The Weekly Newspaper serving the citizens of Morenci, Mich., Fayette, Ohio, and surrounding areas.

  • Snow.2
    FIRST SNOW—Heavy, wet flakes piled deep on tree branches—and windshields—as the area received its first significant snowfall of the season. “Usually it begins with a dusting or two,” said George Isobar, Morenci’s observer for the National Weather Service, “but this time it came with a vengeance.” By the end of the day Saturday, a little over four inches of snow was on the ground. Now comes the thaw with temperatures in the 40s and 50s for three days.
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    SKEWERS, gumdrops, and marshmallows are all that’s needed to create interesting shapes and designs for Layla McDowell Saturday at Stair District Library’s “Sculptamania!” Open House. The program featuring design games and materials is one part of a larger project funded by a $7,500 Curiosity Creates grant from Disney and the American Library Association. Additional photos are on page 7.
    Morenci marching band members took to the field Friday night dressed for Halloween during the Bulldog’s first playoff game. Morenci fans had a bit of a scare until the fourth quarter when the Bulldogs scored 30 points to leave Lenawee Christian School behind. Whiteford visits Morenci this Friday for the district championship game. From the left is Clayton Borton, Morgan Merillat and James O’Brien.
    DNA PUZZLE—Mitchell Storrs and Wyatt Mohr tackle a puzzle representing the structure of DNA. There’s only one correct way for all the pieces to fit. It’s one of the new materials that can be used in both biology and chemistry classes, said teacher Loretta Cox.
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    A TRAFFIC control worker stands in the middle of Morenci’s Main Street Tuesday morning, waiting for the next flow of vehicles to be let through from the west. The dusty gravel surface was sealed with a layer of tar, leaving only the application of paint for new striping. The project was completed in conjunction with county road commission work west of Morenci.
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    JUNIORS Jazmin Smith and Trevor Corkle struggle against a team from the sophomore class Friday during the annual tug of war at the Homecoming Games pep rally. Even the seniors struggled against the sophomores who won the competition. At the main course of the day, the Bulldog football team struggled against Whiteford in a homecoming loss.
    YOUNG soccer players surived a chilly morning Saturday in Morenci’s PTO league. From the left is Emma Cordts, Wayne Corser, Carter and Levi Seitz, Briella York and Drew Joughin. Two more weeks of soccer remain for this season.
  • Front.ropes
    BOWEN BAUMGARTNER of Morenci makes his way across a rope bridge constructed by the Tecumseh Boy Scout troop Sunday at Lake Hudson Recreation Area. The bridge was one of many challenges, displays and games set up for the annual Youth Jamboree by the Michigan DNR. Additional photos on are the back page of this week’s Observer.
  • Front.homecoming Court
    One of four senior candidates will be crowned the fall homecoming queen during half-time of this week’s Morenci-Whiteford football game. In the back row (left to right) is exchange student Kinga Vidor (her escort will be Caylob Alcock), seniors Alli VanBrandt (escorted by Sam Cool), Larissa Elliott (escorted by Clayton Borton), Samantha Wright (escorted by JJ Elarton) and Justis McCowan (escorted by Austin Gilson), and exchange student Rebecca Rosenberger (escorted by Garrett Smith). Front row freshman court member Allie Kaiser (escorted by Anthony Thomas), sophomore Marlee Blaker (escorted by Nate Elarton) and junior Cheyenne Stone (escorted by Dominick Sell).
  • Front.park.lights
    GETTING READY—Jerad Gleckler pounds nails to secure a string of holiday lights on the side of the Wakefield Park concession stand while other members of the Volunteer Club and others hold them in place. The volunteers showed up Sunday afternoon to string lights at the park. The decorating project will continue this Sunday. Denise Walsh is in charge of the effort this year.
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Rex Theatre: End of an Era? 2012.02.08

Written by David Green.


Morenci’s historic Rex Theatre has survived many changes since its opening in 1916 as the Gem Theatre.

Talking pictures came along in the 1920s, and as the black and white television began to appear in more and more homes in the 1950s, movies were produced in color in hopes of luring viewers back to the theater.

In the 1980s, theater owners faced competition from the widespread use of the tape cassette as viewers rented a movie and watched it at home with a VCR and television.

Then came cable television and the DVD, followed by rental services such as Netflix. Movie watchers had one more reason to stay at home during the past decade with the advent of video streaming direct to home computers, televisions and smart phones.

