Downtown movie theater shows classic titles on vintage film projectors as they were meant to be seen…
It’s been more than two decades since digital technology transformed the way we enjoy music and movies. Crystal-clear sound and perfect projection are now the norm…yet to many, something is missing. Gone are the analog hiss of cassette tapes and the distinctive clacking of film projector gears. Who could forget the circular “bleep” that signaled the change of movie reels….or the way an audience would moan on the rare occasion when a movie jammed and melted onscreen?
Yes, we’ve become bored with perfection…there’s just nothing nostalgic about it. That’s why vinyl records and turntables have roared back with a vengeance. An MP3 file can’t provide beautiful album cover artwork or the tactile experience of putting a needle on the record.
The same holds true for our movie-going excursions. Since this past year, there’s been a nationwide resurgence in the drive-in theater, where social distancing is built in. With only a few new films in release, indoor and outdoor theaters have been featuring 80’s classics like GREMLINS, RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, ET, BACK TO THE FUTURE, THE GOONIES and more.
Parents are enjoying the rare opportunity to share those timeless hits on the big screen with their own children, while reliving the days when flickering lights and film imperfections were part of the cinematic experience.
But the original styles of movie-making and projection are having a comeback, too. Powerful directors like Christopher Nolan and Quentin Tarantino regularly use genuine film stock for their pictures, and even the new WONDER WOMAN 1984 was shot entirely on film. There’s a warmth to analog methods that modern technology can’t duplicate.
Alas, finding a theater that can project a movie from actual film reels is a near-impossibility. As a former manager (in the 90’s) for the AMC Theaters chain, I spent many hours learning the in’s and out’s of assembling a print (splicing the many individual reels into a completed film), changing expensive xenon lamps, and learning how to thread the complex “platter system”. It’s intricate work…and there’s nothing like it.
The expensive conversion to digital technology led many independent theaters to permanently shutter, and caused standard 35 millimeter projectors to all but disappear. A few cinemas still hold onto IMAX-film and 70 millimeter workhorses to placate the demands of certain directors, but they’re few and far between. That leaves countless copies of vintage 35mm prints just sitting in vaults, yearning to be rediscovered and shown in their original format.
Fortunately for Las Vegas visitors and residents, downtown fun spot The Nerd expanded their footprint in early February to open The 35 Cinema. The 35 Cinema is the only movie theater in the state to strictly use traditional, analog film projection. Their main 35mm projector handles all of the Hollywood blockbusters, while a secondary system is designed for the rare 16mm print.
According to owner John Lohmann, The 35 Cinema is also the only commercial theater in the world to have its projector inside the auditorium. The concept is the culmination of a dream that’s spanned two decades. Watching the projectionist thread the film, boot up the bulb and dim the house lights becomes part of the show. And once again, those mechanical sounds just amplify the mood.
The manager of The 35 Cinema is actress Lisa Wilcox, with whom this writer spent many hours in darkened theaters. Ms. Wilcox starred as “Alice” in A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 4: The Dream Master, my absolute favorite of the series (I saw it eight times). Her character survived to take the lead in Part 5. I was fortunate enough to meet this dynamic woman at RIO Hotel Casino a few years back. Las Vegas is lucky to have her.
Ms. Wilcox and her 80’s horror-film career might have a bit of an influence on The 35 Cinema‘s programming. This week, the revival house is showing pristine copies of ALIEN (1979) and THE SHINING (1980). Previous titles have included THE FINAL TERROR (starring Vegas resident Adrian Zmed), BEWARE! THE BLOB, and PHANTOM OF THE OPERA with Robert Englund. Upcoming classics include TRON (1982), STAR WARS (1977), THE MATRIX and 2001:A SPACE ODYSSEY.
Being located within THE NERD gives The 35 Cinema two distinct advantages. First, its entrance is through the bar, so all audience members must be 21 years or older (no disruptive children to ruin the cinematic experience!). Secondly, THE NERD is devoted to fans of fantasy, science fiction and horror. So, your fellow viewers are kindred, ready to blast off with you on a shared adventure.
Along with the films, patrons can expect a variety of special events in the months ahead. There will be celebrity appearances and Q & A sessions with people involved in the films being presented. Actor/director Oliver Robins (“Robbie” in the Poltergeist series) recently attended a screening of POLTERGEIST 2.
Despite being located inside the massive Neonopolis entertainment complex on Fremont Street, The 35 Cinema is a passion project that evokes feelings of a small town movie house. Reproductions of famous movie posters adorn the walls and a small, charming snack bar/gift shop serves up hot popcorn, cold drinks and a variety of snacks. There are plenty of autographed photos around, too, which I suspect might be from Ms. Wilcox’s private collection.
Tickets are $10 and can be purchased at the theater or online here. So grab your light saber, gather your friends, and head back to the future for a retro-cool time at the movies. Titles change weekly and are subject to studio availability. Click here for show schedule.
The 35 Cinema is located inside THE NERD at 450 Fremont Street, second level of NEONOPOLIS. Call (702) 575-8486 or visit them online at https://the-35-cinema.ticketleap.com
Photos: Sam Novak and THE NERD/The 35 Cinema via Facebook