May 1980, when The Empire Strikes Back opened, and we drove down to see it in 70mm on the huge screen of the RKO Stanley Warner Route 4 Paramus Quad.
Around that same time, that I saw The Shining.
December 1980, when I saw Altered States at the Loews Astor Plaza.
The summer of 1981, when I was on my own in Boston for several weeks.
So it's with extreme sadness that I read on Monday in the New York Times that the AMC Loews Harvard Square theatre has shuttered.
According to Cinema Treasures, the theatre opened in 1926 with 1700 seats. Who knows how many seats it had in 1981, and I'm not sure that the balcony was in use at that time, but it was still one massively mammoth theatre with one humongously huge screen, and it showed a different double feature every night. And you could buy a card for ten prepaid admissions for, if memory serves, $18. I got at least one of those.
The strange thing is that I have to confess, I can't really remember all that well what all movies I saw at the Harvard Square in the summer of 1981. I can tell you what first run theatres I went to that summer to see The Great Muppet Caper or Stripes or Escape from New York or For Your Eyes Only. I can tell you that the Orson Welles was running its neverending run of Moscow Does Not Believe in Tears. There are a gazillion things I can remember about that summer, and running down a list of the 10 or 15 movies I must have seen at the Harvard Square just somehow doesn't make the cut. I know one of them was The Last Waltz, which I didn't care for. I think I saw The Shining again. I'm reasonably sure I took in a showing of 2001, but I wouldn't want to swear to it. But it was one of the first theatres I fell in love with, and one of the places where I fell in love with the movies.
Down the road a piece, the independent Harvard Square theatre was purchased by the local Sack movie chain, which became USA Theatres, which became part of Loews, which eventually got gobbled up by AMC, and the theatre died as the AMC Loews Harvard Square. It got chopped up over the years, the balcony was cut in two, then then downstairs was cut in three. The main entry to the theatre which fronted right on Harvard Square was turned into retail space, and the main entrance was the side door of the old lobby on a side street without any visible sign on Harvard Square that a movie theatre was in the neighborhood. There was little grandeur left, other than for having the grand stairs leading up to the balcony theatres. I ended up seeing only one movie at the theatre after 1981, so it's not like it's that big a difference to me if the theatre is there or not, I probably shouldn't waste a blog post on its demise.
But in the back of my mind, the knowledge that there was a theatre there, that the link to my past was there if I wanted or needed it, that I could look at the film times in the Boston Globe and think on what was, it means something to me.
As well, in the same way that the loss of Borders is a loss in part because of the book-buying deserts it leaves behind, places like downtown Boston or downtown St. Louis that don't have a good bookstore with wide selection, the loss of the Harvard Square is a loss to Harvard University. There's the Brattle Theatre, an arthouse/repertory theatre that still hangs on in Harvard Square. But there's no place to see Amazing Spider Man in Harvard Square. If you're a student at Harvard you've got a long walk ahead or a T ride to go see a movie. And that doesn't seem quite right to me. Who'd want to go to Harvard without the Harvard Square across the street?