THE DEMISE AND EMERGENCE OF MANHATTAN’S ART-HOUSE FILM VENUES
It’s increasingly bemoaned that the days of cinema-going are fading. There’s no question that with the advancement of home-viewing options, along with heightened admission prices, it’s more challenging than ever to find audiences, even as theaters keep on upping the ante with more desirable seating and embellished concessions. The movie-palace era may in fact be over—when the legendary Ziegfeld Theatre shut down in early 2016 after 47 years of business, it left The Paris Theatre as the only 500-plus-seat single-screen theater in Manhattan.
But the fatalists perhaps still mourning the devastating 2004 loss of the Loews Astor Plaza must take note: For every venue that closes its doors, it seems that multiple new, improved spaces open theirs, particularly in downtown New York City, where art-house options are already in no short supply.
Go-tos like Film Forum, Anthology Film Archives, and the Angelika are holding strong, and if the long-threatened demise of the five-screen Landmark Sunshine Cinemas in late January hit hard, welcome recent additions to the area served to lessen the blow. For example, tucked away in the cellar of the Roxy Hotel lives the Art Deco–inspired Roxy Cinema, whose name pays homage to an iconic Midtown movie house of the 1920s that was demolished in 1960. This small gem opened in 2015, and went under major renovations in late 2017. Just a month after the closure of Ziegfeld, the highly anticipated two-screen Metrograph arrived with a bang and has not disappointed. The Quad, a four-screener established in 1972 notable for being the city’s first multiplex, was totally revamped, reopening in April 2017 after going dark for two years. Additionally, the IFC Center, around since 2005 and formerly the iconic Waverley Theater, is in the process of adding a whopping six screens to its already functioning five.
But more important than cosmetics—and cocktails and glorified snacks—these venues offer inspired, eclectic programming, mixing new and retro titles, and on 35mm whenever possible, ensuring that every day continues to offer a wealth of cinematic options in Manhattan. (It’s worth noting that Brooklyn’s art-house scene is also thriving thanks to the mainstay BAMcinématek and the more recent additions of Nitehawk, in 2011, and the Alamo Drafthouse and Syndicated, in 2016.)
Further north, Upper West Siders may have lost a local favorite, Lincoln Plaza Cinemas, in January, but the Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center, which opened in 2011, and the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s sister theater, the Walter Reade, as well as the brand-new, high-tech Landmark at 57 West, assure that a plentitude of options remain available to the neighborhood.
On a larger scale, the presence of multiplexes in the city has kept mostly steady (management changeovers aside), except for the late–2016 arrival of iPic Theaters. That chain aims to significantly enhance viewer enjoyment—for a rather hefty price, of course—but to filmgoers, and art-house devotees especially, the communal experience of simply taking in movies will forever be the main attraction.
Words by Laura Kern