Another Small-Town Movie Theater Closes

I’m sad to report that last week I learned of the closing of Pensacola’s Silver Screen Theatre. It’s sad because this was not only the theater where we held the locals premieres of Frankensteins Bloody Nightmare and Scars of Youth but it was a movie theater which captured my imagination as a child. When I was a kid, the theater was known as “Cinema Tavern” (a much better name actually) and it was the first (and basically only) theater in Pensacola with a dinner theater-like arrangement where the usual rows of theater chairs were replaced with round movable tables and and plush swivel chairs. The way the original version of Cinema Tavern worked, there was actually a concession stand built into the back of the theater room where you could very easily walk down, get your pizza/beer/whatever and then come back to the film rather quickly. This was an idea which is now blooming thanks to national theater chains such as Alamo Drafthouse but it was a concept which I guess goes all the way back to drive-ins and many tiny theaters throughout the country started trying out this idea in the eighties.

When I was very little I was never taken to many movies. Mostly, I would read the newspaper ads and just clip out the big quarter-page advertisements for stuff playing nearby like Evil Dead 2, Full Metal Jacket, Witchboard, etc. Along with these other big adverts I would alway clip out Cinema Taven’s “midnight movie express,” which promised a midnight movie and even a special mug! I still have the photo album with all the stuff somewhere in storage. I never got to actually go to these but man, the movies they would show, the titles are still burned into my mind – Heavy Metal, Robocop, The Warriors, Death Wish 4, and, of course, Rocky Horror Picture Show. This theater was pretty much the Pensacola home for RHPS until around late 2011, where some disputes with management moved Rocky to the local Vinyl Music Hall venue. For years, though, a revolving cast of Rockyperformers performed the show in front of both 35mm and video projections of the movie. It was in 1998 when I connected to the theater as well as Rocky Horror, going to the weekly Rocky showings as well as gorging on any other movie playing there – I watched Fear and loathing in Las Vegasaround four times at that theater during that summer. Wow, so many fond memories – watching ExistenZ 2-3 times, walking out Devil’s Rejects and Joy Ride, those days.

To jump back a few years, my first real Cinema Taven experience was in 1992 with Encino Man – it was a horrible raggedy print and we ate some horrible burnt pizza. Even by then the theater’s name had been changed to “Silver Screen” – I’m not sure about the whole chain of ownership but I believe it was bought out then the name became “Silver Screen,” which shared the name with a local video store and maybe another video store / theater somewhere else in the Northwest Florida area. So Silver Screen became a local movie theater/video store chain, which is an interesting concept. They also became a “dollar theater,” playing second-run movies in the cheap. Around a decade ago the video store eventually closed up but the theater kept going. Over the years they mostly stayed a second-run theater but in recent years they tried to flip into being first-run and they closed a first-run theater.

Anyway, by around 1994 the Silver Screen had been renovated – concession stands were taken out of the main theaters so you had to leave the theater and go to the lobby concession – and me and my dad went to our nearly third screening of Pulp Fiction at the cheap Silver Screen showing. What an experience. The tables and chairs remained; throughout the years and different renovations due to hurricane damage and other flights of fancy, however, many of the original plush chairs would slowly be replaced by these awful little econo chairs in some theaters. They left the original, weathered chairs in many theaters, though.

Over the years I would return to the Silver Screen and so would many other local filmmakers who wanted to show their movies – Silver Screen held the local premieres of such films as This Darkness(a SOV vampire movie) as well as Brian Meece’s The Spin and Sharkman along with my movies. Also, it’s the place where I first met local intrepid horror hosts Nightmare Theater. I would eventually go on to shoot and edit over a dozen of their show episodes; we even shot the revamped opening title sequence as well as numerous host segments at Silver Screen.

Ultimately what killed the Silver Screen according to the earlier-linked PNJ article was the move to digital projection and the expense involved – SS had a semi-OK “XVGA” resolution video projection setup where they could screen special movies on DVD (as well as VHS, which is how they ran their midnight movies in the early 2000’s, YUCK) but apparently they didn’t feel the half-million dollar upgrade to DCP was worth it. From what I’d heard over the years, Silver Screen was basically a big hobby for the owner who was also a committed film fanatic.

Who knows what the future may hold for movies in Pensacola? Right now the only tiny movie theater in the area is Gulf Breeze’s Cinema 4 – which has been opened/closed over the years (I remember watching Bloodsucking Freaks in that theater a decade ago) but is a cozy little venue tucked back in a Gulf Breeze strip mall. Very peaceful place, I caught some good screenings of There Will Be Blood and Inside Deep Throat there a couple years back. This theater, along with local spots such as Vinyl, may be able to sustain locals who want to screen their material but, ultimately, who knows.