Hard Candy: Save The Beach Theatre

By Cathy Salustri

Save the Beach Theatre.

I love a feel-good movie, a bag of popcorn with fake butter and a glass of wine.

The wine part is weird, I admit, but blame my misguided youth: for a brief while in college I fancied myself a film student, which meant going to see a lot of art films at the Enzian theatre, where they served Gardenburgers and cheap wine. I love Gardenburgers but hate art films as much as I cannot abide the patchouli-scented men who make them, so I failed at the whole film student endeavor, traded my black cords in for some sundresses, and happened upon this cool beach community. With only two “art houses” in the area I could catch Tom Hanks films without ever bumping up against a serious young man in black jeans and wire-rimmed glasses who wanted to show me his claymation documentary. Despite its artsy films I preferred the Beach Theatre to others, because when it did show popular movies instead of brooding subtitled affairs, I’d get popcorn and a cheap mini-bottle of red wine and pretend I was in college again, only this time I could watch a movie I actually enjoyed.

But then something changed: movies started to suck. Computer-generated explosions replaced plot, and the dark, Quentin-Tarantino-on-barbituate, brooding characters replaced George Clooney and Harrison Ford as on-screen idols. When I realized that Pulp Fiction wasn’t a fluke, I took to watching my Goonies and As Good As It Gets DVDs.

The critics promised me Super 8 was different. I walked over to the Beach Theatre, which, as it fell on hard times, started (much to my relief) pandering to the lowest common denominator of the moviegoing public: me. I bought my beloved artery-clogging buttery popcorn and requested my cheap mini-bottle of wine.

Save the Beach Theatre, which was out of wine. In fact, their cooler’s kind of bare. The registers don’t have receipt tape. The seat arms wobble in what I choose not to view as an allegory for the entire place.

Save the Beach Theatre, owned by St. Pete Beach resident Michael France. He’s made public his struggles with the classic movie house, and he says he’s trying to convert the theatre to a non-profit to keep it going. After last night, I do not know if he can hold on that long. Rumor has it he’s going through a wicked divorce, and I can’t imagine he’s got a lot of energy left in him to keep fighting this fight.

Save the Beach Theatre, a grand palace once. To me, it still is. But its glory days have passed and those of us who still love it are probably more in love with what it stands for than what it has become.

Save the Beach Theatre, where you can go see Super 8. I loved that, as the critics promise, it’s a Goonies-meets-Stand-By-Me movie not outpaced by special effects. It’s set in the summer of 1979, complete with My Sharona on the soundtrack. Glittery, polished effects and computer-generated images would have ruined this movie.

Save the Beach Theatre, because it occurred to me as I watched the film in my seen-better-days seat and tried not to resent the flat Pepsi that, even though the theatre may be fading, it’s a lot like Super 8: proof that the simple things are grander than the glitzy.

How do you save the Beach Theatre? I have no clue. I do know this: people always tell me that had they known that this restaurant or this business was having trouble, they would have done their part and patronized them more. Well, I’m telling you: the Beach Theatre needs you. Until the theatre gets its nonprofit status, you can’t donate money, but you can buy a ticket. Don’t want to see a movie right today? I’m not suggesting you see a movie: I’m suggesting you buy a ticket.

Save the Beach Theatre because if it goes under we’ll have to head over to the vacuum that is
the Baywalk Muvico. We will buy tickets online, listen to a nifty sound system, and probably order popcorn shrimp.

Save the Beach Theatre because you can’t buy tickets online, and no one’s accusing them of deafening you with their massive sound system, and other than the old-fashioned fake butter on the popcorn, your food choices are limited.

Save the Beach Theatre and keep your money local when you buy your cheap wine, popcorn buttered all the way down to the bottom of the bag, and tickets to a movie that reminds us that you can find the amazing in the unsophisticated.

Save the Beach Theatre, because, like Super 8, some things, including our communities, do better without the glitz.

Contact Cathy Salustri at CathySalustri@theGabber.com, or leave your comments here.

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I write. I take pictures. I love my dog. I love Florida. My 2016 book, 'Backroads of Paradise' did really well for the publisher and now I feel a ridiculous amount of pressure to finish the second book.