Citizen Wausau

A Site About Life in Wausau, Wisconsin

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Stockholm Syndrome: More Musings on a Town Without a Theater

by on May 20th, 2009

[author’s note: This was originally posted on my personal blog, as it was a bit long to be a response to Dino’s post. I’ve added a couple things since then though, based on discussions that I’ve had with some of you fine folks and Mr. Rob Mentzer]

This started as a response to Dino’s Wausau Has No Movie Theaters. Sadly it’s ballooned into a whole post. All the same, I was happy to see that Dino got folks back on track, as the big “Wausau without boarders” debate really missed the point of what he was trying to get across:

The death of a cultural landmark in any community is a sad thing.

Now, far be it from me to talk about the merits of Crossroads Cinema. That place was a pile of crap in terms of facilities. I went to Cedar Creek more often than not, but some of my best Wausau cinematic experiences came at little ol’ Crossroads. Punch Drunk Love, The Fountain and other smaller releases that Marcus barely found the strength to touch with a ten foot pole. The death of Crossroads is the death of the only place that one could regularly (I have been told that on occasion Malarkey’s will show a film on their video projector, so check that out) see limited release films on the big screen, in celluloid and not in your own house in the greater Wausau area, that’s the sadness.

And I should point out those qualifiers. While home video has made indie and other alternate voices in cinema easier to find I would counter with two points: watching video on a TV at home and watching celluloid projected on screen are two very different experiences. For some this might negligible, but for many it’s not. From “going out” to see the film (getting out of the house) to the different (albeit similar) mediums. And the second point I would make is that video rental has been around for almost three decades now, this isn’t some new, amazing phenom. While the internet has opened up amazing avenues for some filmmakers, for the most part, truly quality, artistic cinema will find a way to get even a small publishing/distribution deal. I don’t think this is “a sign of the times” because it’s been this era for almost two generations, it’s a sign of the culture.

And it goes to the heart of what Dino was talking about: the brain drain in Wisconsin in general. Wausau just serves as a (pardon the following shameless self-promotion) microcosm of that. I’m just case number 655321 (kudos to those that get the reference) of this in action every day. And while no doubt it comes from the lack of job opportunities, there’s more to it than that.

It’s a trend of Millennials, for which I am just one of many.

Young professionals are sick of franchise cities, and that’s exactly what Wausau has become; and really almost every city in Wisconsin. No matter where I live I’ll be able to see the big releases, I’ll be able to go to the big name band stadium tours, etc. This is not the current generation’s idea of a great time. We don’t want to shop at Wal-Mart, we don’t want to plan out months in advance to go to the Green Day concert. We don’t have kids, we want to go out on random nights and find new things. We want to be able to go out on a random night and discover an awesome electronica group from Ireland. We want to shop at an open merchant market place.

Don’t get me wrong, I was in the multiplex for Wolverine and I’ll still stop by Target to pick up toilet paper.

But it seems the previous generation, no doubt left over from their massive consumerism in the 80’s, now wants a name they can trust and scoffs at adventure. It’s understandable, when one has the 2.5 kids and high responsibility management positions that sap all of your energy for the day (as opposed to an entry level, leave everything at work position), one doesn’t want to see if a place called the Black Cat Cafe has a good black bean burger. One wants McDonalds because it’s safe, known and reliable. Fair enough, that’s your call. But we’re fresh out of college where we were taught and learned to embrace the off beat and different. We’ve had the internet almost all of our lives and we want what we get there: a huge variety of niche offerings that fit us better.

So how does this all tie back to the Crossroads? It’s one less option. There’s now a monopoly of locations to see films regularly (there already was in terms of companies, but like I said, Marcus would occasionally stick some limited release stuff in Crossroads). This is the antithesis of what my generation wants. Where I live now, there are nine movie theaters within a twenty miles radius; two of them are art houses, one shows first run Bollywood films. The Fillmor, while most of the blame for its downfall (in my opinion) falls on the management, even well managed would probably not be able to stay in business and offer what we want:

New, fresh, different, exciting.

Because that doesn’t sell in the Wausau area. Despite getting media coverage from Citizen Wausau, The City Pages, WSAW and The Wausau Daily Herald, I couldn’t get people to show up and watch the film I shot of their city with an admission price of free. Because it wasn’t made by a studio, and didn’t have an army of publicists getting the word out to convince them it was a safe bet for a good night. And who knows, maybe those fine folks that did come out that night thought it sucked. But hey, they gave something a shot that didn’t have ads on during the latest reality show.

Crossroads closing is Wausau speaking, yet again. They don’t want what a culture that grows and, more importantly, keeps folks like myself around. A community that supports a wide variety of art, expression and culture cultivates industry to support it and produce it, a following to take it in and creates a new generation of bohemians. Wausau’s embrace of the mainstream, the franchise, cultivates a bored youth culture that can’t wait to leave.

I’m not saying people should have gone to Crossroads to see films they didn’t like at a venue with subpar facilities; what I am saying is that Wausau continues to use it’s most powerful voice, the almighty dollar, to vote out everything but the franchises. And this is fine, when I’m road tripping I’m not going to hunt down the mom and pop burrito place when Taco Bell is right off the freeway. There’s something to be said for the safety of the brand name.

But it’s not going to cultivate a culture of art, expression and new ideas.

I am mostly preaching to the choir on Citizen Wausau, a vast majority of the folks here hit up Downtown Grocery, buy their albums from Innersleeve and generally keep a variety of options open for my generation to discover and partake of if we do end up in Wausau. As I said in my quasi-farewell post on my personal blog: you are working to someday make Wausau the type of town I needed it to be now.

But for the rest of Wausau, it’s just sad to see the Visigoths are winning.

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