Thursday, January 23, 2014

Riske Business: Movie Crazy

This week’s column is dedicated to the discussion of that. That thing you did that was completely absurd or crazy because you loved movies.

I think we’ve all been there, and I want to hear everyone’s stories. This is a safe place among friends. After sharing, we’re going to take these stories and put them in a box. Then we’re going to close this box and throw it in the ocean. I’ll get us started.

From age 6 to 15, I was a movie exhibitor. I ran Adam’s Movie Theater, and the only people who knew about it were my immediate family. Scratch that. They knew about it for the first two years, but not the subsequent seven.

Adam’s Movie Theater was born out of a love for the movies that was instilled in me from my great uncle Abe and my uncle George, who would talk to me about movies that were well past my frame of reference. I was six and knew all about The Accidental Tourist. At seven, I was the authority in my elementary school on Do the Right Thing. I even used to recommend movies to my developmental teacher (a teacher I went to daily to work through childhood learning disabilities) even though I had not seen the movie. I remember specifically telling her she needed to see The Adventures of Baron Munchausen and described what I knew of the movie in full detail. I even cut out the newspaper ad to give to her as a keepsake. At a parent-teacher conference, my teacher told my parents about my passionate enthusiasm for Munchausen and my parents told her “Adam’s never seen that.”
I used to ask my mom to buy me a copy of the Chicago Sun-Times and the Chicago Tribune every Friday so I could get copies of the movie sections. Fridays were a special day because they had the movie reviews, but more so because they had the black and white (sometimes color!) ads for what was playing. This was crucial to the décor of Adam’s Movie Theater. I would cut out the ads and use them as posters, propping them up against my dad’s fireplace or the wood trunk in front of the couch in my parents' family room. The big new movies would play the fireplace, the older ones the trunk. I needed both Chicago papers to protect myself, because if I cut out a picture of The Land Before Time on page 4, I couldn’t use the ad for Ernest Saves Christmas on page 3. I also used to pilfer the Sunday movie section for ads just in case I needed them. Often times, my dad would want to use the fireplace for a fire in the winter and tell me “Theater’s closed; I need to put in firewood.” This wreaked havoc on my holiday box office totals, but I understood. He was the building owner and I was renting the space. Just another reason you should never mix business with family.

Who attended these movies? Just who you’d expect. He-Man, army men (who did not get in for a military discount), Barbie and Ken on a date.
Phase one of Adam’s Movie Theater (the Golden Age) was phased out by 1990. The rest of the decade was more secretive. It began with tracing paper and a change to the theater name: Cineplex Adiam, after the glorious local theater chain of my youth, Cineplex Odeon.* Instead of cutting out the ads, I would get my tracing paper and colored pencils and trace the titles of the movies. Underneath the titles, I would write show times, underline when the matinees were and put stars next to titles that were "discount pass restricted." I got to know the schedules of my local theaters frighteningly well during this period. to the point where if someone asked, “Adam, what time is The Rescuers Down Under playing at Ridge Cinemas?” I could rattle off “12:40, 3:00, 5:10” etc. Eventually I got tired of tracing, but this phase (the Silver Age) taught me how to better run Cineplex Adiam.

On Thanksgiving weekend 1993, I was ready for the next evolution. Jurassic Park had hit the dollar theater.

I would be remiss to talk about the next stage without telling you that I have always loved the dollar theater. If you were not lucky enough to grow up in an area with dollar theaters, they are theaters that show second-run movies sometimes weeks, often times months after their first release for about $1 or some other low price. I used to be obsessed with a dollar theater about 30 minutes from my childhood home called Barrington Square. It was a simple six-screen theater in a strip mall, but for some reason I romanticized that theater above all others. I was fascinated by the inner workings of the dollar theater. Why would Mrs. Doubtfire take 105 days to get there but Addams Family Values took 56 days? Who decides these things? It gave theatrical exhibition a sense that anything could happen. I used to call Barrington Square early in the week and ask what was going to start showing there on Friday. Then I would get off the phone and think “Oh man, they’re getting Demolition Man and it took 63 days.” I can only imagine the person on the other end of the phone who had to talk to me at age 11 every week.
So Cineplex Adiam became a dollar theater, and I gave it a new title: Riske’s Mandarin Theater (named after a Mandarin Chinese restaurant near Barrington Square that I still eat at to this day). But it was a ten screen theater and only existed inside a notebook I kept. No ads, no tracings, just ten lines (maybe more if two movies were splitting a screen) in a notebook every week for nearly seven years. The movies that played at the RMT were all of the movies showing in Chicagoland dollar theaters at the time. The ones at the most dollar theaters would get the biggest screens at Riske’s Mandarin Theater (naturally those were auditoriums 1, 5, 6 and 10), and I would schedule times for them to play every day. Shows could begin as early as 11am and start as late as 11pm. I would factor in 20 minutes between screenings and pick the first show of the day for a movie based on what time I saw it in theaters (if I didn’t see it in theaters I picked a random time from one of the dollar theaters). For example, I saw Toy Story on opening day at 5 pm, so since I couldn’t have it start at 5 pm – the theater opens at 11 am – I said it would start at 11 am each day that week. Since it was 81 minutes, I would round down to 80 minutes and say the first show ended at 12:20 pm (there’s no trailers at my theater) and buffer the next show by 20 minutes. So the schedule for Toy Story would be as follows: 11 am, 12:40 pm, 2:20 pm, 4:00 pm, 5:40 pm, 7:20 pm, 9:00 pm and 10:40 pm. Done! On to the next movie.

