorn. No way babies at the late show, not tonight! In this week’s issue, we sing the praises of eight movie theaters who deserve your loyalty. But there’s been perhaps no one more visionary in redefining the theater experience than Alamo Drafthouse Founder Tim League, who opened his first theater in Austin, Texas back in 1997. (Today there are nine other locations across Texas, plus one in Virginia.)

“Tim makes s— awesome,” says Aaron Hillis, the program director of Brooklyn’s similarly awesome reRun Theater.  “He understands value and showmanship. He gives people a real excuse to want to be in the dark with the collective mass instead of watching a DVD at home.” Fans flock not just for the good eats and rounds of Shiner the servers bring to you throughout the movie. It’s the crazy beautiful encyclopedic love of film that runs reel-like through the blood of Drafthouse enthusiasts. Herewith League presents his top five favorite signature events from the Alamo Drafthouse’s storied history. Robosaurus in the house? Bring it. A celebration of underwater Nazi zombie movies? Take it away, dude.

November 14, 1998

Russ Meyer live in person

I called RM Films to book Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill!.  To my surprise, Russ Meyer himself answered the phone, so I asked him to accompany the film to Austin. These screenings were a mix of happiness and sadness though. Russ was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease at the time and really shouldn’t have been traveling. We had three screenings booked and he only wanted to do one Q&A.  The evening was a game of diversions, stalling, bribery and begging, and in the end we got all three screenings done.  Those were some of the wildest, funniest and most absurd Q&As in Alamo Drafthouse history. Russ Meyer is a legend, and I am very happy to have gotten the chance to meet him.

February 21, 2001

First Weird Wednesday: Shock Waves

We just celebrated the 10th Anniversary of Weird Wednesday this month and it all began with Shock Waves, the very best in underwater Nazi zombie movies. Every Wednesday at midnight, Alamo Drafthouse programmer Lars Nilsen curates a different 35mm screening of an exploitation classic. He introduces the film, runs vintage trailers beforehand and there is always a lively discussion afterwards in the lobby. I am particularly proud of this series, because I think we have cultivated a unique brand of exploitation film enthusiasts in Austin.  Anywhere else in the world where you watch these films, the audience is rowdy, unruly, and disrespectful. At Weird Wednesday, the audience enjoys the films just as much, but we celebrate instead of mock.

June 11, 2005

Ultimate earthquake Experience

We screened the disaster classic Earthquake with an augmented sound system — 70,000 watts of subwoofer power that was set up directly above the dormant Balcones Fault. We advertised the event as having the potential to reawaken the long-dormant fault. When we kicked in the earthquake system, it was so loud that air from the speakers was actually rippling people’s clothing. A flood of noise complaints came in from a three-mile radius surrounding the screening. It was so wide a range that it took the police an hour to figure out where we were.

July 2, 2007

Robosaurus and Transformers

This was a boyhood dream come true. Hiring Robosaurus, a 60 ft. metal monstrosity, to come to your party to breath fire and eat cars. For the opening of Transformers in 2007, this just seemed like something that had to be done.

June 6-8, 2008

Rolling Roadshow Tour in Spain

We brought our series of “famous movies in famous places” to Almería, Spain in the summer of 2008 for a screening of the Sergio Leone “Dollars” trilogy (A Fistful of DollarsFor a Few Dollars MoreThe Good, The Bad and The Ugly).  This was the first and only time we have taken the Rolling Roadshow outside the United States.  These three movies all rank in my top 20 films of all time, and many of the locations were still in pristine condition. Leone fans from all over the world flew in for the event; it became something of a geek movie pilgrimage.

Photo Credit: Annie Ray