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A decade later – going to the movies, or not

December 22, 2009

As we near the end of the decade, there have been plenty of reflection on the past ten years. For me, the decade started when I got a new job and moved to downtown Toronto in March 2000. Almost ten years later, I’m still in the same neighbourhood, living near Maple Leaf Gardens at Yonge & Carlton.

There has been some notable neighbourhood news lately, including plans to turn the Gardens into, well, I’m not exactly sure what but something different than what it is now. But that’s a topic for another day. Also, the Carlton Cinemas closed a few days ago; The Carlton is literally across the street from where I live.

This is a new blog, so a bit of background:

  • I have B.A. in Film Studies. I have never actually worked in the film industry, but nevertheless have probably spent more time studying film than most people.
  • I have not yet seen Avatar. I will see it, eventually. It took 3-4 years before I saw The Lord of the Rings films.
  • I have not actually gone out to see a movie in a long time – not since Hot Docs. Even though the Carlton is across the street, and it specialized in art-house and independent films… I’ve done little the past couple of years to prevent its demise.

Many have lamented the demise of the cinema, and I’m sure they are genuine in their disappointment as its passing (though many of the fond memories that people have of the place seem to go way back to the 1980’s… or even the 1950’s, when the old cinema was there in a different location). And there are certainly legitimate reasons to be concerned about a city like Toronto losing both a cultural icon and on of  its few remaining art-house cinemas.

That said, I’m forced to sympathize the Star‘s movie critic, Peter Howell, who says it’s no great loss for the city. Click through to read Peter’s reasons, but I’ll give you my own: it was a dump. I respect the power of nostalgia, but dump is a dump. Each time I went there, I spent more time thinking about the distractions than about the movie, which hardly makes for a good art-house experience.

Some of the worst experiences I’ve ever had at the movies were at the Carlton. Most notably Kill Bill Vol. 2, where some dumb parents brought a group of young kids to the movie, and allowed them to run wild during the show. How the hell they even got young kids into a Tarantino movie, I don’t know… but it was that kind of place.

Another time, I went to see a pair of Matthew Barney’s Cremaster films – I figured there was at least a decent chance that there would be no little kids running around. During the first film some older kids came in, smoked a lot of dope and giggled a lot – I gather that getting stoned at the Carlton was a rite of passage. During the next film some adults came – and one guy spent about ten minutes declaring loudly how much he hated the film before finally leaving.

So yeah, it was a dump – small and ugly with tiny screens, and the audiences sucked too. I hadn’t been there in years, and I won’t miss it. I haven’t been anywhere else in months, either – it’s been one of the biggest changes in my life the past decade, that I just don’t go out to movies anymore, for lack of anyplace to go (it helps, of course, that I have an LCD TV and a pretty good local video store).

But I miss the experience a bit. Before coming to Toronto, one of my favourite places was the Princess Cinema in Waterloo. I spent five years in the city getting my diploma and watching many films. I see now that I could watch Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans or Inglourious Basterds or The Fantastic Mr. Fox… and a decade ago, I probably would have seen at least a couple of them. Now, I’ll just be waiting for the DVD.

Maybe, with the Carlton gone, someone will open a new cinema to fill the void. And maybe it won’t suck. But will I ever go back? Dunno; my university years are fading fast, and the more comfortable I get staying home and watching DVDs (and I’ve even experimented with watching films rented from iTunes, with satisfactory results) I feel the harder it will be to change.

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