Single screens, megaplexes, and Michael Corleone

Last week, Cineplex wrapped its first Great Digital Film Festival. As I reported in the Toronto Star, a selection of twenty “classic” films played alongside Avatar and whatever else is currently in theatres. Anyone reading this blog knows I’m a big advocate for Toronto’s great rep cinemas and loathe the alienating, epilepsy-inducing feeling brought on by so many megaplexes, so I never thought I’d say this, but Cineplex did a great job.

First off, the films looked great. Only a quarter of the titles were presented in true 2K digital cinema (The Thing, The Godfather, and the Bond flicks), the rest on Blu-Ray, but those mammoth projectors showed off everything with great clarity. The ticket price — five bucks, nine for a double-bill — was beyond reasonable, reminding me of a time when that was standard admission. They also went the extra mile of showing the original trailers: seeing the trailers for Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, as well as that great still-photo trailer for The Godfather was a real treat. And by partnering with a local movie poster company, original posters (read: with artwork, you know, back when Hollywood posters were illustrated rather than the poorly Photoshopped junk we see nowadays) appeared in the illuminated poster boxes at the foot of the giant monolith of a megaplex.

The two screenings I saw, Ghosbusters and The Godfather Part II, were well-attended, with an overall respectful audience (who even clapped when the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man showed up). The latter was a double-bill with The Godfather, and plenty of people hit up both films.  I saw the whole thing as a diversion, a pleasant variation, if you will, to all the big Hollywood stuff currently playing in those screens, and I hope Cineplex does it again soon. With so many screens across Canada, why not have one room playing selected rep programming?

Hopefully those who attended are aware that many of these films are staples of Toronto’s rep cinemas¬† like the Bloor, Fox and Revue (am assuming Cineplex based their programming by glancing at various schedules). And just so y’all know, I haven’t gone soft: I still prefer seeing seeing a little dust bouncing around in the gate and counting down the cigarette burns. But Cineplex’s festival highlights, indrectly, that those 35mm prints won’t be around forever, and that these digital presentations are bound to become more commonplace.

But on to simpler, pre-pixel times, when a cinema’s marquee offered but one, sometimes five choices. The above photo, taken some time in December of 1974, shows the entrance of Montreal’s Loew’s Theatre announcing the imminent arrival of The Godfather Part II, just before Mandel Sprachman revitalized the Ste-Catherine St. complex into a 5-screen multiplex. The theatre opened on November 17, 1917, and was Montreal’s grandest movie palace for decades, remaining a popular film-going spot until it closed for good in 1999. Its interior was subsequently demolished. In 2005, the auditorium was remodeled into a gym, and was still in operation when I lived there until 2007.

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