The Meanwhile Film Series is propelling Grand Rapids’ retro entertainment culture

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Grand Rapids is a unique city, with an even more interesting entertainment culture. This is not to say that the West Michigan city, with a population of roughly 200,000, is the only place to embrace what could be known simply as retro culture, but it is deeply engrained in the area.

One of the more regular example of this shift in cultural entertainment is the Meanwhile Film Series. Every Tuesday night since the showing of Dr. Stangelove (1964) in 2012, Wealthy Street’s Meanwhile Bar, an establishment mastering in nostalgia and classic no-bullshit bar atmosphere, hosts a movie night at the historic Wealthy Street Theatre. Each Tuesday, a different movie from the past is shown, ranging from Jurassic Park (1993) to Alien (1979) to Friday (1995) this upcoming Tuesday.

The Wealthy Theatre originally opened in 1911, and then in 1998 underwent renovations after being abandoned and left to decay for over twenty years. After its first reopening, the Community Media Center launched a capital campaign in 2004 and raised $2.4 million, allowing the group to renovate the theatre with modern equipment while still remaining true to the historic roots of the city that welcomed it in the early twentieth century.

This brings us to now. Today, the Wealthy Theatre showcases plays and musicals, improve shows and concerts, book signings and flea markets; and movies.

Unlike a movie theater that is dominated by loitering high schoolers avoiding their parents, the Meanwhile Movie Series is catered to the adults who want to return to those teenage movie theater moments. Or for those that prefer films from the past. Or just the people who want to experience a movie that is available for streaming, but do so with others that long for the small sense of nostalgia an old favorite brings.

The best part though: there’s beer! Of course since this is Grand Rapids, beer is sold at the concessions in an effort to cater to the crowd, a majority of which born prior to many of the movies’ release dates.

So, on one particular Tuesday, Edward Scissorhands (1990) was showing at the theatre. A cult classic of the nineties helping to propel Johnny Depp’s career into cultural ubiquity. The film, chosen for its clear past relevance, drew out a crowd to fill the Wealthy Theatre’s auditorium. You’d be hard pressed to find a patron who hasn’t seen the movies shown on Tuesday nights at Wealthy, giving it a super-fans only environment where movie quotes and jokes are shared in abundance.

“But how is he capable of love if he has scissors for hands!” one attendee jokes. He said this was maybe his fourth or fifth time seeing the film. And a movie shown to a group of veterans is only worthwhile if it’s better with each viewing. A part of the film that garnered some of the most laughter was Edward’s introduction to a water bed. Whether it was the genuine comedy of the situation or the nostalgic remembrance of water beds that made the theatre burst into laughter we’ll never know.

What is clear though is that we have an incessant need to revisit an element of our past culture. That’s what keeps the Meanwhile Film Series going, and also what propels the retro culture in the greater Grand Rapids area. From vinyl to used clothing, and everything in between, some portions of our past are worth revisiting — and are worth a fun night out.

Upcoming Meanwhile Film Series Schedule:

  • Friday (1995)
  • Dolemite (1975)
  • Get Out (2017)

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