A Eulogy for the Saco Cinemagic

Cinemagic is dead. Long live Cinemagic. 

Earlier this week, Zyracorp Entertainment announced that it will be closing all of its Cinemagic movie theater locations. It is the stark truth of the pandemic, which sent the reality of declining theatrical ticket sales into hyper-drive, that movie theaters and all the jobs and experiences that come with them will never recover. I wrote about it in a broader sense a little while ago in an article you can read here, but the news about Cinemagic brings it home. The Saco Cinemagic & IMAX Theater was my second home growing up. Was the Saco Cinemagic the cleanest or more luxurious movie theater? Absolutely not. But was it the one where I saw more movies than anywhere else and formed the basis of the film knowledge that has grown into my most considerable obsession? No question. Without a doubt,  I have more fond memories of watching movies at the Saco Cinemagic than anywhere else, possibly apart from my bed, but even a four-inch memory foam topper cannot compete with the rush of hearing the first notes of the impossibly catchy “You’ll love Cinemagic” jingle

Whether it was the early days of birthday parties, the standing in line for the various Harry Potter, Marvel, or Star Wars debuts, or the more recent examples of dragging my friends and family to watch the arthouse movies I was desperate to catch on a big screen, Cinemagic had it all. They even had a great arcade that was a true marker of becoming an adult for me: when I realized I no longer had to beg my parents for change to play the games and could simply arrive a little early and pay to play them myself, my worldview changed substantially. Especially in a small Maine town where there are limited options for what you can do on a Friday night, or really any other night, Cinemagic was a cornerstone of hangouts and entertainment, a dependable place to buy some over-priced candy, if you hadn’t planned ahead and bought some to smuggle in at the gas station next door, and settle in for a couple of hours of fun. As I write this, I’m leafing through the stack of movie tickets from Cinemagic that I saved, and the sheer number of movie experiences I was lucky enough to have in their halls is, for possibly the first time, making me misty-eyed over a corporate closure. 

In order to properly celebrate the legacy of the movie theater that will forever hold a special place in my heart (you never forget your first, or so they say…), I offer you a selection of my most memorable Saco Cinemagic movie-going experiences organized by the release date of the movie they are associated with. If you too hold happy thoughts of the theater, please sound off in the comments. 

1. Revenge of the Sith (2005)

Seeing Revenge of the Sith was not my first big-screen experience, but I do believe it marks my first “Oh shit!” movie moment. We owned a VHS collection of the original three Star Wars films and the DVDs of the first two prequels, and as a result, they were some of my most re-watched movies as a kid. But, I never thought of them as being theater experiences, so seeing Revenge of the Sith was akin to having my 10-year-old amygdala experience the adrenaline shot from Pulp Fiction (1994). Seeing Anakin (Hayden Christensen) and Obi-Wan (Ewan McGregor) duel on Mustafar, for better and worse, earns the distinction of being the precise instant I realized what a blockbuster could achieve on the big screen. 

2. Paul Blart: Mall Cop (2009)

No, I can’t believe this movie is on here either, but seeing Paul Blart: Mall Cop just happens to have also been the occasion of my first date in seventh grade. Not the best date movie, but cut me a little slack, I was 14 and had no actual idea what I was doing. Making this one even more legendary is the fact that my mother came along to the date with my little brother in tow because he also wanted to see the movie, and they posted up a few rows behind my date and me. The movie was not good, but the memory does give me a fabulous first date story that was, for all intents and purposes, awkward but much less disastrous than it could have been. Let me also take this moment to publicly thank Lauren for sticking that one out, and becoming a dear friend even though our middle school romance was never meant to be. 

3. Killers (2010)

On the other end of the romantic spectrum, it was on a fateful night when I went to see Killers, another godawful movie, with a group of friends and my then-secret girlfriend (her parents didn’t want her to date so apparently I had a rebellious phase in eighth grade). I wanted to see Knight and Day (2010) starring Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz, but was soundly outvoted. That should have been the first sign the night was never going to end well, but I naively thought “Hey, it’ll be great anyway!” Turns out that after the movie, or maybe before, I am admittedly a little fuzzy on this one, my secret girlfriend decided it was time to call it quits. And so, I suffered through a terrible movie and a breakup from a fake relationship that my friends, to this day, make fun of me for. Plus, for posterity, Knight and Day is a FAR better movie. 

4. Django Unchained (2012)

Confession time: I lied about having seen Quentin Tarantino movies when I went to Cinemagic and saw Django Unchained. In 2012, because of one French class, I somehow stumbled my way into a friend group of classmates the year above me. Within that group were a few budding cinephiles, and so when the new Tarantino movie came out, they were excited to go. Already being someone who was tender about wanting to seem cool when it came to movies, and knowing nothing about Tarantino beyond my parent’s assertion that his movies were “gross and bloody,” I naturally lied and said I loved him and would “for sure” come to the movies. Flash-forward to the night of said movie adventure, and I was in my seat totally unsure of what I was about to see. In the end, I loved the movie, and it started my proper experience of Tarantino. Inglorious Basterds (2009) may now be my clear favorite, and I can look back on and recognize the problematic aspects of Django, yet it will forever be my first theater Tarantino. 

