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An open letter to Kara Swisher re: The movies

In a love letter to the movies and our regional theaters, Sarah Wright says "There is nothing cooler than the big screen experience or the communal magic of cinema."

I’m not sure who wrote the headline for the recent guest essay in the New York Times, “Sorry, We Aren’t Going Back to the Movies,” but this is why I’m writing. Of course, I totally agree with you on Vin Diesel, and appreciate that streaming will probably match and overtake theater. Still, there is nothing cooler than the big screen experience or the communal magic of cinema. Without a doubt, I am going back to the movies.

It all began in February, a full month after my full vaccination. Seeing “Nomadland” in the same large room among a tiny, socially distanced audience was all very humanizing. Seeing Frances McDormand this way for almost two hours was mesmerizing. Even though we were all still fully masked, I didn’t care. Having read the book a few years ago, I was riveted by each page and correctly predicted the film would win Best Picture.

Fast forward to last Thursday. Throughout the day, Twitter reminded me that Scarlett Johansson’s “Black Widow” had arrived for its earliest U.S. screenings. Naturally, my girlfriend and I braved flash flood watches (thanks, Tropical Storm Elsa) in order to make the 9:55 p.m. show, basically our bedtime. Despite all the is/is not feminist reviews, surely we can agree that Natasha Romanoff and Yelena Belova give new meaning to the “sisterhood is powerful” concept. What’s more debatable is whether “Black Widow” truly passes the Bechdel test; I welcome your thoughts. One thing is for sure; it smashed box office records.

The other movie that recently got me out of the house and down a red carpet was the fabulous documentary “Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go for It.” No doubt, you’ll be able to catch this soon on PBS’ American Masters. For six other people and me, watching it together at The Triplex Cinema, it was an intimate afternoon with “La Reina, Punto” as Moreno’s friend Lin-Manuel Miranda calls her. She is so in a class by herself, she ought to be recognized as a “PEGOT”: as far as I know, she’s the one person who’s ever won a Peabody, Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony award. Less feather ruffler, more rara avis.

Clearly, COVID isn’t over. To wit, Coolidge Corner Theatre in Brookline is expanding — a lot. Donors have already committed 85 percent of The Campaign for The Coolidge’s $12.5 million goal. Plus, construction begins this month on a 14,000-square-foot addition to the existing Art Deco movie palace I know and love so much. Where else can you see “North by Northwest” on the silver screen this week?

Closer to home, bravo to Amherst Cinema and new Executive Director Yasmin Chin Eisenhauer. This theater has deftly managed patron health and safety precautions along with consistently thoughtful programming; it’s a joy to behold from over the Berkshire hills and into Pioneer Valley. My girlfriend and I recently enjoyed “Truman & Tennessee: An Intimate Conversation” via Amherst’s virtual cinema. Directed by Lisa Immordino Vreeland, this melancholy mash note was peppered throughout with well-placed cinematic and theatrical moments. And because the eye does have to travel, so will we, to see “The Truffle Hunters” in person this weekend.

To our north, another historic venue has also re-opened. Images Cinema boasts a couple of cool upcoming weekend events the next two Sundays. If somehow you can’t get enough of Marvel Cinematic Universe’s superheroes via “Black Widow,” you can catch “Superman: Homecoming” and Walt Disney Animation Studio’s “Moana” as part of their Family Flicks Under the Stars summer vibe. Equally notable is their upcoming sneak preview of the pilot episode of mystery comedy series “Hudson Falls.” This event doubles as a fundraiser for Images and will be followed by an onstage conversation with the cast and show creator, producer Elias Plangianos. I don’t know about you, but this clip intrigues me already.

To our south, Upstate Films has new co-executive directors, while The Moviehouse in Millerton has new co-owners. What’s unique about Upstate is their newly launched, itinerant Hudson Valley Picture Show, a mobile Hollywood-classic-meets-animated-film-meets-summer-rockumentary experiment. While partnering with Del’s Dairy Crème, the Rhinebeck roadside delight, the Hudson Valley Picture Show does not replace Upstate’s old Woodstock location, but at least fills the void. In any case, you may be thinking the Hudson Valley Picture Show sounds like a drive-in, when it’s more pop-up film festival with plans to continue into the fall.

In Millerton, the cultural destination known as The Moviehouse lives on, thank God. Like the others, it too has adapted. All four theaters are up and running again, including the upstairs screening lounge and new bar. No word yet on special events such as Met Opera Live or The Bolshoi Ballet. For what it’s worth, though, I missed National Theatre’s “Allelujah” in 2018, and am still quite eager to see it. File under “the post-pandemic, dark humor plot we all need, to bear witness to the U.K.’s health care system.” Frankly, if the new owners can procure this, I’ll rent The Moviehouse for an après-group therapy session.

Crossing the border into Connecticut’s second smallest borough, the Bantam Cinema & Arts Center is similarly re-awakening with a planned re-opening in September. A change of ownership took place here, as well, and what was once The Rivoli almost 100 years ago will now morph into a nonprofit theater and arts space. Known for its rustic barn atmosphere, this is an iconic gathering spot for serious movie buffs. The last moving picture I saw at The Bantam was 2019’s “Judy,” starring Renee Zellweger in an Academy Award-winning performance. I can hardly wait to go back this fall to see 2021’s Oscar-worthy contenders roll out right before the holidays.

Finally, there is one local theater that simply doesn’t get enough attention: the second-floor theater at Memorial Hall in Shelburne Falls. A year before COVID crept into our lives, a feasibility study for renovations was presented by J. Coleman + Company Architects to the Shelburne Selectboard and Finance Committee. This is the same architectural firm that renovated the Latchis Theatre in Brattleboro, Vermont. One can only hope that Memorial Hall is restored to its former glory, too.

As I write, the League of Historic American Theatres is holding its 45th Annual Conference and Theatre Tour virtually for the second year in a row. Meanwhile, the Theatre Historical Society of America’s Facebook page showcases clear evidence of community theater preservation and revitalization efforts across the country.

Independent theaters are true community assets. And going to our living rooms is just not the same thing as going to the theater. After a year of being homebound, I agree with new movie theater owner Quentin Tarantino that “boutique cinemas will actually thrive in this time.” If you’re reading this, Kara Swisher, let’s go to the movies!

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