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Repertory Cinemas - Do they exist? Are they still needed?


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Do any cities (besides New York) or universities still have repertory cinemas, those movie theatres totally devoted to showing programs of films that are outside the current releases? In these days of TCM and DVDs, are repertory cinemas even necessary? Among the TCM fans here, did anyone else get their initial film education at a repertory cinema?


I did, at the New Mayfield Repertory Cinema (originally the Mayfield Theatre) in Cleveland's Little Italy neighborhood. I spent some of my happiest times there, and was pretty sad when it closed.


My parents moved to the Cleveland area after I started college in the late 70s, so when I'd visit them on breaks, I didn't have any old friends around. As such, I was often looking for things I could do on my own. The first summer I spent in Cleveland (1978), I discovered the New Mayfield Repertory Cinema, which I think was founded by a local professor named Sheldon Wigod.


I had recently figured out, while watching HOLIDAY (1938) on TV, that I really loved old movies. But in those days before cable TV and VCRs were common, it was hard to find a steady source of the classics. The New Mayfield was a god-send, and looking back on it, it was almost a prototype for TCM.


They showed two different double features each week (two movies per night with the program changing on Sundays and Wednesdays), and I saw just about all of them while I was in town. That first summer, the focus was on the the MGM film library, if I remember correctly, and I saw movies like MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS and QUEEN CHRISTINA, among many others, for the first time -- and on a big screen!


The New Mayfield wasn't like TCM only because of the movies. As Robert Osborne later did, Mr. Wigod would introduce each film. At showtime, he'd walk down the left aisle, stop in front of the stage, and start by saying, "Welcome to the New Mayfield. I'm Sheldon Wigod." He'd then go on to give you historical, artistic, and/or critical background on the movies you were about to see. Despite his scholarly background, his remarks weren't pedantic or overly academic -- they were aimed at providing an appreciative overview of the movies for both the newcomer and the knowledgeable aficionado alike, and he succeeded just about every time. I was hooked from the very first show.


The New Mayfield wasn't a fancy old movie palace. It was your basic neighborhood theatre, and, frankly, it was slightly shabby by the late 70s, although Mr. Wigod and his staff (volunteers, I assumed, from his college) kept the place nice and clean. They had a fine concession stand that had a wine list in addition to the traditional movie fare, and everyone there was very friendly. They regularly sent out a printed calendar of the theatre's current program, which I eagerly read even when I was hundreds of miles away at college (where, I'm glad to say, there was also a regular repertory film series).


I continued to go to the New Mayfield every time I was back in Cleveland for a visit, always attending a show or two during short school breaks (like Christmastime) and going to almost every new double feature when I was there for longer periods during the summers. I think they had a Warner Bros. program one of the next summers (1979 or 80) and other programs focused on classic movies after that. (I distinctly remember seeing MOGAMBO there for the first time during the summer of 1981, and a double feature of the original NOSFERATU and THE SEVENTH SEAL on Halloween that same year.)


When I didn't have a printed schedule available during a visit to Cleveland, I'd always call the theatre to see what its recorded message said about the current program. But then, during one visit, there was no longer an answer when I called. I knew what had happened -- the New Mayfield had closed. In the course of sending the theatre small donations to keep it going, I started to hear that they were having trouble meeting expenses, which wasn't surprising as cable and videotape started to provide the same kinds of movies. But running the theatre clearly wasn't done to make a bunch of money -- the New Mayfield seemed like a labor of love.


The Mayfield Theatre building does still exist -- here's a recent picture: [ Mayfield Theatre, Cleveland, OH -- so I guess it's always possible that it'll have another life. But it'll never be the same as it was as the New Mayfield Repertory Cinema, when it gave hundreds of people access to classic movies that almost weren't available anywhere else in the 70s and early 80s.


I love the AFI Silver Theatre, which is the closest thing to a repertory cinema in my area (Wash., DC), but it shows well-chosen current releases in addition to its repertory program. I'm glad the Silver is there, but it's not quite the same as a purely repertory cinema.

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BingFan, what a lovely post. It was repertory cinemas for me too, that got me fully comitted to classic movies (I liked them before that, but seeing so many at the reps sealed the deal for me.) The ones I went to also showed a lot of foreign films.

