Having barely reached middle age, the local second-run “dollar theater” known as Ashley Cinemas is now history. Hard working men and women may consider the old multiplex a microscopic footnote in Valdosta’s history, but it’s history I won’t leave behind without saying something about it.
Ashley’s shuttering was given very short notice via a Valdosta Daily Times article posted two days before closure. I was told by one of the workers that they were given two weeks notice and another told me that most employees will work at the Stadium Cinemas across town. The official reason given by Georgia Theatre Company is that the costs of transitioning to digital projection would make ticket prices too high. However, Ashley’s days were numbered before the movie studios went all in for digital. In 2012, Valdosta State University paid about $2.4 million to gobble up the property like Galactus gobbles up planets.
The Marvel movie completist in me found watching Thor: The Dark World more compelling than seeing Madea Part MXXXVII and others. (Yes, I know the movie rights to Thor and Galactus are with different companies. Save your comment, film pedants.)
No one gets romantic for a second-run movie theater like some do for a drive-in or the classic one-screen palaces. The 16-screen megaplex Stadium Cinemas across town is the premier place to watch Hollywood big screen product, good or bad, since 2003. That meant closing the Mall Theater and keeping Ashley Cinemas as the “dollar theater,” where popular movies move between the first-run Stadium Cinemas and home video Valhalla.
Tickets originally cost one dollar, hence the name. Some time later, seeing matinees cost $1 but seeing later shows were twice the price. Eventually, all shows were priced at $2, then $2.50.
When I was there for the final time Sunday, there was no frenzy surrounding the theater’s end. There was no line and I got my $2.50 ticket easily. I took a look around the somewhat barren lobby. The arcade games stationed at the right side were long gone, so some children had an open space to fool around. There was no mementos to collect; people had already grabbed the movie posters. At least popcorn was still offered. Alas, it’s too late to boost the theater’s revenue by buying some.
As for the feature presentation, Thor: The Dark World is a decent action film. I didn’t notice that Christopher Eccleston played yet another villain under all that makeup. There were the expected fun moments for fans of stars Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, and Tom Hiddleston. This sequel heavily embraces its fantasy settings, but may have been a different-looking movie if not for Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings. I can confirm that the Agents of SHIELD “tie-in” is a complete waste.
I can also report there was no frenzy or pandemonium. My brother had heard that someone pranked moviegoers by shouting “Snake!” in the theater and people leaving were given tickets to see a movie at the Stadium Cinemas. I didn’t ask anyone working if that’s true and I didn’t care. The picture was really dim, but I could still spot the cigarette burning marks. The movie is in a wider aspect ratio than the screen provided. I’m a very large guy, so the seats were the same cramped seats they always were.
Where to go now? $7.50 matinees at the Stadiums Cinemas? Online movie services like Netflix? Bootlegs and pirated copies? I’m pleased to have many options, but losing a low-cost genuine big screen experience is losing a piece of culture.
Top photo by Michael Rivera/Wikimedia Commons. All other pics in this post are made by me.