Saving the Roxy

From the “New York Times” to the cover of the “Cavalier County Republican,” Langdon’s  Roxy theater is a newsmaker. The reporters from the NYT seemed to think of the Roxy as a quaint throwback to the cultural past. They would be right.

When I was a little girl, going to the Roxy was a big deal. My sisters and I didn’t go to movies on a regular basis because that would have meant an extra trip to town. Some Sunday afternoons, while our parents were visiting family friends, having coffee and maybe playing whist, we got to go to the matinee at the Roxy. We had the rare and exciting experience of seeing stars like Sandra Dee, Natalie Wood, Rock Hudson on the theater’s big screen. We bought popcorn and Green River soda from the amazing machine that dispensed the beverage right into your cup. I don’t know that I have eaten Milk Duds anywhere else.

We would cautiously find our way down the sloping aisle to a seat near the front while our eyes adjusted from the bright afternoon sun to the dark theater. The cone shaped lights along the walls of the long narrow building dimmed, the huge curtain opened and the screen lit up with previews of the coming attractions and advertisements of local businesses. News clips took us to places around the world and far away from our small town. We were careful not to do anything that would draw the cigar-chewing Swede Bartlett’s attention as he patrolled the aisle making sure everyone was following his rules.

When I sit in the Roxy’s seats a half century later, some of that little girl’s excitement and wonder comes bubbling back up. The theater is more than just a place to watch movies. Most of us have a dvd player or a myriad of other electronic devices by which we can access what once was only possible on the big screen of a movie theater. Technology has made the movie theater obsolete if you just want to watch a movie. You can even watch one on your phone, if you like tiny screens and tiny speakers. As wonderful as our gadgets are, those postage stamp sized screens just don’t create the same experience as the Roxy. There is something special about seeing a movie on a really big screen with sound that moves around the theater and makes your bones vibrate.

The movie theater is more than just a place to project movies. The theater is a place to go. It is a place to meet your friends. Many of us have fond memories of the movies as teenagers. Many of those memories have nothing to do with the movie we saw, but are about the social aspects of going to the movies. Meeting friends, dating, holding hands, a first kiss, the Roxy reminds of us of growing up. The stage provides a venue for community theater plays and musicals. Nearly a thousand people attended the recent production of “Annie.” The movie theater is an important part of what makes a community a good place in which to live.

If we look only at the economics of the Roxy, spending $70,000 on new wiring and a new digital projection system doesn’t make any sense. It seems likely, however, that without the investment there will be no movies to show. The chances of the investment being recovered in profits from ticket sales in the next 35 years is not good. Movie-goers can’t eat that much popcorn and or that many Milk Duds. The really important role of the Roxy is something other than profitability. The Roxy is part of what makes this a good place to live. The Northern Lights Arts Council and Steve Hart and the staff do a great job making sure the doors are open and the marquee lights of the theater are on every week. The popcorn is swept up and the spilled pop mopped from the floor. They do it on a shoestring budget. Ticket prices would still be a bargain if raised by a dollar.

If when you read this you think back with fondness to some important event in your life connected with the Roxy, make a date and go to the next movie. If you are too far way to be there next weekend, write a check to help make sure the Roxy is still open the next time you come to visit. Send it to the Northern Lights Arts Council, PO Box 162, Langdon, ND 58249.

Copyright © 2011 Janet Jacobson and Sustaining the Northern Plains