You can hardly open up a newspaper or turn on the television without some sentimental type longing for the way things were back when people were good and a quarter went a long way. (How world wars, the Depression, and racial inequality fit into the rosy picture never comes up.) But a quarter still goes a long way at Frenchy’s, a combination store and cinema on State near Oak Street with 25-cent movies.

There’s a $1 charge at the door, but it’s refunded with any purchase. You can’t buy popcorn, but there are countless magazines and home videos in the lobby, as well as what are sometimes known as latex novelties. The movies are in the back in eight booths that line a wall, though you don’t pay with quarters; instead you buy tokens up front for the eight 25-cent movie booths that line one wall. (Across from these booths are booths that take only $7 tokens.)

Some of the 25-cent movies are advertised on the booth doors; recent titles include Please Don’t Tell and Girls Who Buttbang Guys. Each private screening room comes equipped with a comfortable plastic chair, a coat hook, and of course a small screen with its own volume control. (Try getting a luxury like that at a big-screen theater.) Above the screen a large sign lays out the rules. One person per booth. No sexual activity, bodily discharge, or littering–in that order. The clientele seem to follow these rules. At the average multiplex customers carelessly toss popcorn buckets and candy wrappers on the floor, but not at Frenchy’s. Here the floor isn’t even sticky.

Put your token in, and a timer lights up and starts counting down 100 seconds as a tape already in progress plays on your screen. There are 15 movies to choose from–more than in most multiplexes.

The 25-cent genre has deep historical roots, but the videos played here are not only new–they’re up-to-date in a way television and more expensive movies never have been and might never be. In a few minutes in a 25-cent movie booth you’re likely to see more nonwhite performers than you would if you spent an entire hour watching television. And a surprisingly high proportion of the characters are gay or lesbian, especially lesbian.

Tuesday seems like a particularly good day to take in a show at Frenchy’s, 872 N. State; 337-9190. Just a few doors down is a bar named Bottom’s Up, which has a 25-cent beer special on Tuesdays. For a mere 50 cents you can have a drink and a show. It seems hard to believe.

–John Sanchez

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo by Randy Tunnell.