Monday, August 23, 2010

Return of the Jedi

Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi
first seen @ Jackson Heights Cinema, Jackson Heights, Queens, NY

So many of the theaters from my childhood are gone. It's a bit depressing sometimes, whenever I go into some of my old Queens neighborhoods, like Jackson Heights, Flushing or Bayside and see what used to be a movie theater but is now a supermarket, or a drugstore, or worse, nothing at all.

The Jackson is one of the few that's still standing. Nestled in the heart of Jackson Heights, right next to the 7 train, this was probably my favorite place to see movies as a kid. It's a simple, three-screen theater, very neighborhood, very local. It's surrounded by a mostly-Latino neighborhood where on any given day, you can smell a wide variety of exotic spices, hear lively salsa music blaring from a dozen different shops, and see as many signs in Spanish as in English, if not more. JH has been this way for as long as I can remember it: food carts on the sidewalk selling churros and arepas, cheap plastic toys hanging from storefront windows, posters in Spanish advertising concerts, and of course, the roar of the trains passing above Roosevelt Avenue on the elevated tracks.

There used to be a second, smaller theater on the other side of Roosevelt - if memory serves, I think it was called the Colony, and it only had two screens. I recall seeing The Never-Ending Story and one of the Nightmare on Elm Street films there. I'd alternate between there and the Jackson, but I always considered the Jackson to be the superior of the two.

The Jackson has two generic, no-frills screening rooms and one auditorium-sized room that, to a ten-year-old me, was the coolest place to see a movie in. It's designed like an old-school movie palace, with curtains, decorative columns running along the sides, carpeting, fancy light fixtures on the walls, and I believe there's even a small chandelier. There's a center aisle and two side aisles. The seats are comfortable enough. I used to envision this room as being much bigger as a kid, but of course, I was smaller then. I remember coming back here as a grown-up to see The Lion King and I was shocked at how much smaller everything was.

The Jackson always had matinee showings (and, to my knowledge, still does). The box office is to the far right as you enter, and the tickets they give you are simple, generic colored tickets like you'd get at a carnival. The concession stand is to the left as you enter the main lobby and to the rear are bathrooms (which have a slanted floor as you enter, which I always thought was odd), and video games - always an important element in any theater, especially to a video game junkie like I was growing up.

There were better theaters than the Jackson, even back then, but this place always felt like home to me, in a way. Maybe it was a combination of things: being a short bus ride from where I lived, being right next to the subway if I wanted to go to Flushing, being a convenient place for my best friend Jerry and me to go to, since he lived not too far away in Corona, being relatively cheap (back when movies were still relatively cheap) - and just having cool movies playing all the time.

The Jackson was where I saw Return of the Jedi - the first movie I ever saw on my own, without my parents. I remember my father driving me there and dropping me off, and I was plenty excited about finally being old enough to go to a movie by myself. My older sister Lynne had already seen it, of course, and she told me about it. I recall that she liked the Ewoks, and when she described them to me she made them sound more exciting than they actually were. (I think she even had a 45 of that Ewok song that somehow became a hit single!) I didn't loathe the Ewoks; in fact, I liked the whole movie. Star Wars in general, though, never left the same impact on me as a child than it did others of my generation. Can't say why.

I still go to the Jackson every now and then. In recent years, I've seen Live Free or Die Hard and The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe there. An interesting concession to the changing times is the Spanish subtitles they offer now. Still, it's surprising how very little the place has changed. It's hung on for so long when so many other, similar neighborhood theaters in northern Queens have fallen by the wayside. The Jackson is a tangible link to my childhood that still remains - and I hope it'll stay that way.

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5 hopes I have for Star Wars Episode VII

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