Column: Going to the Movies: A Blair Witch Effort

By Susan Parker
Tuesday April 04, 2006

The Landmark Theatre Act 1 & 2 on Center Street is shutting down and I can’t say that I feel bad about it. Act 1 is inaccessible to wheelchair users due to stairs. Act 2 can be accessed by using a small lift located in the lobby. But the lift doesn’t always work. My husband and I were once refunded our money after getting trapped inside it, unable to go up or down.  

The last time Ralph and I went to the Act 1 & 2 was in 1999 when we saw The Blair Witch Project on opening night. We were unaware that the film was a word-of-mouth, overnight Internet blockbuster. We arrived in front of the building to find a line stretching to Oxford Street. I went to the box office to inquire about wheelchair seating. I was told there was room for us. 

We waited in line. We paid for our tickets. I took the footrests off Ralph’s wheelchair, backed him into the lift, and shoved his feet underneath the chair. The lift sputtered and stalled, then rose the four feet or so necessary to accommodate the steps into the theater. I replaced the footrests and pushed Ralph into the hallway, then down into the screening room where I maneuvered him into the designated wheelchair space. By doing so we blocked the view of the patron sitting behind us. The seat next to Ralph was occupied by a young man. I asked him to move but because the show was sold out, there were no empty seats left.  

Management asked Ralph to move into the aisle, and gave me a folding chair on which to sit. Now we were blocking an exit and therefore breaking the law. But at least the people around us could see and stretch their legs. After the show was over we vowed never to return. It wasn’t worth the trouble.  

But the Act 1 & 2 is not the only local theater we sometimes rule out as too difficult to patronize. The Albany, Elmwood, Piedmont and Grand Lake cinemas present similar seating problems. Additionally, at the Albany we must enter through a locked side door. The Piedmont requires some tricky hallway turns. The Elmwood has an awkward entranceway to negotiate.  

We are better off in theaters where the wheelchair seating is located in the rear. Though not our favorite place to sit, at least we don’t get in the way of other patrons. It’s sometimes a pain to be seated next to the entrance door, but better than having to ask others to move.  

There are quite a few local theaters in which this type of seating is available. The downtown Shattuck Cinemas is one of these establishments and it works well for us except that nearby disabled parking isn’t easy to find. The United Artists Emery Bay complex provides lots of wheelchair seating and plenty of free, accessible parking. Too bad they rarely show the movies we want to see. 

You might think that the new AMC Bay Street 16 would be ideal, but that is not the case. In some of the theatres the wheelchair seating is located mid screening room on a wide aisle. There is a railing bordering this area. Ralph once leaned back and somehow got the top of his chair caught behind the railing. Several AMC employees had to help me disentangle him.  

Although the seating was iffy at the Act 1 & 2 I did enjoy The Blair Witch Project. Remember the last scene where the hapless protagonist looks into her handheld camera and cries? That could be me agonizing over our next movie date.