Flashback to Austin’s Wide Open Cinema Exhibition Landscape in the ’60s and ’70s

All of us who are incorrigible movie fiends have our go-to spots. Obviously the AFS Cinema is A-1 on all of our lists, but we also hit up the Arbor, Violet Crown and the Drafthouse locations, as well as the Paramount Summer Series. And we have our guilty pleasure spots where we indulge in the fruits of Hollywood’s billions while eating popcorn doused in some complex molecular compound formulated to taste like the platonic ideal of butter.

Hey, the heart wants what the heart wants.

As of this writing, all of these locations are closed for the quarantine. Not surprisingly we find ourselves wistfully remembering past moviegoing experiences. Few of us are lucky enough to remember Austin’s theatrical landscape in the ’60s and ’70s, but the ads that follow still fill us with an unaccountable warmth, similar to the aching nostalgia that Wes Anderson once called “a memory of a dream.” Let’s take a timeless tour through some of Austin’s theatrical past.

At the Fox Theater (6757 Airport Boulevard) and Aquarius 4 (1500 S. Pleasant Valley) we have the made-in-Austin OUTLAW BLUES held over for its 6th week. A Mercedes dealership now occupies the spot where the Fox was and condos now occupy the Pleasant Valley location.

At the Southside Drive-In  (710 E. Ben White), the Nazi Zombie classic SHOCK WAVES plays on a double with the Shaw Brothers super-robot movie INFRA-MAN. This is a great double feature. A giant Wal-Mart now dominates this corner of Ben White and I-35.

The Varsity Theater (2402 Guadalupe) has a revival of the two Agatha Christie Miss Marple adaptations and is opening the lefty double feature SACCO AND VANZETTI and HARLAN COUNTY USA. Good stuff. This location supported a Tower records for many years and currently the building reflects the complex cultural fabric of the Drag with a Wells Fargo, a Dunkin’ Donuts and a Baskin Robbins.

Here are a couple of very different films screening at the Showtown USA Drive-In (8100 Cameron Road) now the site of an office complex. I wonder if they had seen more than the poster of BELLE DE JOUR when they booked it.

Another venue that took a sudden interest in international art films was the Studio IV (212 E. 6th Street) now the site of Voodoo Doughnuts.

And finally, the classic gimmick of the green blood makes its way to the Burnet Drive-In (6400 Burnet Road), now the site of a self-storage facility. The “green blood” came in little packets and definitely caused those who drank it to experience some pretty weird things, like standing in a long restroom line at a drive-in theater.


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