By Chuck Wilson
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To face film culture reality on the cusp of the big '00the transformed markets, audiences, profit patterns, and distribution dynamicsis to embrace multiplexing. Though more screens can, in Times Square, mean simply more blockbuster overbookings, they can also mean, elsewhere, more venues for smaller, more demanding product. Crikey, even the Cinema Village has reimagined its aged, narrow space and mustered three screens from whence there was one. And since it's the Cinema Village, we know the screens won't be sold off for Hollywood chaff.
The Cinema Village's revamping has cut the old building down to its original firehouse tile, lengthening the primary space while cobbling new rooms from the erstwhile balcony and from the old downstairs waiting lobby. Cinema Village manager-programmer Ed Arentz is quick to point out that the new screens are no smaller than the Quad's ("That's not bragging rights, I know, but..."), and that the new 70-odd seat counts are comparable to the smallest rooms at the Angelika and the Village Eastneither of which regularly shows imports anymore anyway. Meanwhile, Arentz has fussed over sight lines ("How important is the screen size when the head of the person sitting in front of you is blocking a third of it?"), wired in Dolby, and is prepped for a tentative December 11 opening.
"It'll give us more programming options," Arentz says, explaining how if the theater, like any other, is stuck by a distributor with a dog for four weeks, it can put the film in one of the smaller rooms and use the main hall for something vital. "Take Life of Jesuswe ran it with full expectations that it would not be enormously popular. We had 60 people or so per show. Now we can show these small films and still survive." But is the market worth the investment? Why fight the good fight? "Because these films can do really well. If you look at the top 10 screens downtownnot in the whole city, or nationally, but herewhat's considered normal is turned on its head. Specialty films, in specialty houses, do better. Besides, it's a market that has been underserved."
As for the nostalgists' lament about the mutation of New York art-film exhibition: What theaters are they thinking of? "We can flood the toilets once a year in honor of the Thalia," Arentz cracks. "We can have a loop of subway noise play occasionally, just like the Bleecker Street. There are plenty of ways we can bring back the good old days."
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