The Old and the New

As I wandered the Michigan Theater in Ann Arbor on the evening of September 12, 2006, I was fascinated by the many contrasts of the old and the new. The theater was hosting the Grand Opening of its MicroCinema Gallery, a collection of video screens that were scattered throughout the Grand Foyer and other parts of the theater.

Patrons sipped champagne and bottled water and munched on caramel corn as images flickered in all directions. Some screens displayed visual experiments that were open to various interpretations, while others had more concrete and sociopolitical meanings. As you watched one of the video screens, you might overhear conversations among visitors about their current creative projects like video blogs.

The setting was both vibrant and relaxed. It was a privilege to roam the various parts of the Michigan, savoring the finely restored detail that has survived more than 75 years. High in the balcony, the sounds of the Barton organ filled the air with cozy delight.

It was quite appropriate that the evening included a premiere of the first half of a PBS documentary on Andy Warhol. The already stimulated imaginations of that evening’s crowd watched this fascinating film on an artist who was both a product and creator of the commercial and avant garde art of the second half of the twentieth century.

The film also showed off the new digital projection facilities of the Michigan. In a September 17, 2006 article in The Ann Arbor News, theater CEO and Executive Director Russ Collins noted, “Probably, in the short term, a third of our product will probably end up being digital cinema. A quarter to a third. Eventually, I’m sure it will be 90 some-odd percent.”

As I took in the excitement of this pleasant evening, I happened to stroll through the Ford Gallery of Ann Arbor Founders, which leads to the Screening Room. There, on a display titled “Movies Come to Ann Arbor,” I realized that filmgoing in Ann Arbor was circling back to its beginnings exactly a century earlier:

“In late 1906 three storefront movie theaters opened downtown showing short films for a nickel: the Theatorium at 119 East Liberty, soon followed by the Casino at 339 South Main and the Bijou at 209 East Washington.”

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Copyright © 2006 by Robert Hollberg Smith, Jr.

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