Thursday, August 7, 2008

Classics on the big screen: a possible solution?

Two years ago the Oak Street Cinema closed its door and a little piece of me died. The Oak Street had been a local independent theater which ran classic film repertory and new independent and foreign films for ten years. They also helped me host the Caryvention in 2003 by allowing our group to watch Holiday, a movie they had rented for the upcoming week ,at Midnight for the price of renting the theater. Sitting in a real theater with only the Warbrides in attendance watching one of my favorite films was one of the highlights of the convention for me and one of the things that made all the work worthwhile (besides the awesomeness of all Warbrides, of course!) One brave Warbride returned to Minnesota the following January for the retrospective for Cary's 100th birthday at the Oak Street.
Despite Turner Classic Movies and Netflix, I still miss going to see the old movies in a theater. At Oak Street on a Tuesday night I might catch an awesome double feature (Raiders of the Lost Ark and Gunga Din was one of my favorite pairings) for $5-$6. The same regulars came to the theater almost every night and there would always be a discussion, nay lecture, going on in the back of the theater about one of the supporting actors and what other films he had done. It goes without saying that this was a huge loss to the cultural landscape of the Twin Cities. It was one of the things that made us a real city, like New York or San Francisco. We could go chuckle our way through the "The Sorrow and the Pity" any old day, just like Woody Allen in Annie Hall.

It's getting difficult to find classic movies to rent since video stores are being killed off by internet rental. Netflix is great, but their classic selection is pretty weak. They only have what is currently in print on DVD. That is really not much, when you get down to it. A lot of cinephiles I know have resorted to simply purchasing used movies on Amazon and then reselling them when they are done. It's a hassle but it's the best you're going to do if you want to see vast numbers of movies that simply aren't available anywhere else. Even with my obscure Gary Cooper pre-code western in hand, it's kind of hard to find the time to watch it. Having a movie showing in a public place forced me to get up and go and, of course, stay for the discussion afterwards.

I stumbled across a very long article in the City Pages about the death of Oak Street and the commercial inviability of revival houses. It was a discussion with local film people including Prof. Rob Silberman, who attended CVV (he was such a trooper that he stayed to the end of the infamously long memorabilia auction and he went home with a Walk Down Run lobby card.) The gist of it is that classic film has a hard time competing by itself in the movie marketplace. The only way to make it viable is to either raise a lot of private money to offset the losses or to combine it with some more lucrative type of film events such as independent film premieres, directors evenings, etc. This is why I've always said that if I win the lottery (an unlikely possibility since I never play) that I will open an old neighborhood theater and just show classic movies. Then I thought, no, there is another way out of this. What if you had a movie theater that showed classic movies from 5-11 and Gay porn from 11-1. You could show Casablanca and Assablanca and the latter would pay the rent.


Ask Rosezilla said...

They should have a revival theater with a bar. Thats my idea.

Jennythenipper said...

They had a place like that in Edina that showed second run movies. You sat at tables and a waitress brought you beer and French fries. That's a good idea, Rosezilla. No wonder we should "ask Rosezilla."

Nancy "Beaky" Bruce said...

Our local Studio Movie Grill is a comfortable place which strikes me as a possibility with these smaller complexes dedicating one theater to artsy and/or classic movies. They serve reasonably priced beer and wine (with a small bar out in the lobby as well). But also serve a small selection of pizzas, burgers & such. I don't really like being served food in the dark - but really enjoy the wine with a movie. I should speak with them....

One of our big AMC theaters in town dedicates a couple of screens to artsy stuff, but never seems to play anything that interests me. I would think it might do as well with 1/2 day artsy & 1/2 day classic.

Sadly, I can't imagine any of the porn theaters sparing the screen time to anything else. LOL You'd also have a lot of 'splainin' to do to the kids: I'm sorry, Billy, you have to walk blindfolded through the lobby.

AbbyNormal said...

Sadly, what I remember most of that most wonderful trip to Minnesota, had very little to do with Cary Grant. ha ha. We simply MUST do that again. How have we allowed ourselves to go this long without it? Shame on us.

As for the classic movie/porn movie combo, I would have a problem with that. I would have to bring a plastic tarp in before I would sit in the seats :-)

kda0121 said...

It is lamentable that so many of the fine, old theaters of yesteryear have been closed. Not only did they house a treasure trove of nostalgic memories, but many were justifiably historical structures, that short sighted city planners tore down to make way for "city progress".

As a Christmas present this past year, my parents gave me a calendar that had photographs of my old hometown as it looked forty to sixty years ago. In this calendar were "ancient" photos of our old theaters. Back then, there were three movie houses; (as we used to call them), in the now demolished downtown area. There was the Broadway;(named after our main street), the Liberty and the most majestic one, the Strand theater.

I certainly don't have "the answer" to keeping these cherished monuments of classic cinema open. If I did, I'd own a beautiful old theater and run nothing but movies from the 30's and 40's. (Yes, Jen, lots of precode).

To we cinephiles these old buildings are virtual cathedrals where we come to give thanks to that wheezing, hacking, sputtering machine way up in the back as it emits the magic light onto the stage screen.