The Parkway Theater is the greatest artistic development in Baltimore City in my lifetime. Nothing comes close. If you need to find me for the duration of Trump’s presidency, I will be in the front rows of MICA’s new art-film theater, adjusting my spine to the curvature of its seats.
Nothing prepared me for my first view of its largest theater. It was a vision of a resurrected America — the desiccated jewels of its cities reborn. In the Parkway you see the hopes of 100 years ago, the disappointments of 50 years ago, the maturity of now.
As much as I love it, a lot of people will be disappointed. The renovation cost $18.2 million. Most of it was clearly spent to remove the lead and asbestos, because they barely repainted a single inch. It does nothing to cover up the faded decline of the late century. Every minute in the Parkway reminds you of how we neglected it. This is the story of Baltimore, of American cities themselves, told in a building.
The seating is awkward, yet nearly perfect. It will be sparsely attended enough that you can choose your seats. Don’t sit in the balcony where you look downward or eye-level. Sit downstairs in the orchestra. The shallowness of the orchestra level forces you to crane your neck upward. If this strikes you as uncomfortable, go to the Senator Theatre, it’s exactly the same. Generations watched movies in palaces precisely like that, stiffening their necks upward to be overwhelmed and immersed in images that towered over them. This, not over-comfortable TV-like stadium seating, is the way to watch movies to be awed by them.
People who grew up in the TV age often don’t know how central movies used to be to American life. Sunday was for church, but Saturday was the real day of worship. All ages, all colors and creeds went to movies and sat together sometimes for six hours at a time. It was entertainment, art, news and socializing, all
in one. Highbrow with lowbrow, young with old, poor with rich. It was the experience that bonded America together.
Movies are the most miraculous art yet invented. You’re deposited and immersed in the sights and sounds of worlds completely different from yours. The shape of your mind is changed from the experience.
The fact that Baltimore can now support a full-time art house cinema is the best evidence yet that we still matter to the world and can see the experiences of people from all around the world from our backyards.
Evan Tucker is a North Baltimore-based writer.