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Guest Post: Taking in a Motor City Movie | Detroit Theaters and Cinemas

Posted on Monday, June 11 2012 in Culture

DetFilmTheatre Jason-Vaughn

The following is a guest post by Matt Mergener—

Movies, film, cinema, moving pictures — whatever you call the great modern art form, Detroit has it in spades. The growth of Detroit as a major economic powerhouse in the early 20th century coincided with the boom of film venues around the nation, the result of which is an impressive array of neighborhood theaters, movie palaces, drive-ins and cinema events that still dot the landscape of metro Detroit today. For those willing to look beneath the surface, the region provides countless ways for the casual movie lover and cinephile alike to make movie-going what it should be — an experience rooted in the communal and participatory, an event that creates vivid and lasting memories about issues, people and places long after the credits have ended.

Although the Detroit Film Theatre's summer program will be without its renowned theatre and elegant crystal gallery café (the classiest place to hang out before a film in the Midwest, hands down) due to much needed repairs, Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA) film curator Elliot Wilhelm has still put together a must-see lineup of films ranging from early cinema classics such as Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack's King Kong and Jean Cocteau's Beauty and the Beast, to rare foreign gems including Roberto Rossellini's The Flowers of St. Francis and Luis Buñuel's L'age D'or. Screening in the Detroit Institute of Arts lecture hall as Saturday matinees, these films are part of the DFT 101 series, which means admission is free with DIA membership or purchase of museum admission.

With a new home just off of Rosa Parks Boulevard and a new name that reflects the happening, eclectic neighborhood in which it resides, Corktown Cinema (formerly the Burton Theatre) is set to reopen this summer. In its original incarnation the theater was known for its varied selection of independent, LGBT, foreign and cult films, along with popular outdoor cinema barbecues. Bronson, Rare Exports, RoboCop and Crispin Glover's Big Slide Show are just a few of the titles that played at the Burton in the past. Expect even bigger and even better things this time around from Matt Kelson, Nathan Faustyn, Jeff Else and David Allen — the creative minds behind Corktown Cinema.

redford theatre Jason-Vaughn

As if classic American cinema and $4 ticket prices were not enough, the restored Japanese motif, pipe organ and the cheapest concessions in metro Detroit make a trip to the Redford Theatre a true experience. Originally billed as "America's most unique suburban playhouse" when it opened in 1928, the Redford still packs in crowds for Bogie and Bacall films, Three Stooges marathons and the occasional Hitchcock mystery. The current season features American Graffiti, The Wizard of Oz, Cool Hand Luke and a pair of Hitchcock films — North By Northwest and The Birds — the latter with attendance by actress Tippi Hedren herself.

Great movie-going experiences in the region are not limited to just movie theaters. The Magic Bag in Ferndale hosts concerts in addition to its "Brew & View" events on Wednesday and Thursday evenings, with films of the comedic variety usually complementing the ice cold beverages. For those who feel guilty watching movies indoors during beautiful Michigan summer days, the Ford Drive-in (Dearborn) and the Compuware Arena Drive-in Theatre (Plymouth) provide huge outdoor screens to catch evening double features of the latest mainstream releases. Locallymade cinema also has a variety of outlets in the region, including the 5th Annual Detroit Windsor International Film Festival (June 20-24) and the Mitten Movie Project, a monthly Michigan filmmaker series that usually screens at the Main Art Theatre in Royal Oak.

Where is your favorite place to see a movie in Detroit? Do you remember the first film you saw in The D?



Matt Mergener is a Yooper by birth and a Detroiter at heart. In addition to being the voice behind World Cinema Detroit he works at Google, Inc., volunteers at the Detroit Film Theatre, and can usually be found perusing movie theaters around the Midwest in search of great cinema experiences.

Photos by Jason Vaughn