Riske’s Mandarin Theaters was the Bronze Age -– a true “premium” dollar theater. The era ended when the heat got too hot. It came when my sister’s high school boyfriend found my notebook. He asked me what it was and I said “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” “There’s a notebook with page after page written into it with movies and show times, and it says Riske’s Mandarin Theater at the top of every page,” he said. I looked him in the eye and said “I don’t know what that is.” He eventually dropped it (and my sister dropped him because fuck that guy) and it became clear to me that this needed to stop. And so it did.
My movie theater closed for all time in 1997, but I remember it fondly as it represented OCD of the highest order and was a pioneering example of being movie crazy.

Epilogue: I still sometimes look at what’s playing at the dollar theater and think “Huh, Out of the Furnace, 49 days; interesting.” Who decides these things?

Now it’s your turn to share. Don’t hold back! What did you do that was movie crazy?

*Want to see something amazing? Just watch the Cineplex Odeon bumpers that used to run in the 1990s. I would get so excited to be at the movies when I saw these.

Coming Attractions:

Feature Presentation:


  1. Fuck that guy, indeed.

    You know how when some people get bored they doodle? Little stars or squares or hearts or whatever? For me, it's movie titles. I can't draw for shit, never could, but when I'm on hold or just killing time, I find myself doodling movie titles, approximating their logos the best that my meager skills will allow. It started when I was in grade school (all over the covers and margins of my notebooks), and continues to this day, though far less often.

    For some reason I tend to stick mostly to franchises (maybe because they have the best logos) but if you're ever on the phone with me and put me on hold, there's a better-than-average chance I'm scribbling out the logo for A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors on whatever scrap of paper is handy.

    It's good to know movie-related OCD nonsense isn't a solitary struggle. I'd be proud to see Cineplex Adiam's box office window adorned with my shitty movie logos.

    1. That's awesome. Do you have a favorite logo?

    2. Probably the Nightmare on Elm Street sequels, I dig that scratchy font. Darkman is fun too because of that lil' Darkman silhouette in the A. Also, "Lil' Darkman" is a Saturday morning cartoon spin-off that really should've happened.

  2. I can relate a lot Adam! Thanks for sharing. I used to cut out things from magazines and Odeon cinema brochures, and stick them in this big notebook or stick them on the walls. I always loved films and watched them obsessively. My parents helped me build a collection of videos from Disney and family type movies when I was young. I was always watching them, until I knew lines of dialogue; The Wizard of Oz and The Beauty and the Beast in particular. I really started becoming a collector when I was 13/14. I remember my Grandma giving me a box set of Audrey Hepburn videos, which I still have despite also having the box set on DVD (I have a sentimental attachment to it). I found a way in! I was hooked.

    For my 14th birthday my mum took me up to central London, so I could go to the Cinema Store and to see Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless mind in the cinema (two special requests that I think I was bugging her with). I bought Holiday (1936) (and now have a huge affection for that movie), That Hamilton Woman, Anna Karrinna (1948) and a few pieces of memorabilia. I already loved Bringing up Baby and Gone with the Wind. When I was off sick from school I really liked going to Gone with the Wind and Sabrina (1954). I remember randomly quoting Scarlett's speech before the intermission, no wonder I was bullied really. I had movie related pictures all over my room (there was hardly any wall left!) and also in the study which I was allowed to inhabit to watch these movies and keep my DVDs/Videos. I was an oddity at school and amongst family members. I think people came into my room like it was an art gallery, always slightly amazed by my obvious movie related OCD. And whilst they were looking I could reel off information about the movies and actors I loved.

