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The 'Silent' Film Scene (Prologue) Where's my intermission?

Posted by Andrés / August 15, 2009


"Your film is playing in room 13. Use the escalator to enter your dark isolation chamber, avoid coughing and conversing with your neighbour and let your eardrums and eyeballs be overcome by the raucous escapism on the screen in front of you... Oh yeah, and don't forget your $10 popcorn and mammoth soda. Enjoy your film. When it ends, leave during the credits roll and shuffle out of the theatre quickly so that the concierge may clean up your buttery slop."

The film-going experience in 2009 is an exciting one. For the price of renting five times the entertainment, you can risk your dollars on one film preceded by a good twenty minutes of pre-show commercials of gas-guzzling cars and carcinogenic fragrances, as well as trailers for somewhat related films to the one you're watching. The proliferation of DVDs has made watching a film in your own home, without commercials or packed-sardine-can syndrome, much more tempting than spending the $12+ dollars at your nearest Famous Players. And yet, as a business, the megaplex industry has seen little drop off.

What does this mean? It means that the days of theatres as local artistic hubs has died. They are just another chain of entertainment - escapism to which we all fall victim. Like Six Flags to amusement parks, theatres have lost their uniqueness and become 'industry standard'. When was the last time you heard of the film 'Scene' in Montréal in the same way you hear people talk about its music scene?

The truth is that outside of our film festivals, there is no year-long film scene. The recent end of the Fantasia Film Festival has made me lament the loss of the excitement of its audience, of its personality. Now it's back to the sweet popcorn-smelling halls packed with people either too afraid to make a sound or too obnoxious to realize they're laughing at the wrong moments. I hate it. I especially hate the impersonal nature of the megaplex beast. They have either become empty multi-tiered drab halls (ala AMC) or cacophonous arcades (ala Guzzo). Only a select few seem to retain a sense of the different: be it in their film lineups or their retro or chic locales. But they are losing ground, as evidenced by a spat of closings, most recent of which being that of Ex-Centris.


The music scene in Montréal has been and is, as we all know, exciting. There are a wide variety of venues, each with a unique look, mood and (sometimes) smell, hosting anything from high school bands to electronica duos to hellish synth punk rockers. It's a 'Scene' that is fun to take part in, to meet people and share in the communal reverie of new sounds in distinct places. I am nostalgic for the movie-going days before my time: of the silent movie halls of the 20s and 30s, or the dawn of the 'new American cinema' of the 1970s. These were a time when movie halls, like today's music venues, were unique in character. Before VHS, Laserdisc or DVD, you could only catch a Fellini or a Kurosawa at classic screenings. Films were a rarity to be experienced and discovered. Now they are commonplace.

But whereas MP3s and CDs would seem to have the same effect: music venues in Montréal are hotter than ever and have suffered little from downloading and file-sharing. If anything, being able to sample the latest single by an independent band on their Myspace has lead to greater attendance. There is a sense of discovery in music that has been lost in film. Even in stage theatre, the intermission has survived, allowing audience members to grab a drink and appreciate the on-stage action. Much of this is obviously due to the nature of film vs. music and theatre. The latter are live performances, while the former is a copy of a copy of a copy. Perhaps now that we can have these copies at home it has made theaters obsolete; which is why film venues need to do something a little more than offer up overpriced sweets and 3D glasses as an incentive for moviegoers.

Over the next few months I will be reporting on most of the active (and the odd defunct) film venues in and around town in an attempt to recapture the magic of theatregoing that seems to have died with the introduction of the cookie-cutter blockbuster megaplexes and popularity of the 60" home theatre screens. In today's post I lament how impersonal the filmgoing experience is, but I hope to revive the experience, even if it means recommending the nearest bar or café to each location in order to serve up some hot post-film discussion. Which venues offer the best atmosphere for discovery, for discussion and for some reverie of film as an art rather than an industry.

Feel free to drop me a line if you have any insights... 'Off the record, on the QT, and very hush-hush...'



SyLaflamme / August 16, 2009 at 06:16 pm
The Paramount opening in 1999 was the death knell for every movie theaters in town.

God I miss the Loew's, Palace, L'Égyptien, Le Faubourg, Centre Eaton and to a lesser extent ... Place Alexis-Nihon theaters. They all had character and charm.

I liked that I could go watch a movie in a different movie theater from week to week. Now, Paramount and AMC. That's it. That's been it for the last decade.

How boring.

Thank god we still have the Imperial from the old days. Any chance I can get to see a movie there, I jump on it.
Sonic Reducer / August 16, 2009 at 11:40 pm
Wow! Thanks for the memories SyLaflamme! I've seen movies in each one of those theaters growing up and I had even forgotten about some of them. It was always a joy going to those theaters, no matter how bad the movies were. Every week was a different adventure. I miss them. The Paramount, AMC and Guzzos make me sick. Ugh.. To think Cinema du Parc almost closed a little while back..
Jean-françois / August 18, 2009 at 09:47 am
About Cinema du Parc; it is the only repertory theater in Montreal. They wer showing a few weeks ago AMARCORD and LA STRADA on pristine 35mm prints! They are the only theater showing the last and wonderful film from Coppola; TETRO. They have plenty of festivals, docs, first run films...please don't lose faith! Go and encourage them!
Kariny / February 4, 2015 at 01:52 am
I will be putting this dailnzzg insight to good use in no time.

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