What some call the biggest change since the invention of the “talkie” movie is well underway and this is the one that will pull the plug on the two large projectors at Morenci’s Rex Theatre.

Smaller theaters across the country are expected to go out of business when the movie industry converts production entirely to digital. The word “film” will likely stay—after all, people still “dial” a telephone number—but 35 millimeter celluloid will become a relic from the past.

When will the digital switch occur?

“There’s a lot of conjecture,” said Rex owner Mike Gregerson of Manchester. “It’s accelerated a lot faster than expected.”

Reports that 2012 is the final year for film just aren’t true, he said, but the change is coming.

“Eventually the Rex will close,” Gregerson said.

He knows of fund-raising efforts underway in some cities in an effort to save old, independently owned theaters, but it’s no small undertaking.

The conversion to digital costs about $65,000—and much more for 3D capabilities—and Gregerson isn’t so sure that additional money wouldn’t be needed a few years down the road. A standard film projector can operate for 20 or 30 years and still be usable, but what about a digital projector?

“Essentially what we’re talking about is a computer,” Gregerson said, and no one operates a computer for 20 years. “How often will it need an upgrade?”

Reels and reels

Gregerson’s movies arrive by UPS delivery to his workplace. A typical movie takes up five or six reels packed in a heavy-duty box.

Each reel contains about 2,000 feet of film and represents about 20 minutes of the movie. Before the show begins, Gregerson combines film from the smaller reels onto a larger one—three per reel for an hour of show time. With two projectors, a movie up to two hours is ready for viewing.

Observant movie-goers may notice a dot that appears at the top right of the movie screen about an hour into the film. That’s the projectionist’s cue to turn on the second projector and watch for another dot.

When the next dot appears, the operator turns the switch to put the second projector into action and turns off the other projector.

There was a time about 10 years ago when distributors tried sending only the two large reels, Gregerson said, but they proved too unwieldy.

With digital movies, the 30 to 40 pound box of reels disappears and theaters receive delivery of a hard drive to connect to the projector. Even that method is old-fashioned for some theaters. At a few locations, data is pulled in via a satellite dish.

The changeover to digital will save studios an enormous sum of money. Gregerson read that each print of a movie—and hundreds of prints are made for distribution across the country—costs up to $2,000. Digital production costs less than $250.

Many larger theaters are involved in a program that helps pay for digital conversion through a rebate. The distributor is passing on some of its savings to theater owners. Skye Cinema in Wauseon is taking advantage of that, reported co-owner Mindy Gleckler. All of its projectors were converted to digital last November. 

Many of the larger multiplexes are already using digital projectors and the effect on the small theaters is obvious.

Until recently there were two distributors for films, Gregerson said, but that’s dropped to just one. Deluxe Entertainment had a depot near Detroit’s Metro Airport and he often drove there to pick up a print. Last year Deluxe subcontracted its 35mm film distribution to Technicolor, and Technicolor turned its film print making over to Deluxe.

As digital gains in popularity, there are fewer 35mm films for theaters to share.

“It’s a challenge for smaller theaters,” Gregerson said. “The availability of films is much reduced, especially in the last year.”

Where in the past there might have been 200 prints for theaters to share for distribution in the state, now there might be only 40. Theaters with film projectors are now vying for a limited number of prints.

Where the Rex used to wait three to four weeks for its turn to show a new release, now it often takes seven to eight weeks.

“There’s lot of discussion about how important smaller theaters are to distributors,” Gregerson said.

He’s read that 50 percent of the U.S. screens now use digital projection, but that accounts for 80 percent of the distributor’s revenue.

World-wide distribution is also a concern. After the first-run showings in the U.S., films are sent to other areas such as South America where digital is rare other than in big cities.

“There’s a question of whether there will always be a limited number of film copies available,” Gregerson said. “There’s a lot of discussion.”

None of the studios have said that film production will end, but he figures eventually one studio will make the announcement and the others will follow.

Even if there are a few 35mm copies, the change will bring an end to the small-town movie theater. 

“It’s kind of a waiting game,” Gregerson said. “For the next two or three years prints will be available. After that, all bets are off. Eventually it will end.”

On some Saturday night in the future, Morenci is likely to have its own “last picture show.”

IHS Screen Digest Cinema Intelligence Service reports that:

2004: film projectors were in 99% of theaters

2009: 85%

2011: 68%

2012: 37% by the end of the year

2015: 17%

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