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From the home of the Cornjerkers ...

Discussion in 'Anything goes' started by Chi City 81, Sep 29, 2006.

  1. Chi City 81

    Chi City 81 Guest

    The movies stink, so we're closed. Go see `Jackass 2' somewhere else.

    By Bob Secter
    Tribune staff reporter
    Published September 29, 2006

    HOOPESTON, Ill. -- The "closed" sign went up a few weeks ago on the flashy neon marquee outside the Lorraine Theatre, but the 84-year-old movie palace on Main Street hasn't played its last picture show. Business isn't bad. It's the movies that are wretched.

    "Both theaters in Hoopeston are closed ... because of such poor film choices available," explains a recording on the Lorraine's customer hot line. "Go to Danville to see `Jackass 2.'"

    Car dealers wouldn't tell buyers to take a hike until better models came out. No chef worth his ladle would shoo paying diners off to the competition because his kitchen is in a slump. Yet that's essentially what Lorraine owner Greg Boardman did this month.

    He put his two screens here on hiatus rather than sell tickets to the gross-out and freak-out fare he said Hollywood distributors have made available in recent weeks. Boardman said he'd rather show nothing than such recent offerings as "Beerfest," "The Covenant" or the "Jackass" sequel, which topped the nation's box office last week despite getting savagely panned by critics. A Tribune review labeled it "an insult to sophomoric movies everywhere."

    "There's just so much lousy material out there--people vomiting on the screen," explained Boardman, 52, a local boy who now lives in California and uses the Internet to run the Lorraine from there. "I have one of the finest sound systems in the world, and I don't want to waste it on such drivel."

    When the town got its holiday from Hollywood, the manager of the Lorraine did too: two weeks off, with pay.

    The protest ends Friday when the Lorraine resumes operation with the new animated kids movie "Open Season" as well as Disney's recently released football movie, "Invincible." Boardman has several first-run features lined up in coming weeks, but he intends to shut down again if the quality of available films goes soft.

    This isn't some crusade launched by a G-rated prude. The Lorraine has featured its share of "R" fare, from "Brokeback Mountain" to "Miami Vice." There are plenty of action movies, the better to show off the rippling eight-channel digital sound system, a top-of-the-line feature rarely found even in big cities.

    "A purist is too strong a word to describe Greg," said Willis Johnson, head of the Classic Cinema chain, which has restored several old theaters in the Chicago suburbs. "But he really believes in the movie experience and in quality and in presenting something he can be proud of."

    The Lorraine's sudden shutdown caused a brief ripple of anxiety in Hoopeston, where many residents first thought it had been closed for good.

    Even without its marquee lit, the Lorraine is clearly the brightest cultural and commercial gem on a downtown shopping strip anchored by the movie house on one end, a combination video and tanning parlor on the other, and too many empty storefronts in between.

    Even when Boardman's motives became known, they didn't sit well with some.

    Carol Hicks, managing editor of the Hoopeston Chronicle, said Boardman was simply wrong to presume that people here would be turned off to movies like the "Jackass" sequel, whose formal title is "Jackass Number Two."

    "He's got away from Hoopeston and changed," she said. "He doesn't know what people like here."
  2. Chi City 81

    Chi City 81 Guest

    Con't ...

    But Hoopeston Mayor Bill Dewitt blamed any anxiety on the fact that without the theater, "people didn't have anything to do."

    "Everybody loves that old theater," Dewitt said. "I get the impression people think it's really a thrill to go in there."

    Hoopeston, with a population of 5,700, is a frayed-at-the-edges rural center at the northern tip of Vermilion County, about 120 miles south of Chicago, just west of the Indiana state line. It's a surprise to find a movie theater still here at all, let alone one restored for hundreds of thousands of dollars and outfitted with the finest in audio and projection equipment.

