September 17, 2014
September 16, 2014
Watch: a musical love letter to Regent Park
Win tickets to see DFA 1979 and the New Pornographers play
September 15, 2014
You can now reserve tickets for the Pan Am Games
One Mann on Dating: You should exercise together
September 12, 2014
Update: It’s official, Rob Ford has dropped out of the mayoral race.
A Celebration of Toronto's Last Porn Theatre
“The Metro's existence just gives my old lapsed Catholic soul that irresistible fix of self-loathing”

image: silenttoronto.com

The Metro Theater — one of the continent’s last fully-fledged pornographic movie theaters — is undergoing a transformation, threatening the very existence of my ritual of pretending not to notice it when I walk past. Local entrepreneurs are planning to turn the venerable smut palace into an art-house cinema, and while they still plan to show porn during the day, I fear that this Koreatown time capsule could lose some of its special magic. Friends, the Metro is more than just a great place to make brief, unpleasant eye contact with people. As those posters for Laura and Emmanuelle remind us, it’s a piece of history, harkening back to a time when the average 12-year-old didn’t have access to millions upon millions of money-shots, and whether you were a virginal freshmen or repressed 50-year-old, the only way to see explicit imagery was to hand over money to another human being.

With its glitzy paint, broken lights, crumbling marquee and faded posters, the Metro emits an exquisite combination of sadness, failure, and glory days long dead. Consider the Metro’s official website, which tells of the theater’s rich history (it opened in 1939 as a neighborhood movie-house, then a burlesque joint) and modest cultural achievements (“Part of this movie was filmed at the Metro Theatre!” says a caption under the poster for Sea of Love) while only briefly mentioning the fact that, uh, they show porn. The theater itself is pitch black, but if they ever turned on the lights, you’d see an old mural of Charlie Chaplin sharing wall space with mounted Hustler magazines. Those of us who were raised Catholic know that pornography feels best when it’s shameful, and it’s that pungent aura of shame, hopelessness, and glory days long dead that I hope any new incarnation of the Metro can preserve.

Shame is certainly what I felt during my one and only visit, not long after my 18th birthday. I’d planned it for weeks in advance, and went with a high-school friend, also newly 18, who sympathized with my pathetic bid to assert my adulthood. We took the subway downtown, had lunch, walked around the block a few times, lingered across the street, extensively considered the consequences of being seen by others, went for coffee, and walked around the block a few more times before finally taking the plunge.

“What’s playing today?” I asked the woman at the cash register.

“You know this is an adult movie, right?” she said.

Fumbling through the pitch-black theatre, checking out seats with cell phone light, it didn’t take us long to catch up on the plot — a drama involving a man and woman’s misadventures in a hot tub, projected from a DVD. We stayed for only three minutes — a small fraction of the time we spent describing the day to any poor soul who would agree to listen. If memory serves, we referred to our visit with terms like “legendary,” “epic,” and “brave.”

Looking back, this whole pitiful ritual barely amounted to an anecdote (and contrary to what the Metro’s official website promised, I do not recall being “greeted with a nice smile” by the cashier), but if nothing else, I’m glad to have experienced it. With the internet making pornography an inescapable part of life, and statistics showing that the average male will spend at least six waking years viewing sexually explicit imagery (probably, maybe), and so many “sex-positive” sociologists talking about how our bodies are nothing to be ashamed of and desire is normal and blah blah blah… well, I dunno. The Metro’s existence just gives my old lapsed Catholic soul that irresistible fix of despair and self-loathing that the privacy of the internet can’t provide.

Who knows what the future has in store for the Metro. Has public pornography had its last gasp? Will Toronto hipsters and hepcats watch movies in the evening where old men have masturbated in the afternoon? Will the government step forward and declare the Metro a historic site? (Come on, Rob Ford, let’s make this happen!). Who knows? All I know is — stop taking this wonderful pit of shame for granted. I say, the next time you walk past the Metro, put down your shopping bags, head on inside, and bask in the glory of its sadness and misery. I think it’s time to admit that Fred Willard was right: down with the internet, up with public shame, and long live the Metro!

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