March 12, 2010

The Movies on Exchange: the last picture show

NOEL K

— By . GALLAGHER

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John Ewing/Staff Photographer... Sunday, January 11, 2009...Sunday was the final day of operation for The Movies on Exchange Street. Owners Steve and Judy Halpert will continue showing movies at the Portland Museum of Art beginning later this month. Long time movie goer Edie Tucker joined Steve Halpert for a showing on the theater's last day.

click image to enlarge

John Ewing/Staff Photographer... Sunday, January 11, 2009...Sunday was the final day of operation for The Movies on Exchange Street. Owners Steve and Judy Halpert will continue showing movies at the Portland Museum of Art beginning later this month. Judy Halpert recalls the many years of operation the theater has enjoyed on Portland's Exchange Street.

Staff Writer

Snowy weather wasn't going to keep Marjorie Young from bidding farewell to The Movies on Exchange, the downtown Portland art-house theater that closed Sunday.

''I've been coming here since 1976,'' when the theater opened, Young said. ''I see everything twice. And I'm here today for the 1 o'clock, 3 o'clock and 5 o'clock shows.''

Theater owners Steve and Judy Halpert were on hand to greet friends and regular moviegoers who were there for the final screenings. They showed ''Mr. Hulot's Holiday'' at 1, then had two seatings for ''Casablanca,'' the movie it opened with 32 years ago.

''I'm very sorry to close,'' Steve Halpert said, standing by the door of the theater. ''Judy and I are ready for a change.''

While the theater itself is closing, the Halperts will continue to show movies at the Portland Museum of Art, where they will be adjunct film curators. Starting later this winter, the museum will screen films in its 200-seat auditorium on Friday nights and weekend afternoons.

But no one expects it to be quite the same moviegoing experience.

The Movies on Exchange has a vibe all its own. Just beyond the decorative black iron entrance gate, there's the old popcorn machine at the elbow of the ticket-taker. Off to the side of the lobby is black-and-white montage wallpaper showing film legends from Shirley Temple to Jean Harlow. After buying their tickets, the regulars make a beeline for ''their'' seat in the narrow 145-seat auditorium.

''Oh, that stage! Sometimes I just wanted to go up there and belt one out, and I don't even sing,'' Judy Halpert said. ''It's really hard today. I loved everything that went into running a theater.''

Among her fondest memories, she said, were the boisterous, dressed-up audiences attending midnight screenings of ''The Rocky Horror Picture Show,'' the 18 consecutive sell-out shows of Michael Moore's ''Fahrenheit 9/11,'' and the many directors who came to the theater for question-and-answer sessions with the audience.

''It's bittersweet,'' said Zarra Hermann, who worked at the theater for about 15 years. ''I don't want it to end. Ever.''

Several of the dozen moviegoers at the 1 p.m. show were equally passionate.

''I saw the very first film they had here when it opened,'' said Edie Tucker, a retired sculptor. ''I came to two movies here yesterday. I don't think I've missed one film here.''

The theater featured alternative, independent, foreign, documentary and classic films and hosted film festivals. South Portland High School teacher Scott Keysor said he has a lot of fond memories of working at the theater in the 1990s. ''There's something special about being the projectionist in a small theater like this. I remember doing 'Like Water for Chocolate' and seeing the people. I really enjoyed that,'' Keysor said. ''It will be missed.''

Young said she planned to keep seeking out foreign films, whether at the museum or other theaters. But she wishes she could keep going to The Movies on Exchange.

''We need it,'' she said, hurrying into the darkened theater to begin her three-movie marathon Sunday.

''I'm going into mourning for a while,'' she said.

Staff Writer Noel K. Gallagher can be contacted at 791-6387 or at:

ngallagher@pressherald.com

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