By Benji Tunnell
JOPLIN, Mo. —
It's a difficult time to be a movie lover, at least locally. When something compelling finally does come to Joplin, our only option has been to trek to the gaudy multiplex, where we will be inundated by advertisements, movie talkers, cellphone users, poor presentation and even worse customer service.
Movie theaters are now more about the product rather than the experience, catering to teenagers with more cash than courtesy and leaving the true film fan left to either swallow their frustration or travel to a different venue.
But that has changed, if on a small scale, last year with the opening of Joplin Electric Theater.
Focusing on niche films that people in Joplin don't usually get to see until they hit DVD or Blu-ray, the Electric has been the only place to see such films as "Beasts of the Southern Wild," "Moonrise Kingdom" and "The Queen of Versailles," all of which most likely have received Academy Award nominations as you read this.
For as many years as I have complained about the lack of quality films playing in Joplin -- especially the inability to see many of the Oscar-nominated films until nomination time or later -- it is refreshing and exciting to have a theater that caters especially to such quality movies and those who love them.
I went to the Electric for the first time since its move to a new location at 506 S. Main St. and its upgrade to new projection and sound equipment. Though it may not look like a theater in the traditional aspect, the experience I found there was much more positive than what's found at the chains.
The movie I saw, "Gregory Crewdson: Brief Encounters," was a thoroughly entertaining analysis of one man's craft. Crewdson is a photographer who creates elaborate setups and stages for his film, putting the kind of effort into a single still shot that you would expect for a complicated movie production. More care and craft went into one of his shoots than I saw in my entire day on the set of "The Life of Lucky Cucumber."
But what I liked even better than the film was the experience that I found there. Not only was the picture bright and crisp (I can't think of the last time I saw that at Hollywood Theaters), but the sound was fantastic and the company with which I shared the film was intelligent, enthusiastic and engaged.
Watching a great film among fans who appreciate them can reinvigorate a movie lover. This wasn't a time killer or something to look at when you're not busy texting. This was a theater that focused on everything that the multiplex neglects: showmanship, atmosphere, experience and, most importantly, the film.
In talking with Chad and Jennifer McKeough, the owners of the theater, I could tell that this was a passion project. Rather than be satisfied with waiting for home release to see independent films, they decided to take a page from the Moxie in Springfield and the Ragtag in Columbia and start an independent micro cinema to serve a starving audience.
There was no rushed feel, no urgency to cycle us out of the theater quickly so that they could get the next crowd in. Everyone present stayed after to discuss the movie or to just chat with Jennifer and with each other. In addition, they also raffled several Blu-rays and DVDs as part of their continued effort to raise money for a friend of the theater, Cooper Vocelka, who was recently treated for cancer.
I've been fairly negative throughout the years about the state of movie-going -- the continual decline of quality, the encroachment of technology and the overall experience we have been offered. It's why I like to visit other theaters, to see how they are run (better), how they treat their customers (better) and the presentation they offer (again, better).
It is exciting to see a homegrown enterprise trying to change our perceptions and expectations for what a movie theater should be. I encourage everyone to support the Joplin Electric Theater, and hopefully I'll see you there.