Movie theater memories (readers’ responses to Stephen Whitty’s column)

classic movie theaters nj

The Clairidge in Montclair opened in 1922, has undergone many ownership changes its 100 years, and most recently reopened in 2021 under the management of Montclair Film.

Our favorite movie theaters may be disappearing. But the memories play on.

I wrote recently about how sad I was to see local picture houses closing down, and how strongly I still remembered the ones of my youth (and of my children’s youth). I asked you to share your own favorite movie memories.

You gladly did, on that post, and on my own Facebook page. Here’s an edited sample.

“Love the article. I recall being very young and seeing ‘Willy Wonka & and the Chocolate Factory.’ My grandmother took me for my 5th birthday. I was so amazed at all of it and terribly scared during the tunnel scene. It was a ‘Scrumdiddlyumptious’ experience that sticks with me. Next was when I was a week shy of my 12th birthday; I walked several miles to see ‘Grease’ alone on opening day. I was in love with Olivia Newton-John like many others. I stayed from the first show to the last and asked if I helped clean the theaters could I watch it again. and they allowed it. I was in a bit of hot water when I got home. A few years later in 1981 I walked into a theater and applied for a job. I have worked in the exhibition industry ever since. I loved seeing people exit a theater, the joy on their faces, and hearing the conversations about the film — nothing beats it. Nothing ever will.” — Guy

“Union once had 4 cinemas and a drive-in. The drive-in has been a condo complex for 30 years. One cinema, formerly The Lost Picture Show, is now the site of a Home Depot. I saw films like ‘The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes’ there. One cinema, the Fox, became a Chuck-E-Cheese; a hotel, self-storage and Wawa are now being constructed on that site. I saw ‘Star Wars’ there four times. One cinema, the Jerry Lewis/Five Points is now a Walgreens. I saw ‘Godzilla vs. Megalon’ there (as well as my first midnight porno!) The last cinema, the Union Theater, has been run down and dirty for years and was shuttered by COVID. Now the building is set for demolition, to be replaced by a small park. It was the only one still in existence by the time I had kids. We saw some Disney films there, like ‘Peter Pan 2.’ ” — Alan

“Great piece! Same exact sentiment as Stephen. Our beloved Bowtie Cinema in downtown Millburn closed earlier this year. It was my absolute favorite movie theater since I was a teenager, the one I hesitated to tell people about because it was so intimate and old school. I miss it and still haven’t found a new movie theater to replace it. Sounds like I should check out Cinema Lab at SOPAC. Glad I grew up in the age of blockbusters and have those memories, at least.” — Courtney

“I remember going to see ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ at the Allwood in Clifton when I was about 10. It was so crowded I, and many others, had to sit in the aisle. (So where was the fire marshal?) In the ‘70s, I spent an entire afternoon, some 6 hours plus, at the old Central Theater in Passaic to watch all the original ‘Planet of the Apes’ movies back-to-back. I had so much candy and popcorn, I left with a stomach ache.” — Phillip

“I used to love going to movies in Times Square — and I mean old Times Square, ’70s and ’80s — and am the first to admit that the projection and general condition of the theaters was pretty bad. But the overall experience was a trip. These days, I have to be honest, I don’t care about seeing movies in theaters. We have a pretty decent TV that’s not much smaller than the screens in the downstairs theaters at the Criterion Center which I believe was a sixplex when I was seeing movies there, including Stuart Gordon’s ‘The Pit and the Pendulum,’ during which a rat ran across my foot. You don’t get an experience like that at home.” — Maitland

“I still visit my local AMC Theater a few times a week and also frequent the Clairidge in Montclair, and Film at Lincoln Center. There is nothing like being in a theater with other people, experiencing a movie on a screen that big! I miss going to (the old) Roberts’ Chatham Cinema, which often showed arthouse films I had trouble finding elsewhere. It was so cozy, with serve-yourself free coffee, inexpensive concession treats, and lovely people working there who would ask you what you thought of the film as you were exiting. I once asked the owner what happens to the movie posters after the film completed its run, as there was one I was interested in. He asked for my cell number and two weeks later he called and said I could come over and pick it up anytime. He gave it to me! I will always remember the wonderful times I had there.” — Anita

“I remember going to see the U2 film ‘Rattle and Hum’ at the Newton theater on a Tuesday night (I worked weekends). I was the only person in the theater.” — John

“I have a vivid memory of seeing ‘The Sound of Music’ on a Girl Scout field trip to NYC’s Rivoli Theatre. The balcony was immense and there may have been an intermission. We were handed stagebills. A dignified contrast to the Route 17 drive-in, where we were allowed to wear pajamas in the playground.” — Linda

