Modern struggles of the adult theater

posted by Michael Zoldessy on February 9, 2010 at 7:45 am

BALTIMORE, MD — A piece in the Baltimore City Paper looks at the heyday of the Apex Theatre and how its coping with the current economy.

Behind the Plexiglas at the Apex’s entrance, DVDs, snacks, and sodas are for sale. The cashier estimates that, on average, five customers an hour pay $10 to pass through the theater’s turnstile. Asked when to visit should one be looking for a crowd, he thinks for a second, takes a sip from his paper cup, and says: “About 1965.”

It’s a funny answer. But for the Apex’s owners, it points to an obvious problem: In today’s smut economy, they may as well be wearing powdered wigs and writing with quills. Porn consumers for decades now have been easily getting off in the privacy of their own homes, thanks to the boom of home-video technology in the 1980s and, more recently, the ubiquity of cheap, or even free, porn on the internet.

Theaters in this post

Comments (11)

JodarMovieFan on February 9, 2010 at 1:37 pm

I can’t imagine myself ever going into an adult movie theater. The conditions are probably awful with torn up seats and new meaning to the term ‘sticky floors.’ What kind of presentation would it have? Probably none to speak of except lots of scratches and mono sound.

IanJudge on February 9, 2010 at 2:10 pm

Have to agree with you about the physical surroundings, but as for presentation, here’s an interesting view on the old days before the adult houses went to video projection:

I was talking with one of my projectionists, a 33 year veteran of the booths, and he was recalling his early days working in the porn theaters of Boston. In those days, the local union would start the operators in those theaters and they would work their way up to more prestigious theaters. Nearly all of the long-time operators have more than a few interesting stories from those days as you can imagine!

Anyhow, this was when porn was still on 35mm. All those booths were carbon-arc changeover houses. I said to this projectionist “Gee, that image, though it was poor quality filmmaking, must have looked pretty good with old-school carbons, etc.” And he agreed, yep, those old dinosaurs were super-bright, and with no platters the films didn’t really get damaged all that much.

We talked for a moment and then I said: “you know, it is pretty sad that the porn houses 30 years ago threw a brighter picture than all of the multiplexes downtown do today” since of course so few of the chain booths have a clue about bulb focus, amperage, etc.

He agreed, aware of the irony all too well.

markp on February 9, 2010 at 8:38 pm

I started working in a porn theatre, the Sayrewoods Theatre in Old Bridge N.J. in 1979. It was carbon arc and 20 minute reels. Around 1984 we converted to Xenon and 6000 foot reels. We threw our picture 105 ffet to a 50 foot wide Flat image. That picture was blazing with both carbons and Xenon. The owner was particular about the condition of the place. It was very clean, no sticky floors or torn or broken seats. About the biggest problem was the smoking that went on. After a 12 hour day it was almost impossible to see the screen to make a changeover. I stayed there until 1989, about a year before the place closed cause it was in the way of a highway expansion. To this day it is still one of the best places I ever worked as a projectionist. And I have been one now for 34 years.

CTCrouch on February 9, 2010 at 11:18 pm

An acquaintance of mine managed an adult theatre in the late 70’s. One of the many interesting observations he shared concerned the condition of his former theatre. He noted that there was rarely an issue with adult era patrons damaging the facility or even causing a notable degree of wear. Most of his venue’s wear and tear was pre existing, from the theatre’s previous life as a traditional cinema, and remained/grew worse as a result of the owner’s lack of interest in spending money on maintenance. He even felt that the “porno crowd” were some of the best behaved he encountered over his career, as the majority were focused on remaining anonymous and passing through with the least degree of fuss. I once asked him if he ever received a customer complaint; he responded, “What was there to complain about? The film wasn’t arousing enough?”

JodarMovieFan on February 10, 2010 at 7:10 am

Interesting and amusing stories. Thanks for sharing.

After reading the Baltimore City Paper article, they claim the owners show DVDs on screen. Isn’t that illegal? If I remember the FBI blurb at the beginning of each tape or DVD, doesn’t it have some warning on public exhibition being strictly prohibited?

moviebuff82 on February 10, 2010 at 8:29 am

I know at a library, they fast forward through the fbi warning and then show the movie. Same for schools and businesses.

JohnRice on February 10, 2010 at 5:11 pm

As a veteran of the porno theatre experience in my younger days (hey some of those XXX flicks in 35mm widescreen color weren’t too bad and to this day I’ll take a sex movie over a slasher movie!) I will agree that audiences were extremely well behaved for the most part. Of course it helped that most patrons were men by themselves and the age of the cell phone and texting had not arrived.

I remember one time at the Ritz Hayward (CA) the projectionist got the wrong reel on and there wasn’t even any commotion from the audience. Yeah I know with a porno flick it can be normally difficult to tell even if the wrong reel is on but it this case the feature being shown was a compilation of old black and white stag films (Alex deRenzy’s “History of the Blue Movie”) and the co-feature was a much more contemporary color feature, deRenzy’s “Fantasy Girls” if I remember correctly. It was quite obvious to me that the wrong reel from the wrong feature was on but it was dead silence from the audience. The Ritz had a stadium balcony which I was sitting in so I went over, banged on the projectionist door and informed the sleepy looking projectionist of the situation. A minute later and the projector ground to a halt. Still dead silence from the gents in the audience as the right reel was threaded up and the show then continued. Yeah those were some well mannered dudes in those porno movie theatres back then!

The golden age of legal hardcore porn in theatres was short lived though. Home video understandably brought the era to a rather abrupt end. Most of the today’s porn is pathetic and I can’t imagine how bad it looks blown up from VHS or DVD. Judging from this story about this Baltimore theatre it sounds like one rather solitary activity by some of the patrons is still taking place. On the hottest day of the year you would see guys coming in with jackets to put over their laps. Apparently now as back then you had to watch out for an occasional sticky floor! To put it as delicately as I can…uh it might not be Coke! Aside from that infrequent rude and certainly illegal activity I sort of miss those movie going days. Maybe you had to be there to appreciate it!

JohnRice on February 10, 2010 at 10:37 pm

Oops on the above post I was referring to the Hayward Theatre, not the Ritz. The Ritz didn’t have a balcony of any kind! Those were the two downtown movie theatres in Hayward, mainstream Hollywood until the mid 1970’s when both went the porno.. The Hayward caught fire one night and was later demolished for a parking lot. The Ritz (a Mitchell Brothers Theatre in it’s porno days) became a Goodwill Store for several years before being demolished.

TLSLOEWS on April 22, 2010 at 3:41 pm

Too much free porn out there to make a porno theatre work these days.

Alan Bell
Alan Bell on July 26, 2010 at 10:05 pm

Quite often visiting a porno theater isn’t about viewing the picture on the screen. It’s about networking (so to speak) with members of the audience.

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