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film criticism by maryann johanson | since 1997

question of the day: Can movie culture survive the death of so many cinemas?

closed cinema

Sad news out of New York City this past weekend, via the New York Post:

Manhattan’s famous Ziegfeld Theatre could close because of financial trouble

The Ziegfeld Theatre — one of New York’s most storied movie theaters and host to Hollywood red-carpet premieres — may be facing its final curtain.

Moviegoers turning up at the Ziegfeld over the Memorial Day weekend — the start of Hollywood’s summer season — were shocked to find the doors locked. It reopened on June 1, but the theater soon went dark again until last Tuesday’s arrival of “The Amazing Spider-Man.’’

The Ziegfeld, New York’s largest surviving single-screen venue in a city that once boasted dozens, has frequently closed during slow periods in recent years or for special events. But prolonged shutdowns during the lucrative summer season have fans concerned about its survival.

After The Post’s article provoked an outpouring of distress from the theater’s fans on Twitter, Clearview issued a second, one-sentence statement late Sunday afternoon: “We have no plans to close the Ziegfeld Theatre.”

Whether not the Ziegfeld survives, movie lovers are on the verge of losing thousands of cinemas. From Indiewire earlier this year:

Michael Hurley owns the Colonial Theatre in Belfast, Maine as well as the Temple Theatre in Houlton, Maine. He runs a website for movie theater owners and is a member of the National Association of Theatre Owners. And he’s desperate.

Like many theater owners, Hurley sees a very real possibility that nearly 20% of all theaters in North America will disappear because they can’t afford digital projection — but what he doesn’t see is anyone talking about it.

So what? Old movie theaters shut down! Shiny new multiplexes get built in their place. Home theater is better than ever, with high-def blu-rays and widescreen TVs. Who cares what happens to outdated cinemas?

Or does it matter after all?

Can movie culture survive the death of so many cinemas? Should we worry? How will movie culture be changed when all that’s left are shopping-mall multiplexes? How will movie culture be different when almost everyone watches movies exclusively at home… and are we already there?

(If you have a suggestion for a QOTD, feel free to email me. Responses to this QOTD sent by email will be ignored; please post your responses here.)

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