Sunday, October 2, 2016

The Theatrical Demise Of Culture

When I was a young boy there was a movie theater two blocks away from my sixth-floor apartment in a quiet Brooklyn neighborhood.  It was called The Elm Theater.  It closed when I was around five, becoming a bank.  Though it’s changed hands several more times, the space has remained a bank.  It went from a community center of culture to a cold place where business transactions unfold.  The single-screen theater, like many of its kind of that time, began to close or get remodeled to feature two or even three screens.  The 1980s then ushered in the multiplex, large movie theaters of six, seven, eight screens.  In the 90s, they got supersized into the double-digits.

Every time, I step foot in the bank, if I happen to run an errand with my mom, who still lives by the bank there, I look up to see the high ceilings and fondly recall its movie theater roots.

I was fortunate to see one movie in that old theater.  Since those days have passed, I can count many childhood theaters closing up, from The Avenue J. Theater and the Kingsway, to Kings Plaza and The Ocean.  The one that’s still around is the one I thought should’ve closed 40 years ago:  The Kent.

The number of movie theaters has gone steadily down over the years.  We’re left with theaters holding a dozen or more screens, but each not much bigger than a large living room.  If movie ticket prices didn’t go up every year – or if they couldn’t sell a small bag of popcorn for $6 -- revenue would be way, way down.  The number of admissions has plunged over many decades.

A year or two ago, a theater in the town near me,  The Mamaroneck Theater, in Westchester, closed.  It was an old theater with three or five screens that surely used to be a single-movie theater.  Now, a theater just a mile from me, The Larchmont Theater, showed its last movie on September 25th.  It will close for, a while but might re-open under a bid from locals seeking to save it.  We’ll see. Even if it reopens, it will surely be remodeled and reconfigured.  The last movie I saw there was a Woody Allen film this summer.  

The Mamamaroneck Theater was the site of where I took both of my kids for their first movies – separately.  I took Ben to see Madagascar 2.  He was good for 30 minutes.  Then the popcorn ran out and he told me it was time to leave.  Olivia enjoyed Yogi the Bear several years ago but about an hour into it she told me she was done.  Those memories lay inside the dormant theater, forever locked away.

Like bookstore closings, I feel lousy when hearing a movie theater is shuttering.  Sure it’s part of the evolution of society and I understand that things don’t last forever, but when I find out that a cultural institution will no longer be – with nothing like it to replace it and fill the void -- I fight back tears.

Our world is moving from the outside to the inside, from physical buildings to digital devices.  I don’t give a crap what others say.  That’s not progress.  It is true that the online world can add immensely to our lives, but not when it consumes us and sacrifices the human contact that bookstores and theaters provide.

The dominoes are falling.  As one store or theater goes under it becomes acceptable, even encouraged, for others to close their doors.  Society starts to expect not to go to such places and begins to change its habits as if all stores and theaters were already gone.  It’s happening with a lot of things and industries.

On the night I’m writing this I am going to see a play, in a Broadway theater, Page One, a comedic revival.  Will live theater survive, since you can’t duplicate such an experience at home or on a device?  I hope so.  We need all of the cultural arts we can support.  May the curtain always rise, and never come down.

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Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at He feels more important when discussed in the third-person. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog 2016 ©.

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