From: Thomaston, CT
Registered: Feb 2003
posted September 16, 2007 04:27 AM
From Play Magazine:
The 2 left in the state faced the decision to go porn or close
Nicole D'andrea, Staff Writer
Off Franklin Avenue in Hartford is the Art Cinema, an adult theater - one of the only ones left of this dying breed. Behind the counter of typical movie theater candies such as Twizzlers, Butterfinger and Almond Joy stands Ernest Grecula Jr., the theater's owner.
The 1920s theater was acquired by Grecula's father Ernest Grecula Sr. in 1962. Prior, it was a traditional theater, The Rialto. Grecula Sr. has since passed away but when he first bought the space he showed foreign films that were slightly sexually explicit, recalls his son. Grecula said they were the sort of foreign films you could find today at art-houses like Hartford's Bowtie Art at Cinema City (235 Brainard Road Hartford; 860-549-0030).
As Grecula talks a handful of people come through the theater and he exchanges their $10 for a ticket good for two movies. He occasionally glances at the video screen behind his counter showing the theater's hallway. Some patrons, all men, hang out in the shadow of the hallway - voyeuristically observing the sex on the big screen.
Grecula is used to this behavior and despite the moaning and sounds from the movie; he keeps his composure and explains how his theater has become what it is. "The lack of attendance in our theaters today - the difference is tremendous," he says.
"Back then we were the only place you could see something like this. We were busy. Our attendance was way up. Now it's a fraction of what it used to be."
Roger Katz of Thomaston, an expert on Connecticut cinemas, said there were at least 27 adult theaters in the Constitution state - including six drive-ins - during the height of the adult theater era in the 70s. Katz, an avid contributor to www.cinematour.com and www.cinematreasures.com, says the fate of the Art Cinema mirrors a national trend born out of necessity as single screen theaters were struggling to stay alive.
"That was sort of the last gasp to survive for a lot of the single screen theaters because basically television was a big downfall of the single screen theaters back in the 50s, 60s. The ones that hung on tried to get into porn because you couldn't get that on television," Katz explained.
The popularity of adult films came about as a result of American production of pornographic films, explains Legs McNeil, author of The Other Hollywood: An Uncensored Oral History of The Porn Industry. Prior to the first state-side porn film, the 1972 classic Deep Throat, most adult films were made in Europe and were comparable to the sexual explicit images seen on cable tv today, McNeil says.
"When Deep Throat first came out and there was that two year period of porn-sheik, that's when all the beautiful people went to see Deep Throat and Marilyn Chambers," says McNeil, who was an assistant director of a 1974 adult film, founder of Punk Magazine and former editor of Nerve and Spin and is well versed in the 70s porn hype.
The Fairmount Theater (33 Main St., New Haven; 203-467-3832) on the East Haven/New Haven line is still operating as an adult theater and was quite the scene for the porn-sheik era, says Louise Desiderio, daughter of the former, late owner, Frank Punzo.
"I remember when he showed Deep Throat. I went by there at the time and there were just lines all the way down to the corner. They were like mostly couples. Not like it is now," she says.
Punzo's theater at one time was owned by his wife's family and was a typical cinema of the time, showing first-run films. But when the climate changed and television created empty seats it meant panic for the family. In her 20s at the time, Desiderio watched her family's theater turn from G-rated to X-rated overnight.
"I always remember him saying the last movie that he showed, The Ten Commandments - he had eight or 10 people in the theater. That made his decision and the next day he made a phone call and ended up being X (an X-rated theater)," Desiderio said. She said that her father had friends who owned local small, neighborhood theaters like her family's and those friends encouraged him to show porn to survive.
"That really saved him. It was really terrible before that," she said.
As the 70s rolled on and the adult industry grew, soft-core porn with plot lines became hardcore porn as its known today and the clientele shifted, say both Desiderio and Grecula. Also most of the decline in adult theater attendance is attributed to the availability of in-home entertainment, specifically the VCR and pay-per-view programming.
Standing next to an empty popcorn machine, taking tickets and greeting regular patrons, Grecuala is forced to contemplate what he plans to do considering the need for public adult theaters has become obsolete.
Convert to art house theater maybe?
Grecuala smiles, shrugs. "That avenue has already been filled by the large theater chains. It would be extremely difficult," he says. "The competition is far too big and the pockets of some of these major players such as National Amusements which own Showcase Theaters are way too deep. We can't compete against someone like that."
Though Grecula's spot isn't the place to catch the latest foreign film he does seek other films that extend beyond mainstream porn. "I don't know if the quality has improved over the years. It's more what they call cranking it out. There is no story lines. It's sex for sex sake that's why I reach out to other films like a Marc Dorcel film," he says.
Paul Schuyler, former owner of the Bethel Cinema, now the Bethel Cinema and Café (269 Greenwood Ave., Bethel; 203-778-2100) understands Grecula's struggles competing against the larger companies.
Although his theater was adult under different ownership from 1977 to 1982, he ran the four-screen theater as an independent art house in the early 1990s.
But despite offering foreign films and other works inspired by an alternative, independent culture - he couldn't survive. He remembers the good times like when My Big Fat Greek Wedding helped to boost his business and sell out his theater. But one year after selling the place he laments, "My Big Fat Greek Wedding - we didn't always get one of those." He continues, "The theater business has always been in crisis mode."
Though Schuyler is out of the industry now, lots of art houses like his have managed to stay afloat by showing the occasional first-run like New Haven's Criterion Cinemas (86 Temple St., New Haven; 203-498-2500) and the Madison Art Cinemas (761 Boston Post Road, Madison; 203-245-3456). Other theaters like Hartford's Real Art Ways (56 Arbor St., 860.232.1006) benefit from being an art gallery, café and independent theater.
Who knows how much longer you'll be able to see adult movies on the big screen in all their raunchy glory but having witnessed it first hand at Art Cinema, it is much more erotic than any porno played quietly on your television. Part of trying the Art Cinema is the allure of the single screen theater with ornate architecture and part of it was the novelty that yes, here in Connecticut, you can still see public porn.
Get it while it's hot.
©Play :: New Havens Arts & Entertainment Weekly. 2007
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