My home town, Toronto, had a lot of repertory theatres in the 70s and 80s, and I took full advantage of this. Two in particular that I remember very nostalgically are The Roxy and The Bloor Cinema. Both of them showed an intriguing mix of classic, foreign, and cult movies that introduced me to many great films I've never forgotten. Sometimes I went with a bunch of friends, but more often, especially with the Bloor, I went (by choice) on my own. These solitary ventures into ( for me) newly-discovered cinema were some of the happiest times I had as a young person, and it's thanks to the reps that I had them.

Unlke the Cleveland theatre you describe, which featured a knowledgable gentleman presenting the beloved films, the Toronto reps mostly just showed the movies. It would have been fun to have had someone like that - no wonder you remember that theatre so fondly.

Still, with or without a host, the repertory cinemas I frequented in my youth gave me a joyful introduction to wonderful movies, and a lifetime's worth of happy memories.


I wonder how many others here got their start with old movies from the reps?


Edited by: misswonderly on Jul 11, 2011 4:19 PM

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Do they still exist? You tell me. Are they still needed? Yes! It's great that we have TCM, video and all sorts of technology I don't understand. But the way to watch a great movie is on a big screen. Sharing the experience with other fans.


The town I grew up didn't have this. But I moved to Chicago in 1977. I enjoyed three or four theatres that ran the proverbial double bill. Two John Ford films, two classic noir, two Harryhausen monsters.


As it became easier to access these classics at home, the theatres either changed programs or closed. When I left Chicago five years ago, I only knew of one.


Everything is temporary!

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oh, the great, LOST rep theatres of manhattan!

the regency

the new yorker

theatre 80 st. marks


bleecker st cinema


how much time i spent in them, i & the other faithful!


i realize as i write, that woody allen mentions or shows all of these but st. marks (which has its own collection of signatures in cement)

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The City of Angels still does, though considerably fewer than there were when I first got here almost thirty five years ago.


But we still have the New Beverly Cinema, the Nuart, the American Cinemateque at the Egyptian in Hollywood and the Aero in Santa Monica and the Warner's down in San Pedro.


Up in the City by the Bay, they have the Castro and the Roxie.

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What you describe sounds like what I call an art house cinema. My first exposure to classic, and foreign film was mostly at UM campus film societies. These are mostly dead. Back in the 60s and 70s, we did have a couple of theaters that specialized in that sort of film, but they folded.


We had a 1928 theater near campus, that did first run films. It closed in 1979, and faced destruction. In 1982, our city council bought it. Today, it has been beautifully restored, and is run as a nonprofit institution, which shows modern art house films, and classic films. It is called The Michigan Theater. http://www.michtheater.org/index.php I think many communities around the US have done something like this.


Are such theaters needed? Certainly! I see lots of things there, that won't be shown anywhere else in the area. Also, the Detroit Institute of the Arts has a theater that shows such films. Many such theaters have found ways to survive.

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I remember all of them, but I mostly went to The New Yorker and The

Thalia. Perhaps this is a misremembrance, but I had the impression that

at least one of them was a bit on the scruffy side, not that that mattered

very much. It was a treat to see all those movies on the big screen.


I also remember the Bijou, which was in Midtown. It once presented a long

festival of Japanese classics. I'm not positive, but I don't think it was in business

for very long.

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BingFan, you just struck up an emotional chord in me....back in the 70's when I was still living in Cleveland with my family, I used to go to the New Mayfield quite frequently...even getting my brother and sister and some of their friends to go a couple of times. Dr. Wigod (yes...Sheldon holds the title of Dr.) was one of the things about going there I enjoyed, along with my introduction to so many classics. I was even fortunate to have lunch with him one day before going off into college! Sheldon's intros to the films (when he was absent for one reason or another, something really seemed to be missing from the showings) were a much-anticipated and FUN part of the showings.


Another theater I loved for a few years between 1981 and 1985 was the Ogden Theater in Denver, Colorado. Living in Denver the brief time I did I made many movies at the Ogden a regular thing in my life then....along with it being the place I got into The Rocky Horror Picture Show on weekends, playing Brad Majors in the floorshow there for almost two years!


But sad to say....I think the time of such cinemas is fading fast in the home video/cable/digital age. Much like drive-ins...of which there are a few still around across the country....but one day it will all be "gone with the wind", so to speak.

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They have mostly disappeared. There are still a few but less and less. As to your other question:


Yes, they are still needed. As much as I like staying at home watching a film in the comfort of my screening room .... it simply doesn't replace the experience of seeing it on a big screen with other people. Sometimes when I go to a theater and see an "old" movie on the big screen that I've only seen at home I feel like I'm seeing it for the first time. It's a wonderful experience.


It will be sad when the last old classic film house closes.




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