I am going to spend the next several column inches mourning the upcoming loss of one of my favorite theaters in Raleigh – and, basically, why its closing is such a blow to the Triangle film and movie-going community.
December marks the final month the Colony Theatre will be in business, and I think it’s messed up. Ambassador Entertainment, which owns the two-auditorium theater along with the Mission Valley and Six Forks Station multiplexes, announced in October that the chain will devote more time and money toward renovating and improving the Rialto, its other Raleigh art-house theater.
One of the reasons I moved down here 11 years ago was that this region was heavily populated with art-house theaters, more than any other region in the state. But, over the years, they’ve been slowly dwindling.
In 2012, the Galaxy Cinema in Cary was shut down (and later torn down) to make way for a Harris Teeter. The Galaxy, which had six screens and usually played independent, foreign and Bollywood films, was the Triangle’s most eclectic art-house theater. Before that, over in Chapel Hill, local theater owners Bruce and Mary Jo Stone ran a trio of art-house theaters – the Chelsea, the Varsity and the Carolina. Now, the Stones only run the Chelsea. The Carolina was the first to shut down in 2005, with the Varsity following four years later. (The Varsity reopened later that year as a second-run movie house.)
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When the Varsity closed, Stone blamed it not on raises in rent or major companies coming in to steamroll the little guy, but simply because it’s difficult to keep a movie theater running in these ever-changing times. “(Specialty distributors) still in business prefer to withhold their prestige product until the fall winter awards season,” Stone wrote in a statement. “When an indy film suddenly gains traction and becomes successful with a wider audience (or ‘crosses over’), the distributors quickly book these films into multiplexes everywhere, thereby undercutting the business being done at the specialty theaters.”
Keep in mind that Stone wrote this in 2009, when it was only multiplexes he had to worry about. He probably didn’t foresee a time when distributors would stop placing films in theaters altogether and take them to video-on-demand services like Amazon and iTunes, where people can view them on their TVs, laptops or smartphones.
But it’s not just seeing first-run films on the big screen that gets lost when these theaters disappear. One of the great things about independently run theaters like the Colony is that they also serve as revival and repertory houses. The Colony had monthly movie nights like “Cool Classics at the Colony,” where popular popcorn flicks from the ’80s and ’90s were screened for nostalgic moviegoers, and “Cinema Overdrive,” where cult-film enthusiasts convened to see some truly weird/strange cinematic oddities.
But once the Colony closes the doors, those events will be no more. Sure, Colony audiences can head over to the Rialto for an art-house fix. And revival heads could flock to the Carolina Theatre in Durham, which has a bevy of monthly, retro-movie nights. But it’s still unfortunate that another long-running theater has to say goodbye. Since opening in 1989, the Colony was more than another theater where you could catch the latest prestige flick. It was a clubhouse for cinephiles, a spot where all film lovers could go to watch films, discuss films and just feel welcome. Man, I’m gonna miss that.