Postmodern Movie Palace On South Lamar!
In the early twentieth century, movie studios constructed movie palaces. These fancy and fanciful buildings with their ornate ceilings and balconies were considered to be the best place to show the feature films that united American culture, especially during the years of the Great Depression.
Over much of the twentieth century, many of these movie palaces were shuttered and torn down, and while first-run films moved out to the modern multiplexes in the suburbs.
When I went to the soft-opening of the remodeled Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar (1120 S. Lamar Blvd.) , I was surprised to find that the theatre that had originally been converted from a rundown Fiesta grocery store has now been transformed into a sort of postmodern movie palace. In many ways, the remodeled Drafthouse with its steampunk feel and knowing winks to early 20th century entertainment (like iconic horror films and both beloved cult classics and charming-but-neglected B-grade horror films ) has caught the entertainment zeitgeist of a certain subset of devoted filmgoers.
Designed by Richard Weiss of Weiss Architecture (who also designed the 2005 incarnation of the theater) the remodeled theater hasn’t lost the indie feel it had before, it’s just bigger and fancier. (Of course, the reality is that now it’s the flagship of a multi-state chain with a distribution arm.)
The most visually striking feature in the remodeled theater hits you when you walk in the door. Much of the floor space is taken up by a mock-up of the hallway from the film The Shining complete with the carpet and a gigantic blow up of a shot from the film. Architect Weiss told me that particular shot in the lobby had been difficult to get. He even described being on the phone with the projectionist of a 35mm print of The Shining, trying to get the exact shot of the hallway from the film!
The ceiling of the renovated lobby now features the old spaceship decorations from the original South Lamar theater, augmented by a 30 foot, 1500 pound steampunk-ish airship (re-fabricated from the giant milk bottle prop from the movie Michael), courtesy of Evan Voyles of The Neon Jungle.
On the lobby wall of the revamped theatre is a 40 foot mural by Heyd Fontenot that references the old South Lamar center being blown up.
The entrance into the hallway with the original set of theaters is a portal with an underworld/ monster theme that invokes entrance into classic 20th century tourist attractions, specifically modeled on The Cafe of Hell in Paris.
The reincarnation of the Highball is much like the original—though it isn’t as dark during the daytime—and reuses the seats and much of the wood from the old bowling alley as part of the decor. Check in at the pulpit on the right if you are looking for a table!
The spot-on zeitgeist of really shines in the elaborately themed karaoke rooms at the Highball. The rooms were designed by husband and wife team Zack Carlson and Laura Fleischaeur of Space Warp Design.
Given my personal sensibilities– and the amount of time I devote to the Scare For a Cure haunted house— standout rooms included the Freaks carnival-esque karaoke room with a two-headed goat, and the Midnight Manor haunted house room with a diorama of a cemetery and a fab vintage-style coffin-shaped coffee table! The mind-altering-when-sober The Fifth Dimension room was also amazing, and has some 7,000 hand-painted glowing stars.
For the connoisseur of the more upbeat things in life, there there is also a Truly Outrageous room that Carlson described as if a Trapper-Keeper from 1989 had exploded, and a Joysticks room that’s a visual homage to the video games of 1982.
Many people will likely like The Inferno room, which features a pentagram burned onto the floor. (Perfect for booking some alone-ish time with that heavy metal drummer you have a total thing for!)
The only disappointing thing is that I was told that the artwork from the movie You’re Next was preserved during the remodel, but was essentially inside a locked closet at the soft open, and no one I talked to knew how to get there!
I suggest that the theater does a video feed from the closet—at least during Fantastic Fest, which will be held at the theater September 18-25.