Say hello to my crappy theater

One of the cool things about Portland (well, about any big city, really, but I’ll claim it for Portland) is that during any given week, there are usually several older films playing somewhere in town alongside the current blockbusters.

I see 10 such films playing this week in P-town, from “Beyond the Valley of the Dolls” at Portland State University’s campus theater (free admission for students!) to “All the President’s Men” at the Laurelhurst (my personal favorite among Portland’s non-chain theaters) to the silent Buster Keaton classic “The General” at the historic Hollywood.

This is great for people like me, who have seen everything in current release but still like to go to the movies sometimes. Home video makes all of these movies available whenever we want them, of course, but the big screen and the big sound system make it a whole different experience.

So I was delighted to see that “Scarface,” Brian De Palma’s infamously excessive tale of a Miami drug lord from 1983, was playing at the Clinton Street Theater this week. I had actually never seen this film, though I am familiar with its most famous line (“Say hello to my leetle friend!”). Yes, it’s on DVD. But a real theater will have a real sound system and a big screen, plus an audience of movie fans. This will be a great experience!

Now, I felt some compunction about going, knowing that the owner is a lunatic who once assaulted a fellow movie critic with a pie after getting some negative press from her. Some of us had vowed not to patronize the theater again. Since I’d never been there at all, though, I figured I could make an exception just this once.

Alas, it was a dreadful experience. The theater itself is fine — old and charming and all that — and the screen is big enough. But the sound system is atrocious, or at least it was Saturday night. I had to strain just to make out the dialogue because the sound was muddled and bass-y. It seemed to be turned down too low, but when audience members complained and management said they’d see what they could do, it got no better. I had to assume that was just how the sound system is there.

After an hour of barely enjoying the film because I couldn’t hear it very well, I left. I figured I could rent the DVD and see the rest of it, but the Hollywood Video near my house didn’t have it in stock. (Well, their computer said they did. But it wasn’t on the shelf.) So I can now say I’ve seen one-third of “Scarface,” and that I’ve been to the Clinton Street Theater enough to know it’s not worth going again. Unless someone can demonstrate that Saturday night was a fluke — maybe it was a fault in the film print itself, not the system — I see no reason to go back.