Thursday, August 13, 2020
Magic Lantern Cinema Gets Creative to Deal with Pandemic Summer
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Rick Kessler notes that his old buddy Darth Vader comes well equipped to take on the pandemic.
   
Tuesday, July 7, 2020
 

STORY AND PHOTO BY KAREN BOSSICK

Rick Kessler was a mere child when he started screening silent films for the neighborhood kids on his father’s projector in the basement of his family home.

His Magic Lantern Cinema hasn’t gone dark in 47 years as a professional movie theater owner, save for a couple Halloween nights when he closed shop because he knew everyone in Sun Valley would be at the  Halloween party on Main Street.

That changed on March 19. He closed the Magic Lantern Cinemas as soon as the 4:30 screening ended  after the governor ordered Blaine County businesses to shut down to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

 
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The Magic Lantern Cinema is taking plenty of precautions to make movie viewing a safe experience.
 

“I thought it would be over by summer,” he said. “I finally reopened last week, but the film companies haven’t made it easy.”

Kessler reopened on June 26 with what he believes are eight of the best classic comedies. They would, he thought, spell relief for those who have been stressing over the pandemic, economic hardships and racial strife the country has been laboring through. Ticket prices have ranged from $3 to $5.

Kim MacPherson, who director of Community Development for Mountain Rides, was excited to get back to the theater after being relegated to watching her TV. And she was brimming with enthusiasm over Jon Stewart’s American political comedy “Irresistible” as she left the theater on Friday.

“It was so worthwhile seeing,” she said. “Everybody should see it.”

 
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Paul Ries had to add another 319 new Idaho cases to his coronavirus curve on Monday. The state has topped 8,000 cases for a total of 8,052. Blaine County added three new cases bringing its total to 542. Twin Falls added 16 for 685.
 

“I’m a big movie buff so I was happy to be back in the theater, eating movie popcorn,” she added. “I love  seeing things on the big screen. Rick put together a great comedy series, and there’s plenty of social distancing.”

Kessler could have reopened his theater on May 30 in accordance with Idaho’s reopening plan. But he purposely held off to time his reopening with the release of Christopher Nolan’s new “Tenet” movie and Disney’s new “Mulan.”

“I thought I’d give everyone a chance to get their feet wet, show theatergoers how we are taking care of them and then we’d move to these new movies. But I’m sitting here with no big new studio films. They don’t want to release the films because New York and Los Angeles are shut down, and, if they were to release them, they wouldn’t get the big numbers on opening weekend that they like to see,” he said.

Americans have been gorging on movies shown on Netflix and other platforms while in quarantine. But watching a movie on TV does not offer the same experience that watching it in a movie theater does, no matter how big the TV screen, Kessler said.

“It’s a social experience to go to the movies—the brain sees things differently at the theater. People tell me they watched ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’ on TV. And I tell them, ‘You haven’t seen it then because you  experience it in a theater.’ You watch a movie at home, and you’re always subject to interruptions at home. You’re on your phone, you’re on your laptop…”

Contrast, that, Kessler said, with the days when the Magic Lantern was across the street where The Apothecary is now and not nearly as soundproof as the current theater.

“You could walk out on the street and hear people laughing or screaming, depending on whether you were showing a comedy or horror film. “I remember walking down the street and hearing people cheering for ‘Rocky.’ ”

Even though locals respond well to special events like the Fall Film Festival, summer is when Magic Lantern does its prime business, Kessler said

“I opened the theater with the idea that the locals would support it and the tourists would provide the cream on top.”

Movies also provide good babysitters during summer, he noted.

“My parents got rid of me for four hours every Saturday. For 25 cents I could watch a cartoon, ‘The Three Stooges’ a serial and a movie.”

Kessler plans to get creative in the next few weeks as he waits for the summer blockbusters to be released.

He’s planed a series of top cult films, such as “Harold and Maude” and what he calls “Ketchum’s own cult film”--“Rancho Deluxe,” which was filmed in Livingston, Mont. He’s also considering a series of Western films and a BYODVD where people can rent a theater and have a party, screening their own movies. He might start up a movie club where people would discuss the film following its showing, as they do in book clubs.

He is currently showing “Raiders of the Lost Ark, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Ghostbusters, and Jon Stewart's, Irresistible. On Friday, The Empire Strikes Back, Jurassic Park, and The Goonies, a cult film for teens will start.

To make the experience as safe as possible, Magic Lantern has implemented a mandatory mask policy. Movie goers must wear masks into the theater and to their seats. They can pull them down once they’re seated if they wish to eat popcorn or enjoy a glass of Chablis.

Kessler has taped off sets of three seats at various spots in the theater so there’s no one in front or back of a moviegoer, nor is there anyone to either side.

He’s also hanging automatic hand sanitizer dispensers in the hallway.

“If someone wants to argue about their constitutional rights being violated by wearing a mask, they can sue me,” he said. “I just want to provide a safe experience for people.”

 

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