Whether old, new, palatial, grimy, spacious or downright claustrophobic, the closure of any Toronto cinema means one less place to see a film, and today’s closing of the Carlton Cinema is no exception. It’s not the first time a theatre has closed in that location, either. In 1974, the Odeon Carlton, a lavish post-war movie house, ended a 26-year run after screening Burt Reynolds in White Lighting.
While discussing the Carlton’s demise with Colin Geddes a few weeks back, he noted that it also widens the gap of available cinemas on or around Yonge St. Excluding the Cumberland and Varsity cinemas at Bloor, there are no cinemas between the AMC 24 at Dundas and the Canada Square & Silver City at Eglinton.
That gap is a stark contrast to July 1, 1981, on the Carlton’s opening day, where Garth Drabinsky and Nat Taylor‘s Cineplex empire was still in its infancy and art-house, adults-only, repertory and single-screen cinemas existed everywhere. I’ve written about “the strip,” the stretch from Queen to Gerrard a handful of times (and also here), but looking north to Bloor, you had the Festival (now the Panasonic Theatre), Towne, University, Hudson’s Bay Plaza; at St-Clair was the Hollywood and Hyland; at Eglinton, the International, York, Fine Arts (now The Capitol, an events venue); and from Sheppard to Finch was the Fairlawn, Park, Towne Countrye and the Willow.
They catered to every genre. The University played the latest action blockbuster in wide, huge 70mm (Raiders of the Lost Ark, if you must know) and the International and Fine Arts were well-reputed art-houses, showing the kind of stuff you’d have recently seen at the Carlton. Mere steps away from Maple Leaf Gardens, the Carlton opened on Canada Day with the bizarre Sextette starring Mae West, Judy Davis in My Brilliant Career, Hussy, Take This Job And Shove It, and wouldn’t you believe it — The Creature From The Black Lagoon in 3-D.
While some adored the theatre, others loathed it. Comments on local blogs claim it had the best-tasting popcorn in the city, others hated the cupboard-sized screening rooms. A friend of mine recently quipped: “Their tiny screens and bleeding sound just made me angry. I saw Grindhouse there because it was the last place in the city still showing it and I needed to see it again. It was so impotent in that venue.”
Compared to the epilepsy-inducing feel of the Silver Cities that followed it, I have a soft spot for the 1980s multiplex. I can’t remember what I last saw at the Carlton. I wanted to say Trembling Before G-d, but just now remembered seeing Napoleon Dynamite back in, oh, whenever that was playing.
But for those who lament its passing, there are other options: The Cumberland still exists (at least for now), the AMC screens more independent films than one would expect, and don’t forget the reps, like the Mount Pleasant, Regent, and the recently renovated Royal Cinema.
Were you a regular at the Carlton? Did you work there? Drop a comment and share your experiences.