“Movie House of Worship” is a regular feature spotlighting our favorite movie theaters around the world, those that are like temples of cinema catering to the most religious-like film geeks. This week, FSR writer Daniel Walber shares one of his favorite theaters. His comments are those quoted. If you’d like to suggest or submit a place you regularly worship at the altar of cinema, please email our weekend editor.
Name: Hiway Theatre
Location: 212 Old York Road Jenkintown, PA
No. of screens: Just one!
Current first run titles: Silver Linings Playbook
Repertory programming: Children’s matinee series (the next of which will be A Christmas Story, of course) and a monthly discussion group that watches a current film and then takes part in conversation led by lecturer/professor Adrienne Redd.
Special Events: Past events have included a program of gangster movie clips presented by Glen Macnow and George Anastasia in connection with their new book, The Ultimate Book of Gangster Movies, and a sing-a-long screening of Mamma Mia! hosted by local drag performers Chumley and Carlota.
Why I Worship Here: I grew up just three blocks from the Hiway, and there’s nothing quite like having a movie theater just a five-minute walk away from home. Now that I live in New York City that seems like a silly thing to be excited about, as there are cinemas everywhere here, but as a teenager in suburban Philadelphia this was a big deal. But I love this place for more than just proximity and the charming smallness of Jenkintown, PA. It can be very hard to find foreign and independent movies outside of the city, and even with its single screen the Hiway is an important connection to the more exciting things going on in the world of film. This is where I first encountered the Coen Brothers, subtitles and, perhaps most importantly, Woody Allen. Incidentally, Melinda and Melinda may not be a great movie, but it’s absolutely brilliant if you’re 16 and have never seen a movie with such an odd screenplay before.
Why You Should Worship Here: You shouldn’t run off to see a movie just on my nostalgia alone. However, I do think the Hiway is perfect for the kind of formative experience that creates young cinephiles. In a region full of typical America shopping mall-embedded multiplexes, there’s something profoundly charming about a single screen that has been showing films since the Silent Era. Don’t just take your kids to the matinees specially arranged for the youngest among us, drag your teenager to whatever happens to be playing. All it took was a couple screenings in 2002, Chicago and The Hours if I remember correctly, and I was walking over to the Hiway on my own.
Recent Event of Note: At the beginning of last year, I was back in town, unable to attend a screening. I did, however, manage to witness the dedication of the new 20-foot neon tower over the theater. The Hiway has a long and complicated history, having changed ownership and names more times in the last century than anyone in town can easily remember. It wasn’t always the visual center of the community, and it’s had some rough years. Yet the major renovation in 2007 was a big success, and the new sign is just something else. It’s the final touch, bringing movies back to the center of the life of a community that isn’t always entirely sure whether it wants to support its own culture.
Devotion to the Concessions: The popcorn is good, I can attest to that. They also usually have something in the way of Toblerone, European chocolates that I have a bad habit of finishing before the previews have even ended.
Last Word: Theaters like this close down far too often, and in many ways Montgomery County, PA, is privileged to hold on to the two it has left. The Hiway and The Ambler Theater are, with their twinned signs, among the most cherished institutions of the northern Philly suburbs, and should stay that way. With its lone screen and classic signage, The Hiway is a piece of history, but one that is ready to bring a new generation of young local kids to a love of movies.