As a child who found herself uprooted from her home in Winnipeg, Manitoba, and living in a dreary basement suite on Princess Avenue East with a single mother who struggled hard to make ends meet, every Saturday was special to me. This is because Saturday afternoons were spent in the Paramount Theatre, where I would get to nestle into the inky darkness and be carried away through the magic of cinema to a place where the pain of my parents’ recent divorce was left far behind. Saturday meant savouring Macintosh toffee, red twisty liquorice and those big, soft pink and white peppermints while I waited for the red velvet curtains to part and a world beyond to unfold.
Every Saturday I would watch Elvis Presley cavorting in Hawaiian shirts and crooning to some glamorous female on the beach, or watch as Jane Fonda cantered off into the distance as Cat Ballou. I also remember becoming political to The Little Big Man, and somewhat less political as I smooched in the sheltering darkness to Grizzly. All of these coming of age moments were spent in the Paramount Theatre; and these are rites of passage that I no doubt share with hundreds if not thousands of other residents of Chilliwack who are incensed at the thought of losing such an important and emotionally invested landmark.
I left Chilliwack at age 17 to pursue a university career and I guess the old Paramount was to leave an indelible mark on my future: I am now a senior lecturer in film, literature and new media at the University of Amsterdam and continue to write passionately about film today…including many of the films I saw first at the Paramount like The Poseidon Adventure.
But my personal involvement aside, there is a deeper, more important reason for preserving this heritage site which, when gone, will be gone irrevocably. In 1948 the US government passed what is known as the Paramount Decision which banned studios like Paramount, Columbia, RKO and so on from maintaining a stranglehold on the stars who worked for them, as well as the cinemas that screened their films (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_v._Paramount_Pictures,_Inc.). This landmark antitrust case was a pivotal moment in the history of cinema as well as in the economics of vertical integration. The Paramount ruling marked the end of the old Hollywood system as well as the end of an oligopoly that made it possible for studios to own theater chains that showed only their films. That system was doubtless a brutal one and, over the long run, it was also an unsound economic arrangement that stifled rather than nurtured creativity. And while I am not entirely opposed to the kind of economic decentralization and diversification that gave us the Cineplex of the somewhat smaller big screen, the old Paramount Theatre and the sign that graces its otherwise unglamorous façade embody both an economic order as well as a way of life that is long gone, namely the great age of Hollywood Classical Cinema that so dramatically marked the first half of the 20th century.
This year, Elizabeth Taylor, who made frequent appearances on the silver screen at the old Paramount, passed out of our lives for good and with her, the very last living embodiment of the classical Hollywood era. What Chilliwack now possesses is one of the world’s few remaining architectural monuments to this important historic moment of the past century, and the city owes it to future generations, not to mention film buffs, historians of cinema and just about everyone else, to preserve this important building.
It is my sincere hope that the city can rally the necessary finances to save what could once again become a dynamic venue for the seventh lively art. As a venue that could serve both the purposes of entertainment and film studies, the Paramount Theatre is not just some old building or an eye sore that should happily succumb to the wrecking ball – it is an important signifier of our shared heritage and must be preserved.
In closing, although I live an ocean away, this issue is so important to me that I will happily do whatever I can to help save the old Paramount Theatre…which is really everyone’s old Paramount Theatre!
Dr. Joyce Goggin, Associate Professor
Film, Literature and New Media
University of Amsterdam