Thursday, January 5, 2012

Going to the movie

Roger Ebert’s recently offered six reasons for the drop in movie ticket sales in 2011. His general conclusion: theaters “are losing their charm.” Yes, they are. Going to the movies at our nearby multiplex means going to the movies, literally: you can hear the crashes and explosions from whatever is playing next door along with the movie you paid for. It’s like living in an apartment building.

There are still great theaters though. Close to home, my favorite place to see a movie is The Art Theater in Champaign, Illinois. The Art offers intelligent programming, atypical and well-priced snacks and drinks, appropriate pre-movie music, minimal advertising, and a terrific sound system. There’s one screen, and the audience comes to pay attention: what a difference that makes. I also recommend the more majestic Coolidge Corner Theatre in Brookline, Massachusetts. For one lovely year in the mid-1980s Elaine and I lived a couple of blocks from the Coolidge Corner and got to see a different double-bill two or three times a week. Now we try to see a movie there when we visit Boston.

I would hate to see independent theaters go the way of so many record stores and bookstores. You too? If you know of a great theater, please, write about it in a comment. And encourage your family and friends to go to the movie, not the movies.

Update, January 10: Here are links to theaters recommended by readers in the comments:

Los Angeles, California
Landmark Theatre

Chicago, Illinois
Doc Films

Cambridge, Massachusetts
Brattle Theatre
Harvard Film Archive

Traverse City, Michigan
The State Theatre

Columbia Heights, Minnesota
Heights Theatre

Minneapolis, MInnesota
Riverview Theater
Uptown Theatre

St. Paul, Minnesota
Mann Theatres

[Theater, or theatre? Garner’s Modern American Usage: “The first is the usual spelling in AmE, the second in BrE.” So I have no problem calling the Coolidge Corner Theatre a theater.]

comments: 6

Daughter Number Three said...

The Twin Cities is blessed with several theaters worth visiting. The Heights is a neighborhood-scale movie palace that still has the organ that rises out of the pit. On Friday and Saturday evenings, it's played before the 7 p.m. show. It shows first run and lovingly curated classics.

The Riverview (now mostly second-run and festivals) is a classic '50s style theater. The popcorn has real butter.

Other urban theaters (two Mann theaters in St. Paul and the Uptown in Minneapolis) are in need of sensitive upgrades, but are still a worthwhile experience compared to the megaplexes.

Anonymous said...

Here's another reason. We have a nice collection of old movies, well worth watching over and over again. We add to it with the occasional new film, but this collection is now broad enough we no longer need to go to "the movies." For the price of two tickets in a cookie-cutter noise factory, we can buy the same film, stay home and enjoy repeatedly without again paying for the next round of tickets. I'm fine if movie houses which are no longer palaces" fail.

Anonymous said...

As a student, I chose to locate in North Brookline, three miles from my school, due to its proximity to the Coolidge Corner Theatre. (My second choice was as close to Harvard Square as was affordable, due to the Brattle Theater and Harvard Film Archive.)

That the Coolidge--whose movies feature fewer explosions than the typical multiplex's--has multiple theaters is, I think, an asset. Some great, but exceptionally long, films can only realistically be shown in a small theater. Plus, if you missed "Midnight in Paris," you could have caught it in an upstairs theater as late as Halloween (the exceptionally long run perhaps due to the demographics of the neighborhood).

Nearly one million people live between where I, on break, am writing this and the nearest theater that is running "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy" (the Westside Pavillion Landmark Theater, Los Angeles). This is a shame: a movie house with smart programming can foster a great movie culture, with all sorts of special events. Netflix cannot offer Q&A's.

Anonymous said...

I love going to the State, in Traverse City, Michigan. The University of Chicago also hosts an amazing film series during the academic year called Doc Films. It isn't luxurious, but it's cheap and you'll see super interesting movies with a lot of people who really love them.

Anonymous said...

The Kodak Theater in Hollywood is likely going to be the Some-Other-Name Theater, and the Acadmey Awards are looking for a new home, as they have annouced. Meanwhile Kodak is probably going to file for bankruptcy. It's a good bet the movie business is in for a rocky road ahead. Digital is replacing film, and film "palaces" are now museums in trust in many places. The world is changing.

Barnaby Capel-Dunn said...

Movie-going is UP here in France, Michael. Indeed 2011 was a record year!