The Last Picture Show

Movie theaters used to have majestic screens, rocking chairs, and real butter. Some still do.

This summer the 67-year-old neighborhood mainstay will get a face-lift, says Bill Irvine, the Parkway's owner of 22 years. New carpet and paint have been ordered, and Irvine hopes to restore the theater to the way he remembers it from first working there almost a quarter-century ago. He was the manager then; when the owner decided to sell to a porn operator from Omaha, Irvine kept bidding up and six months later was able to buy back what had already become an X-rated venue.

The Parkway still is rarely packed the way it was in the glory days; yet Irvine's eclectic choice of features attracts a healthy and motley collection of patrons to each show. Irvine says he'll bring in just about any film as long as it's an indie and it's good. Recent offerings have included It's In the Water, a spoof on homophobia, and The Big One, Michael Moore's latest tirade against corporate America. "It's hard to describe," Irvine says of his programming. "But I know what I'm doing." (Kelly Wittman)

John Noltner

Roseville 4 Theatres
1211 Larpenteur Ave. W.

For two bucks--half that on Tuesdays--you're pampered into another world. As the opening credits roll--perhaps for the double-Oscar acting tour de force As Good As It Gets--you sink into your seat and get hugged firmly, but not clammily, like you're some kind of dignitary. If you tip your head back, the plush chair is up there to catch it, spring-loaded and ready to rock the go-go-go of your day away. No movie-theater seats in town can settle your bones like the Roseville 4's rockers.

And there are hundreds of them. Many of the older multiplexes have sliced and diced their space until the screens seem no bigger than postage stamps and the soundtrack from the flick next door bleeds into your consciousness like the screams of a comedy-club heckler. The Roseville is large enough to accommodate more than 200 people in each of its four screening rooms, and even the two equipped with Dolby sound somehow keep the noise where it belongs.

Further setting the Roseville off from its multiplex peers is the fact that it's strictly a mom-pop-and-sons operation. The theater is owned by GTI, or Guetschoff Theaters Inc., and five or six days a week the 58-year-old ticket clerk in the red, white, and blue uniform is clan mother Barb Guetschoff, who commutes 40 miles from Cambridge. Until recently, Guetschoff and her family owned theaters in Rosemount, Hastings, Apple Valley, Elk River, Cambridge, Shakopee, and Roseville. Now Roseville is all GTI has left. With just two years remaining on its lease, and the possibility that the Rainbow Foods next door might decide to expand, no one wants to buy it.

Which is fine with Guetschoff. The theater feels like family, she says, and as if on cue a former worker named Margaret stops by the counter to chat and get updated on the grand gathering Guetschoff has planned. "We're going to have a bunch of former employees in and watch a movie at midnight on Saturday," Guetschoff explains later. "Margaret lives in New Mexico now, and we'll also have people coming in from Moorhead, Sandstone, Eagan."

Even when it's not conducting special screenings for alumni, the Roseville is a busy place. Just a few block east on Larpenteur Avenue are the McDonough housing projects, and it is not uncommon for carloads of Hmong families or teens to help sell out the theater for the weekend shows or the Tuesday discounts. A few years ago, when Batman finally hit the second-run circuit, lines extended 50 yards along the sidewalk. For a middle-aged matriarch who has spent years in the Thai refugee camps, it is a bold but worthwhile adventure to part with a few precious dollars and rock beside her children in front of Jurassic Park, Disney animation, or the latest Hollywood disaster scenario. "We're probably more multiracial than most places," Guetschoff allows.

"Did you sleep with her?!" Jack Nicholson demands to know, jealous of Helen Hunt and Greg Kinnear; you sigh and reach deeper into your popcorn bag. For years, local moviegoers have been aware that the Riverview Theater uses real butter on its popcorn. As it turns out, so does the Roseville 4--no brag, just fact. You munch a little, you rock a little, you watch a little. It is as good as it gets. (Britt Robson)

Grandview 2 Theatres
1830 Grand Ave.
St. Paul

Highland 2 Theatres
760 Cleveland Ave. S.
St. Paul

As a child growing up just off the intersection of Fairview and Ashland in St. Paul, Pat McLaughlin spent a lot of time in St. Paul's neighborhood movie theaters. There was the Park, at Selby and Snelling, where for 12 cents McLaughlin could buy an entire afternoon of entertainment, preferably cowboy flicks. If he had a few cents left over after buying his ticket, he'd get a Hollaway sucker. The hard caramel on a stick would last all the way through the newsreels, through the comedy shorts, and, if he wasn't greedy, through the double feature.

McLaughlin, now 53 and a consultant to small businesses on health-insurance issues, made the rounds to all the theaters in his part of St. Paul: the Uptown, on Grand near Lexington; the St. Clair, at St. Clair and Snelling; the Midtown, at Como and Snelling; and the Randolph, on Randolph and Hamline. Most of them have long since been shuttered (the St. Clair and the Midtown, strangely enough, were both converted to racquet clubs), but McLaughlin's favorite lives on.

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