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A Summer Senator

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The summer blockbuster season is upon us, Hollywood be praised! It’s the time of year when the heroes get better-looking, take themselves less seriously, and save the world a little more easily. The bad guys, meanwhile, get bigger, crazier, and (more often than not these days) computer generated. The next few months mean escapism, too much popcorn, and the cool darkness that only a $9 ticket can buy. And if you’re anywhere near Baltimore, MD, they should also mean the Senator.

This 69-year old movie theater is one of the last bastions of motion picture elegance, especially in this neck of the woods. This is no generic multiplex, but a true movie house. Its single screen is sized just short of a football field, and shows the pictures larger than life, which is how movies are meant to be seen, if you ask me.

The lobby is small and round, holding onto its faded elegance with due dignity. Past the concession stand lies the screening room: tall, wide, and comfortable. It’s as though you’ve come to sit in the great hall of a king’s palace. You would never expect it from the street, but when you take your choice of the 900 seats, it feels special.

What makes the Senator great, though, is not just the building. Buildings fade and crumble, after all. No, what makes the Senator great, what makes it an experience, is its character.

These days, when you walk up to a movie theater, it's often showing more movies than it has screens, but not so at the Senator. When you step across the sidewalk, covered as it is with the names of films gone by, and stand before the glass box office, there are no choices to be made. How many tickets do you need? That’s all the man wants to know. It’s $9, cash only, please, and you’re on your way. In a world drowning in choices, the Senator’s simplicity is like breathing mountain air after a lifetime of smog.

Then there are the people, for it is people who keep these reels rolling, led by the Senator’s owner Tom Kiefaber. Kiefaber grew up in the Senator—his grandfather was a local movie mogul who owned theaters all over Baltimore—and he clearly still loves the old lady. Before each and every show I’ve ever been to, before the previews, Tom gets up on stage in some costume or other and greets the audience. During the Harry Potter movies he had a wizard’s hat, and before one of the Star Wars films (I couldn’t tell you which; I’ve seen all six there) he came up wearing a Darth Vader mask. Recently, before Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (which was just a silly, silly movie) he had on a brown fedora and faded leather jacket. Those few minutes are customer service of the highest order, and transform the experience from just seeing a movie into going to a show.

The Senator is one of those great Baltimore places. Shoot, it’s one of the great places in the world, and certainly my favorite spot for a movie. It may look a little rough around the edges, especially the façade, but renovation plans are in the works, and it certainly seems like this East Coast outpost of Tinseltown has plenty of years, and plenty more movies, ahead.

Coming attractions:

The Incredible Hulk, June 13th
Wanted, June 27th
The Dark Knight, July 18th

For more info, check out the Senator's website.

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About Chris Bancells