When I was a little girl, I would make my grandfather tell me about his parents. The idealized and dewy eyed six year old me imagined them to be much like the immigrant animated mice in Feviel goes west, except italian, Catholic and… not mice.
I loved hearing the stories of how they met in the tiny hilltop village of San Marco, Italy. How they fell in love and were married a week later.
The story continues a few years later, in Allentown PA, where my great grandfather ran a handful of movie houses. Now this part never really made sense to me. How do you run a movie theater? Aren’t they all owned by big companies? Six year old me was confused. Those words glowing above the multiplex marquees: AMC, Lowes, Landmark, Arclight… they were all faceless businesses with massive rental contracts and expensive upkeep, how could someone run a movie theater?
Yet in my short little life I had experienced a place that sounded like these “Nickelodeon” things my grandfather was always talking about, it was a one room movie house from the early twenties that stood, up until two years ago, in the center of the town of Nantucket. The seats were hard, the air-conditioning erratic and the tickets surprisingly cheap. As a child, this was my favorite place in the world – This was “The Dreamland.” It was a name that evoked a sense of whimsy, clearly carefully chose to cater to the escapist appeal of the movies. The room was plain, for, as fuller points out, all our attention is to be directed at the screen.
Yet for me, “The Dreamland” represents the strange intersection between the ideals of the old Nickelodeon, the values of a conservative East Coast town, and the desensitization of the American consumer to technological spectacle. The late theater may have matched the stark interiors of old movie houses but failed to prescribe to the bare white bulbs and grand marquees that the times called for. Instead, “The Dreamland” had to retain gray shingles with white trim, and merely a wooden sign for indication of purpose. Why? The island has very strict building codes to maintain a traditional and culturally conservative atmosphere. It’s the same reason that chain stores are banned on the island; the town is founded on the traditions of purists – nothing can change, nothing can stand out. It is this mentality that makes me surprised they ever got a movie theater in the first place, and even more surprised that they had the nerve to tear it down.