2003   NOVEMBER 27   #331

Badger Theatre Movie Phone - Snow White / The Secret Garden / Weekend at Bernie's II

Well, it ain't quite "The Last Picture Show", but…

In 1993, the Badger Theatre, a single-screen movie house in the small town of Reedsburg, Wisconsin, was facing competition. A newfangled multiplex had opened just down the main street, but the Badger's eccentric longtime operator, Elmer Krueger, wasn't giving up without a fight.

When you called the Badger's answering machine, you wouldn't just get the movie's title and showtimes. You would get Elmer's very own plot summary and his personal exhortations of praise for the week's feature presentation. His messages became particularly impassioned for old-fashioned family films such as Disney's "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" or the new release, "The Secret Garden", which he deemed superior to "portrayals of contemporary violence, sexual situations and obscene language". His cheerleading for "The Secret Garden" was extravagant -- and long-winded. If you simply wanted to know when the movie started, you had to wait until nearly the end of his two-minute rhapsody.

But, the marketplace being the marketplace, Elmer couldn't restrict his bookings to G-rated films, which would cede all of Reedsburg's non-family business to the interloping multiplex. Elmer's sales pitch would be notably less enthusiastic when his movie for the week was, say, "Jason Goes To Hell" or, as heard here, "Weekend At Bernie's II", but the message was always delivered in Elmer's unique style.

After I'd become aware of its existence, I made weekly long-distance calls to the Badger movieline for almost a year. Eventually, the number stopped answering and I heard that the theatre had gone out of business. But as long as these messages exist, you can still imagine that there's still a Badger Theatre out there somewhere, where you can munch on the best popcorn in the world, topped by REAL Reedsburg butter.

- Eric Williams, http://www.letsgetouttahere.com

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