    I was really obsessive with my DVD collection as well. I really hated anyone messing with it! I was told sometimes that this weird for someone my age but some people really liked looking at it. I had an obsession with movie actresses in particular, normally they lead such inspiring or interesting lives as well as being talented. My Barbra Streisand obsession started when I was 15/16. It lead to many people saying rather nasty things, which I still don't understand, but I quickly managed to get a hard copy of all but one of her films. I also collected cinema tickets; I still try and keep them now as I think it is cool to have a record of what you see. When I came to university and saw the DVD library I was so in love. I consumed so many movies in one go. I kind of regret not pacing myself a bit as some of them were a blur so I hope to re-visit most of them, I already have with some! I normally get hooked on a particular type of movie, director or even country, which thanks to that library I can really dive into.

    I just wanted to say from listening and reading Fthismovie a funny movie connection. There were a few finds in my collection (like the ones I got at The cinema store) that I was particularly protective of. When I was in Spain on holiday, we went on a day trip to Gibraltar. I stumbled across Wet Hot American Summer and was really excited because I knew this was a movie that I couldn't find in the UK (Region 1, not really familiar with amazon at this point). I have watched it so many times and really have so much affection for it. Another DVD I was protective of was That thing you do, which I found hiding in a hmv in central London, another movie I have watched so many times. I adore both these movies so I was very happy to hear you guys give some love to them!

    1. Thanks for commenting, Gabby :-) What is your favorite Audrey Hepburn movie? I'm a big fan myself. I go back and forth between Sabrina and Roman Holiday.

    2. Oh that's a tough one Adam! I really love Audrey. I have a special place for Sabrina and Roman Holiday because they were my most watched and most treasured of the the box set but I also think Charade is a fantastic movie, so I would would say those are my top three (not sure on the order though!) Have you ever seen How to steal a million? It is one that doesn't seem to get much attention but it is a lot of fun.

  3. Was your learning disability The Adventures of Baron Munchausen Syndrome By Proxy?
    (psych humour....its a zinger)

    Ive always loved movies but for the majority of my life they have existed in the "special occasions" category, so I dont have any stories of real obsession. The worst I can think of growing up was when I would record movies off the TV and end up watching the same four movies over and over again (the entirety A Few Good Men, HELP and Toy Soldiers are still imprinted to memory and sometimes I still wake up screaming "I strenuously object, that's not a bit like Cagney, POTS AND PANS!").

    I always had a love hate relationship with video stores. I would go through cycles where I would realise one day that I hadnt rented a movie in ages so I would gleefully stride down to the local video store, spend over an hour browsing every section before renting either a Monty Python, Police Academy or Nightmare on Elm Street movie again, then watch it for the afternoon. After about two weeks I would finally get around to returning it and be slugged with a massive late fee. Then the negative association would put me off going back for ages, until I would forget the association then realise I hadnt been to the video store for ages and gleefully stride back.
    It was a glorious day when i realised it would be cheaper to just buy the movie than pay the rental and late fee, especially if it was an ex-rental. So started by movie collection.

    One of the odd things I realise when looking back at my life was how satisfied I was with what I had and with what I was familiar with, despite a clear interest for more. Some things just never occurred to me, such as going to a movie by myself or asking to go when it wasnt a special occasion but just because. ... I feel I may have wasted my life.

    1. I can't imagine how many movies I would have missed if I didn't go alone sometimes. I used to be super paranoid about it but eventually bit the bullet for Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon because none of my friends wanted to go see it. Now I probably see about half with other people, half by myself.

  4. Adam, I love this column. For one, you had the chucks to just lay it all out there, and that demands respect from all movie lovers. For two, it was seriously great to see those Cineplex Odeon bumpers again. For three, it brought back some great memories -- I spent a LOT of time at both the Ridge and the Barrington Square 6. My then-fiance and I even attended the gala "grand opening" of the Ridge Theatre, a closed-to-the-public event (read: giant platters of shrimp EVERYWHERE) because at the time I worked for Movie Facts -- remember those tri-fold flyers printed with showtimes and theater hours (and, you know, "movie facts") that theaters stocked in their lobbies? Yeah, I worked in their glamorous offices in downtown Des Plaines.

