The Cerrito Classics series looked like a big hit when the theater launched it late last year. The very first presentation, The Wizard of Oz, sold out both shows. If the first screening I attended, Rear Window in January, didn’t sell out, it was close. Audiences seemed to appreciate the fact that, even if a movie is available on DVD, there’s no substitute for 35mm and an audience of strangers.
It all seemed to go against conventional wisdom, which says that commercial revival house cinema is dead.
Unfortunately, conventional wisdom appears to be winning. Starting in October, Cerrito Classics will go from an every weekend event to two weekends a month. In honor of Halloween, October’s Classics will both be at the end of the month, with the original version of The Mummy October 20 and 21, and Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein the 27th and 28th.
According to Speakeasy Theaters Programmer and Publicist Will Viharo, “over the past year or so, most of the classics have only drawn an average of 20-50 people per show, making it less than cost effective as they [are] not only expensive to rent, but we have to hire an extra projectionist” for archival prints that require changeover projection.
“The reality is most people…prefer new, heavily marketed, mainstream movies over ‘classics’ that are simply too esoteric for their tried-and-true tastes,” explains Viharo. That’s always the case, of course, in any popular art. People want to see, hear, and read what everyone is talking about, not something that’s been around for years. There are always people interested in the classics, of course, but DVDs and cable TV have siphoned off a lot of that market. It’s tough for any theater to compete against Turner Classic Movies.
Not that the Cerrito is about to go under. Viharo also told me that “attendance for new films has improved dramatically over the last couple of months…We are drawing from the same pool of patrons as the megaplexes, it’s just that people are choosing to see stuff like The Simpsons and Die Hard on a couch with beer.”
I can’t argue with that; the Cerrito has become my family’s favorite theater. Geography has a lot to do with it (the Cerrito is less than two miles from my home), but so has the food, the couches, the low ticket prices, and the general atmosphere of the place.
Viharo says that the changes make “my job easier but far less satisfying.” So if you want Will to work harder but enjoy greater job satisfaction, go to a few Cerrito Classics.