A Movie Blog by Craig Koban

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THE ART HOUSE CINEMA STRIKES BACK!

IN PRAISE OF SASKATOON'S ROXY THEATRE

May 28, 2013

 

I love the movies.  Always have.  Unfortunately, I have grown to hate the process of going to the movies.  

Why?  Sometimes even I struggle for a cogent answer, but I do have a few opinions.  Firstly, we are a culture bombarded by all kinds of nasty distractions.  Talking in cinemas has given way to a new form of social evil – texting and smart phone usage in cinemas.  And don’t get me started on food intake at the movies.  During my childhood people consumed soda pop and popcorn at the movies, whereas now people seem keen on bringing three-course meals in with them to noisily devour as people like me are desperately trying to focus on what’s transpiring on the silver screen.  More than ever, I feel that the shared communal experience of going to the movies has been perverted: So many young people – and some old – go to the movies now to socialize; I want to go to the movies to…well…watch and experience movies.   

The rise of the corporate multiplex has not assisted with this, with the voracious allure of its large and extravagant screens and immersive and pulse-pounding audio systems.  Now, I don’t want to sound falsely snobby and high minded, not to mention hypocritical, about the multiplex experience.  Some of the greatest filmgoing experiences of my life have been in proverbial “big” theatres, especially IMAX, which is one of the most engrossing cinematic experiences around.  Yet, the overall multiplex experience over the years has been beset with a nagging and unending sense of repetition and similitude.  Modern multiplexes lack an inviting sense atmosphere and charm.  Essentially, they all, when it boils right down to it, look and feel the same, and it’s precisely that anaesthetizing quality that, for my money, somewhat stilts the magic of going to the movies.  It just ain't all that special anymore. 

 

The Roxy Theatre - interior view

This finally brings me to the Roxy Theatre, which serves as one of the last vestiges of the grand, opulent, and truly magnificent art house movie palaces, which are regrettably not a dime a dozen anymore.  The Roxy offers something that multiplexes cannot: character.  Built during the onset of the Great Depression, the Roxy is not only one of the oldest cinemas in Western Canada, but also one of its most pristinely beautiful.  The interior of the main cinema is literally a work of art: a vast and expansive place that is crafted in the style of a Spanish villa, replete with balconies, towers, architectural details, and, yes, even a ceiling that, when submerged in darkness, showcases twinkling little lights to simulate a star field and the sensation of being outdoors.  Visiting this theatre is, for lack of a better phrase, a uniquely special experience.  It should also be noted that my first conscious memory of seeing a movie was at the Roxy.  I saw SNOOPY, COME HOME! with my mother.  I liked it a lot, but it made me cry.   

 

The Roxy Theatre - exterior view

I also remembered the theatre back then as a magical place of wonder.  Sadly, it fell on bad times.  The Roxy closed in the mid-90’s, only to be re-opened and gloriously restored to its original Depression-era glory in 2005.  Visiting the theatre remains, just as it did for me as a young lad, a transformative experience.  You really feel a sense of escape from the everyday while there.  Best of all, the people behind the scenes there seem to truly care about (a) movie culture (especially independent movie culture, so sadly overlooked by mainstream multiplexes) and (b) the people that come through their doors every night.  With every film screened there I’ve always felt like a welcome movie lover, not just another faceless patron.  Over the years I’ve developed a filmaholic friendship with the theatre’s general manager – and heck of a good chap - Jordan Delorme, who was kind and generous enough to offer an Internet nobody critic like me an opportunity to attend local press screenings.  Beyond that, the Roxy has afforded me with opportunities to expand my filmgoing tastes in ways that – years ago when I started CrAiGeR’s Cinema Corner – I never dreamed of.  Some of the finest and most memorable films that I've seen over the last few years – often making my year-end Top Ten lists – premiered at the Roxy.  I don’t think that I would be as cinema-literate as I am today if not for the opportunity to see eclectic films from around the world at this theatre; it has contributed greatly to my film education. 

Ultimately, I'm praising the Roxy here because, well, visiting it simply offers a portal into yesteryear; an era when luxurious movie palaces reigned supreme and lovingly forged a sense ethereal escape for filmgoers …and well before they were made all but extinct with the emergence of the multiplex.  I have witnessed the Roxy transform itself in one form or another over the years in an effort to remain viable (they have recently upgraded to high end digital projection, which has consequently allowed them to have razor sharp picture and sound that can rival any multiplex).  Most importantly, though, I’ve never had a bad experience seeing a film at the Roxy.  Even bad films that I’ve had the dubious experience of screening there were made better simply by the theatre's tasteful and incomparable sense of decor.  One last thing: I rarely ever feel at home when going to the movies.  The Roxy Theatre is one of the very rare examples, though, of a cinema that always makes me feel right at home.   For two-plus hours while there, I feel like I’m in a very welcoming place.  If you’ve never been to the Roxy, you're missing out.  Big time.  

Plus, anyone can go to a multiplex.  After all, art house movie palaces like Saskatoon's Roxy - a movie lover's Valhalla if there ever was one for our city - are not on every street corner.

The Roxy Theatre

 

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