    When I was a kid, I also used to love reading the newspaper film listings -- and yes, I'd get all excited when I saw a movie ad IN COLOR. I remember reading titles of movies I'd never heard about from my friends at school, wondering what those movies might be like, and vowing that when I was an adult I'd just see all the movies and stop wondering. You've brought back a lot of great movie memories.

    Oh, and one more thing - why aren't more people talking about Out of The Furnace? At the dollar show in only 49 days... am I the only one who liked that movie?

    1. Thanks, my friend :-)

      I heart Movie Facts. I used to read those and be excited when one of the titles had the MPAA rating and/or run time. I would be like "Havana, 140 minutes? Good luck with that, Redford."

      Giant platters of shrimp. LOL. That's so Ridge.

      I was disappointed by Out of the Furnace. I thought it started really well and then halfway through it fell apart. I liked Dafoe a lot in the movie. The scene on the bridge with Zoe Saldana and Christian Bale is amazing.

  5. I realize now my movie thing was getting posters that specifically were being thrown away by Blockbuster video (RIP). Every time I came in for new release day (every Tuesday) after snagging my copy of only two video slots put out for Wishmaster (come on Blockbuster step up your game) I would say "Are you throwing out any posters?" and the free posters would come home with me.

    I remember once being quite mad that someone else reserved the video release of Titanic poster ahead of me. Don't they realize I need my heart to go on?

    Seriously though, this is being thrown into the ocean, right?

    1. Just like the Heart of the Ocean falling to the sea, as will this content be. Gone forever.

    2. Right into the damn ocean, Tom.

      I remember seeing the poster for Wishmaster in the lobby of Ridge Cinemas and being super stoked for that movie. I saw it opening night and a dude in the audience cheered "GORE!" during the bloody opening scene. It was one of the funniest things I've ever heard in a theater.

  6. The Internet's heart is a deep ocean, Tom. It's just one that everyone can read, comment on, and plagiarize from (if your initials are S L).).

  7. Dammit, first it's not feeling nerdy enough to go to a comic store, now it's not feeling crazy enough to talk crazy with you crazies. Other than sarcastically getting called a Ninja Turtle for jump-kicking a bully trying to hang my TMNT bookbag (used to covertly bring in popcorn) out of reach at a showing of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (a story I've regaled you all with before), I've got nothing.

    I guess my fiancée would say there's some craziness behind my way-too-rapidly growing blu-ray collection - but what does she know? Just because I've robbed and murdered a few people for blu-ray money? Whatever.

  8. This looks like a fun thing to do. I'll begin preparing aWizard101 dungeon now!

  9. I'm an unrepentant fan of "Who Wants to be a Millionaire" and anyone who watches the show regularly knows they usually had a "Movie Week"(now called Oscar Week) portion. Well, I heard from a friend in Cincinnati that they were having auditions there. So, I decided to go down there for it. Sounds easy right? Well, the auditions were to start at 8 a.m., and I

    A) Had to get up around 3 a.m.
    B) Drive almost three hours by myself to my friend's house Cincinnati, a city notorious for being extremely difficult to drive through.
    C) This was pre-F! This Movie, so I only had CDs and coffee to keep me entertained and awake.

    After I made it to my friend's house, we drove to the building where the auditions were and had to wait in line for three hours until they actually let people in, a group that had swelled to over a couple thousand. When everybody got in, the audition crew for 'Millionaire" had us all do two tests that had regular "Millionaire" questions and then movie related questions and you had to past at least one to get to the interview process.

    After another couple of hours and after they announced who passed, only a couple hundred(including my friend and I) remained. Then we had to fill out interview forms and wait another two hours before our interviews. Then, they put the people who they like together for another interview. Unfortunately, my friend and I didn't make it that far, and I had to drive through the perilous Cincinnati traffic back home knowing that I didn't make it(it was confirmed later with a postcard).

    However, when the Movie Week episodes premiered, I recognized a couple of contestants on there that were there in Cincinnati. I realized that the game show interviews are probably a lot like reality show interviews, insomuch that the fact that you have to have a hook and be what they consider interesting is more important than actual movie knowledge. The one contestant's story was he had tattoos of the Universal monsters. The other contestant's story was that she rented all her movie at the library. Neither one got too far in the game. I wasn't bitter, just educated on how important image is in t.v. today.

  10. Good grief Adam Riske you're so darn cool. When I was a kid, I would constantly make lists on the computer. All of movie characters. I would pick topic and make giant lists of movie characters each with two pictures of that character. I can't even say how often I did that.