Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 2/9/2011 (3140 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
If you grew up in Winnipeg in the pre-TV era -- or even as recently as the 1980s -- you probably remember movie theatres that had as much character as the movies themselves.
Not only were the cinemas architecturally unique, going to the movies just seemed more special before VCRs ushered in on-demand viewing.
At least, that's how it seems to George Godwin. The local film editor is making a documentary for the MTS Winnipeg On Demand TV channel about the history of movie-going in the city, and how the experience has changed.
Godwin is seeking interview subjects to share their recollections. The anecdotes can be about life-changing moments at the movies, or they can be stories of the significance of movie-going in those times when it was the dominant form of mass entertainment.
"I want to find people who have memories, hopefully going back to the 1930s," he says. "The subject of the film is the social experience. . . . Every community in Winnipeg had at least one neighbourhood theatre."
Godwin, a former National Film Board editor, is also looking for photos of Winnipeg theatres in their heyday.
Local film-studies scholar Howard Curle has shared some of his research with Godwin, including a list of more than 40 theatres that were in operation in the late 1940s.
They ranged from the Fox and Starland on Main Street to Mac's, the Rose and the Valour in the West End, the Uptown in River Heights, the Paris and Plaza in St. Boniface, the Roxy in North Kildonan, the Elm in East Kildonan, the Park in Fort Rouge and the Windsor in St. Vital.
Downtown movie houses included names like the Rio, Lyceum, Bijou, Gaiety and Rialto.
The filmmaker, 56, was born in England, immigrated to Canada as a boy and arrived in Winnipeg at age 18. That was in 1973, when many of the grand old theatres had already disappeared.
"I was coming in at the tail end of the great days," he says. "I want to catch some memories of that before they completely evaporate."
Godwin was such an avid movie-goer in the 1970s, it wasn't unusual for him to see four or five pictures a week. He would sometimes stay in his seat and bask in a movie a second time. Many films played here, he says, that never got a continent-wide release.
"In the '70s, Winnipeg was one of the premier North American cities for movie-going," he says. "We got huge amounts of stuff here. It was a key market."
The venue Godwin mourns most is the Capitol, the opulent movie palace that opened on Donald Street north of Portage Avenue in 1921, closed in 1990 and was demolished in 2002. The huge theatre had a magnificent domed ceiling.
One of Godwin's indelible memories is of lining up on a frigid Friday morning in 1973 for the first local screening of the feverishly anticipated The Exorcist at the Capitol (shown in photo).
After the balcony was closed off and the theatre awkwardly "twinned" in 1979, he recalls the frustrations of the upper theatre, where the small screen seemed to be a football field away and you could hear competing sound from the screening below.
Still, he says, "Every theatre had its own personality. The actual theatre was part of the experience. Now, the (multiplex) theatres are all homogenized.
"And I can remember when you went to a movie and the lights went down, everybody shut up."
You can contact Godwin with your movie-going memories at email@example.com or 775-9177. He hopes to complete his documentary, which he expects to be an hour long, next spring.
He isn't the only Winnipegger researching the topic. Popular-history author Russ Gourluck is writing a book called Silver Screens on the Prairie: An Illustrated History of Motion Picture Theatres in Manitoba. It's also due for release in the spring.