- Historic Sites
The city of his birth sent Richard Schickel off on a lifelong career. Here’s what the film critic and historian discovered when that job brought him back home.
April/May 2006 | Volume 57, Issue 2
I wonder, though, if the Times Cinema is sustainable. It has been in business at this location—it opened as a newsreel theater in the mid-thirties—almost as long as I’ve been alive, and it is a bit like the house I grew up in a few blocks away, quite unchanged. Its marquee is as welcoming as ever. The lobby is as it was—smaller than I remembered, though what isn’t?—with what appears to me to be the same clock on the wall above the candy counter. It also seems that its 500 seats are the same ones I happily wriggled in so long ago. The big difference is that the rear-projection system has been replaced by a more conventional one. That the theater persists, essentially unchanged, without having been multiplexed or becoming some dubious religion’s tabernacle, is cheering to me. So many of its dear competitors have simply been erased.
You could argue that it, too, has been “repurposed.” It mostly runs cult films for a geeky audience. I don’t suppose its manager—also the projectionist—and his partner are getting rich on the enterprise. I have no idea what its future in the onrushing digital movie age is. But for now it abides. And given that I grew up to be what I am—someone who has devoted his life to the movies, as a critic, a historian, a documentary filmmaker—it is the most important living link to the boyhood enchantments that enthralled me and gave me the first push along the path that all unknowing at the time, I chose. Or was chosen by. Maybe the Times is not a Milwaukee landmark, but it is one of the few extant landmarks of my early life. Lurking in the lobby as my film unreels on its screen, as I hear the laughter Charlie still stirs, a pleasant contentment settles upon me. Past and present connected, I am home at last. After the show my friends and I go oWisconsinut for beer and brats, which taste as good as they did 60 years ago.
As the last destination on my walking tour proved.