“My brother took me to see ‘Charlotte’s Web’ at the old theater in Denville, which is now a candy store. Our mom would drop us off and before she pulled away we had to ask the ticket taker when the movie ended so she’d be back on time to pick us up. I also remember going to drive-ins, most likely the one on Route 10 in Morris Plains/Parsippany — and yes, we were in our pajamas, just like all the other kids.” — Jocelyn

“As a child in Radio City, when the Rockettes came out and the lights came on, I thought they had opened up the roof and let the sunlight in. I still remember the uproarious, nearly insane laughter in the theater when they played the cartoons. (I don’t know why they stopped showing them,) And I will never forget the day when, instead of teaching a class, I had my students watch the film ’12 Angry Men.’ It was like being in a movie theater again.” — Arthur

“ ‘Charade’ was my first Radio City movie. I was a little bit too young for such a grownup movie and place, which means I adored every moment of it. All that gilt and red velvet and Audrey Hepburn in Paris! As far as at-home vs in-theater, there’s nothing like seeing a film you love on a big screen. It changes everything, for the far better. I grew up going to the Bellevue, Clairidge and Wellmont in Montclair; I have fond memories of seeing ‘Woodstock,’ ‘2001’ and ‘Star Wars’ at the Clairidge and matinees of Vincent Price horror movies at the Wellmont. The Bellevue was pretty much reserved for movies with my parents, probably because I couldn’t walk there.” — Valerie

“Where to begin? I remember 12-year-old me watching ‘Jaws’ from no larger than a 1″ x 1″ glass window in the exit door of a Fair Lawn theater because seeing the guy in the rowboat get attacked ran me out of the theatre. I remember taking my then-13-year-old son to a midnight screening of ‘The Rocky Horror Picture Show’ after we watched the DVD at home and he didn’t get what the fuss was all about. I remember taking my then-15-year-old daughter to the Clairidge in Montclair for the restored ‘Metropolis.’ I remember sitting in the Bellevue on a rainy Saturday afternoon with a dozen other people watching ‘The Cook, the Thief, his Wife and her Lover’ and feeling like we survived a shared prison-camp experience (and I mean this in the best way possible). I remember this past February watching ‘It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World’ at the West Orange Classic Film Festival (full disclosure — I’m with that group) and hearing the laughter of the audience watching an almost 60-year-old movie on a big screen as God intended. Nothing beats going to a theater and sharing the experience.” — John


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Jack Colldeweih October 13, 2022 - 11:35 am

I’m from California and old enough to remember dish-nights at the local theatre in small-town San Joaquin valley. Popcorn a nickle a bag, as was a BigHunk candy bar, big and chewy enough to last most of a Saturday afternoon of cartoons, serials, March of Time documentaries, westerns and dreadful dramas. Also ushers coming through the theatre with cans to collect contributions for the March of Dimes. What a hoot! Only entertainment in town, except for the local pool hall, which we weren’t allowed in, except to hawk newspapers.

Margie Mellman October 13, 2022 - 12:17 pm

I am from an earlier generation, so my earliest memories of going to see movies with an i termission in nyc as a group(from sunday school) were The Ten Commandments, Ben Hur, and Exodus. I was totally blown away by all of them. I had a favorite movie as a youth that i thought was so funny, and i saw it a few times at theatres. It was called VISITOR FROM A SMALL PLANET and starred Jerry Lewis and was written by gore vidal. I saw a movie at Camp point O pines that they took us too on a field trip. I had bever heard of it before; it was Gone with the Wind. I was blown AWay by it. It had an intermission too! I grew up to be a film buff, and i know evverything about movies, and have seen almost all movies. Another movie i loved as a child -,i had forgotten about it – and then a year or teo ago i saw it on TCM andvi realized so That’s where all those songs i love came from – – it was Hans Christian Anderson starring Danny Kaye. Margie, millburn (ps, i could keep writing about this subject forever!)

Mark McPherson October 19, 2022 - 11:54 pm

Growing up in Jersey City, New Jersey, through the ’70’s, we would go to the State, the Stanley and the Lowes on Journal Square, before and after they were split up into “multi-plexes”, the old palaces uglified as they shoehorned 2 or 3
theaters inside the previously ornate and expansive interiors.

But back earlier still, in the 60’s of my gradeschool days, there was the Central Theater on Central Avenue in the Jersey City Heights. I have a dim, possibly apocryphal recollection of actually seeing a movie there, but I have a vivid memory of its wrecking ball demolition. It was then considered a “neighborhood theater”, but it was big and beautiful even well past its prime.


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