Writer laments death of revival houses and other sources of classic cinema experiences

posted by CSWalczak on February 1, 2010 at 10:40 am

NEWARK, NJ — In an essay that recently appeared on NJ.com, writer Stephen Witty looks at the decline of repertory theaters and other changes that have altered the access to and information about classic films, such as the development of the inexpensive home video market, the reduction of the number of cable channels truly dedicated to the presentation of film history, and the loss of a large number of magazines related to cinema.

The first victims of modern-movie progress were the repertory theaters. When I went to film school in New York in the late ‘70s, there were several fleapits within walking distance, showing Bette Davis weepies or double bills of “Candy” and “The Magic Christian.” The truly adventurous went to Chinatown for kung-fu triple features, or to 42nd Street, where grind houses ran all-night programs of gory action films.

Then came the much-vaunted “home video revolution.” For less than the price of a ticket, you could be your own movie programmer, watching whatever you wanted at home.

Of course, most of the revival houses couldn’t compete with that (or pay their own rising rents). Those set up as not-for-profit arts groups held on. The rest eventually closed their doors, and to any real film buff, the list of names — the Bleecker Street Cinema, Theatre 80 St. Marks — is an elegy to vanished picture palaces.

The whole article can be read here.

Comments (4)

MPol
MPol on February 1, 2010 at 12:43 pm

Yes, there is a real dearth of repertory and revival movie houses here in the United States. There used to be many here in Boston and Cambridge. The Harvard Square theatre, which used to be a revival moviehouse, was bought out by Loews, and, later, by AMC. The Central Square Theatre, the Janus, the Kenmore Square Theatre, the Orson Welles and most of the other revival moviehouses here in our area have gone to cinema heaven, leaving us with only the Coolidge Corner Theatre and the Brattle Theatre, both of which are struggling to stay afloat. If those two places vanish, we’ll have nothing in the ways of places that show good quality films anymore. Holding memberships to both of them does help, imho, however.

No matter what people say about sophisticated home-theatre systems being as amazing as watching great classic movies on a great big, wide screen, in a real movie theatre with the lights down low, watching these great, golden oldies on DVD, at home on television, is NOT the same kind of experience as seeing a great old classic film in a real movie theatre, on a great big screen, with tons of other people, whether one knows them or not. Not withstanding that I’m really NOT much of a TV-watcher, this is the reason why I’ve resisted getting a DVD-player, even though I do have cable and a HD TV.

markp
markp on February 2, 2010 at 4:24 am

I read this article when it first appeared 2 weeks ago. It hits home with me, being an IA projectionist for almost 34 years now. I remember actually running a gringhouse with the double features etc. I work in what I guess you consider a sort of casual revival house, as they do films (and unfortunately DVD) movies every winter for about 9 weeks. Its so great seeing those old movies, and running them the way they were 40 or 50 years ago. I’m also so tired of people telling me film is dead and digital is the new thing. While I’m sure this digital 3D thing is going to stick, although I’m still not a fan, I just cant see every single theatre in america converting over and spending the money.

And MPol, you have at least one up on me. I do own a DVD player, only because my 150 or so movies and stuff on VHS will become unplayable someday, but I do not own an HD tv. In fact our main tv is a 40 year old console in our living room. And I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

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