Hidden Memphis: On Film Row

Hidden Memphis series for The Commercial Appeal

April 3, 2011

Downtown district supplied Mid-South movie houses for decades

If you saw the 1969 version of “True Grit” in a local theater, the images on screen of a one-eyed John Wayne were produced from light streaming through film unwound from a large “platter” wheel.

That platter more than likely would have been sent to your theater from Downtown, from one of many one-story brick buildings that made up the district surrounding Vance and South Second Street, known as Film Row.

In an age when movie theaters would change their offerings several times a week, the films had to be ready to ship, and trucks would move in and out of the district at all hours of the night. For much of its tenure as a film distribution center, Memphis served the areas of Arkansas, West Tennessee, North Mississippi and the boot heel of Missouri.

The location was a natural with its centralized spot in the Mid-South, access to major roads and bridges, and the trains running through Memphis Union Station that stood only a block to the south.

Incidentally, if you saw Jeff Bridges’ performance in “True Grit” last year in a local theater, it was probably shipped from Hollywood on an encrypted hard drive and uploaded to a server for viewing … (read more)