5. The Avengers (2012)

This movie was a true moment for me and my friends. Counting up the ticket stubs now, I can say with full confidence that I paid to see The Avengers eight times. With an early May release date, the movie perfectly rode the sweet spot of end-of-school excitement into summer freedom. With nearly nine years of distance, it’s hard to fully relay the thrill of being a Marvel fan and experiencing that movie as it burst onto the scene. My 16-year-old self could never have imagined what the long-term implications of the movie would be for the film industry, nor that I would write numerous think-pieces about it for this site, and so it was simply unabashed adrenaline and the joy of being in the theater with a group people as excited about it as I was. It is some of the purest joy of movie-going to share the viewing experience with other people, both friends, and strangers, and over eight trips to Cinemagic to see The Avengers, the final hooks of love for theatrical movie-going were wedged deeply into my soul. 

6. 12 Years a Slave (2013)

My brother Aidan is five years younger than me. That means, among other things, that he has been continuously subjected to my plummet into film nerdiness, and bless him, he has opted to come along for the ride. The result has been a years-long experience of searching for movies we both love. I mark us going to see 12 Years a Slave at a late showing as one of the first proper examples of this. I desperately wanted to see it, and 12-year-old Aidan, with a budding interest in American history that has continued to this day, felt the same. And so we went to see it, just the two of us. The movie is remarkable. What sticks with me, even beyond the power of the film, is the feeling of going through the emotions of watching it with Aidan. My brother is one of my best friends in the world, and in my life, there are fewer joys greater than experiencing transcendent art with someone who means the world to me. 

7. Nightcrawler (2014)

Continuing in the vein of Aidan-and-I -go-to-the-movies, and kicking off a trio of important 2014 Cinemagic memories, is the night we went to see Nightcrawler. This was a late show in a nearly empty theater, my favorite kind of viewing for the sort of grisly thriller that Nightcrawler is. The film has remained a favorite of both mine and Aidan’s, a bloody satire of the American obsession with cutthroat news stories, but the most memorable part of that night was what happened after we left Cinemagic. The best movies stay with you after you leave the theater, and we were both reeling from the unsettling feeling Nightcrawler left us with. Therefore, you can imagine how freaked out we were when on the drive home a man with a flare suddenly appeared in the middle of the road at a point where there are usually zero humans. I slammed on the breaks and Aidan, relaying the thought I had in mind, shouted “We’re gonna die!” Thankfully, that was not the case, and a few seconds later we realized that the man with the flare was a conductor alerting us that a freight train was crossing the road on a set of rarely used tracks. With frayed nerves, we carried on home after the train passed, but I still drive slow on that corner at night, just in case. 

8. Boyhood (2014)

Richard Linklater’s treatise on growing up as a boy in America came out at possibly the perfect moment to have the maximum impact on my life: summer 2014, hardly three months after I graduated from high school. While my life up to that point was markedly different than what Mason (Ellar Coltrane) lived out on screen, the beats of innocence, adolescent strife, and launching off into the precipice of adulthood in the form of starting college resonated with me on an undeniable level. I was the same age that Mason was when the movie ended, and so the touchpoints of pop culture that he experienced while growing up were the exact same ones I had, a fact that heightened the connection to a level even beyond that which existed in the already stirring developmental similarities. I saw this movie at Cinemagic with my mother, and to watch it with her, a movie that deals in such a distinct way with the relationship between mothers and sons, was moving and unforgettable. My relationship with her may be vastly different than the tense and confrontational one that Mason and Olivia (Patricia Arquette) had, but once again the broad strokes of maturing from a child to a young man are reflected in universal ways. No matter how many times I watch the film, and regardless of the circumstances, I am always transported to that first viewing and what it meant to me. 

9. Gone Girl (2014) 

Gone Girl is that rare example of a film adaptation of a book that meets and possibly surpasses, my expectations. Gillian Flynn is my favorite living author, and so I was overjoyed when David Fincher signed on to direct the film version. The movie came out during the fall while I was waiting to start at Middlebury in February (#Febs4Ever), so I was working at a hotel at home while I passed the time. This meant that I was lucky enough to see the movie with my mother, who is as big of a fan of the book as I am, and my dear friend and former English teacher Barbara, with whom I had carried out an independent study on film criticism during my senior year of high school. Together, these two women represent an enormous part of my formation into a cinephile. As I wrote about in this piece, my mother passed on her love of Alfred Hitchcock to me. Barbara comes in because it was her class, titled ‘This American Life,’ that showed me film studies was a viable academic path, and my plan to be a film major was solidified by the independent study I did with her senior year. And so, watching Gone Girl, a text I have gone on to study at length, with my mother and Barabara remains one of my most beloved and memorable movie-going experiences, Cinemagic-based or otherwise. 

10. Vice (2018)

Vice is a stand-in for my family’s long tradition of going to Cinemagic to see a movie on Christmas Day. We have done it for as long as I can remember, and seeing Vice in 2018 was the end of an era [yes, Rise of Skywalker (2019) was the Christmas movie a year later, but we didn’t see it until December 26th so I’m expunging it on that technicality]. It represents my family’s quirks well that we chose to see Adam McKay’s rather unsuccessful but entertaining satire of Dick Cheney’s (Christian Bale) life on Christmas; Aidan as the budding politico, me as the devoted cinephile, and my parents as life-long anti-Bush stalwarts. Yet it was not a showing without exterior drama, as the projector crashed just before showtime and resulted in a 45-minute delay before the movie started. During that time, my mother successfully negotiated free tickets for the whole theater because of the delay, and I used the time to run to the bathroom every 15 minutes or so to satisfy my baby-squirrel-sized bladder before locking in for a long movie. Thankfully, Cinemagic had just replaced their chairs with the newer, plush leather, reclinable models, so the extra 45 minutes were at least comfortable. What a memory, what a weird movie, and what a way to spend Christmas.

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