    The self-proclaimed sweet-corn capital of the U.S. (the high school basketball and football teams are nicknamed the Cornjerkers), Hoopeston has suffered a prolonged economic swoon. Its once thriving canning industry has withered, and a large part of the local workforce now commutes each day to Danville, 25 miles south, or Champaign-Urbana, nearly an hour away.

    Earlier this year, the National Association of Realtors said the median home price in the Hoopeston-Danville market not only was the lowest in the nation, but also was tumbling faster than anywhere else.

    Decades ago, when rural America was thriving, nearly every little town boasted its own cinema. Hoopeston once had three. But that was before television, videos and regional multiplexes dispatched most rural movie houses the way of the five-and-dime soda fountain.

    Opened in 1922 as a vaudeville house, the Lorraine was known for its great acoustics. It was upgraded for talkies and later for stereo, but the theater had endured years of neglect by the time Boardman bought it in 1987.

    The purchase was a nostalgic lark for Boardman, who at the time lived in Los Angeles and worked as a technical engineer for NBC. He grew up in Rossville, just down Illinois Highway 1 from Hoopeston, and some of his fondest childhood memories were of Saturday matinees at the Lorraine.

    He fixed the leaky roof and replaced the ripped-up seats, reducing the number from 725 to 500 for more legroom. He even made sure the aisle seat lights threw off the same double helix pattern on the carpet that had become etched in his memory as a kid.

    Over the years, he outfitted the place with state-of-the-art screen, audio and projection equipment. A few years ago he added an annex down the block, a cozy 85-seat screening room built into the space of an abandoned card shop.

    The top-notch equipment has turned the Lorraine into a hidden gem of rural Illinois. It has become a magnet for cinephiles who think nothing of driving dozens of miles to Hoopeston to see blockbusters they could see at the multiplex closer to home.

    Boardman lives in the foothills of the Sierras near Yosemite National Park but relies on the Internet to book the movies and handle accounts for both the Lorraine and the Art Theatre in Champaign, which he also bought and restored.

    In a business dominated by nationwide chains, Boardman is a small fry. But he said that keeps the business fun and gives him the freedom to do what he wants--including taking his screens dark if he feels like it.

    "I can do big promotions, I can fly back there anytime I want and show any movie I want," he said. "How many people can say they have their own movie theater and can do that?"
  3. pallister

    pallister Guest

    If the guy running the theater can afford it, more power to him. And big deal if the movies close for a period of time. It's not like it's a hospital or something.
  4. Chi City 81

    Chi City 81 Guest

    Notice the smiley face, pallister. I thought it was funny, nothing more.
  5. Ace

    Ace Well-Known Member

    To be fair, I thought Jackass 2 was getting some pretty decent reviews. (Not that it's great cinema or anything)
  6. joe

    joe Active Member

    That's Verm County for you.
  7. pallister

    pallister Guest


    I agree that it's funny, especially the implication that without the movies, the townsfolk would somehow be unable to pass the time.

    They can always jerk corn, right?
  8. farmerjerome

    farmerjerome Active Member

    Dammit! Where am I going to see Jackass 2 now?
  9. pallister

    pallister Guest

  10. Bubbler

    Bubbler Well-Known Member

    Or better still, drive to Chicago to see Jackass 2. That way you won't be seeing Jackass 2 in the ass crack of Illinois.
  11. Human_Paraquat

    Human_Paraquat Well-Known Member

    The Lorraine actually is a great little theater. It has a big main room with high ceilings and a balcony, so you get that old-time movie house feel. But because of that sound system, whenever there's a big sci-fi or action movie (Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, etc.) nerds and dweebs from Champaign to Lafayette swarm in. (Myself occasionally included — saw the re-release of the original Star Wars there on one of those midnight first-showing deals.)

    I thought I'd heard Boardman was in the process of selling the place. It'd be a shame if Hoopeston lost the theater, because as this story intimates, there's not much reason to be in central Illinois east of Champaign.
  12. Chi City 81

    Chi City 81 Guest

    You're right. About the only semblance of civilization east of Champaign is in the Charleston-Mattoon area.
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