The Tower Theatre is the oldest running movie house in Salt Lake City, dating back to 1928. Today, the Tower Theatre is part of the Salt Lake Film Society and serves as a cultural center revolving around the art of cinema.
“We’ll show independent films, but we also do a lot of special screenings,” said Tower Theatre event coordinator Guy Wheatley. “During October, we do the Tower of Terror where we show a late night horror film. We also do a lot of hall rentals, where people will rent out the Tower Theatre to show a niche documentary or put on a stage show and use our venue. We exhibit films both new and old, but we also put on regular movies.”
The biggest event the Tower hosts is the Rocky Horror Picture Show, which helps keep the establishment afloat, according to Assistant Manager Israel Lawton.
“Rocky Horror is by far the biggest event that we do,” Lawton said. “Rocky Horror is where most people see their first film there. The production is put on by the Latter-Day Transvestites. To them, it’s a labor of love. It’s like a rock concert. They’re grotesquely not politically correct. It’s a really fun show to watch, and it loosens the audience up. If you go and you’re uptight and you see these people in lingerie acting badly on stage, you’re going to loosen up.”
For the last seven years, the Tower Theatre and Westminster College have hosted a joint venture called the Ivory Tower, where six student pick films that are screened throughout the year, according to Sean Desilets, a film studies professor at Westminster.
“The Tower has the feel of a place where a lot of people over a lot of time have seen a lot of interesting movies,’ Desilet said. “We pay the costs of the rights to get whatever kind of print we’re getting, and the [Salt Lake] Film Society donates the space. That way the screenings can be completely free. It allows us to show how smart our students are by having them introduce the films, and it gives people the experience to attend an art house movie theatre that doesn’t feel like a big megaplex.”
Film screenings and special events are only part of the Tower Theatre’s operation. The Tower also houses one of the largest video libraries in the state with its archive rental collection. In the days of instant streaming and Redbox, video rental locations are becoming rare. That hasn’t stopped the Tower from amassing a collection of peculiar and interesting films on Blu Ray, DVD and even VHS that movie lovers will have a hard time finding elsewhere.
“I really like it when movies take a unique edge,” said Connor Lockie, a sophomore English and music major. “The movies at the Tower are always pretty strange.The theatre gave me a chance to see something I would never would have seen before. You can find movies you’ll never see on Netflix or Redbox there. I’ve never found another way to find these rentals. People are weary to spend money on something they’ve never heard of. You have to go for it.”