Fischer Theatre article

From May 31, 2007:

Click to Read

Article in Champaign daily The News-Gazette about the hiring of Atlanta, GA, consulting firm McQueen and Associates by the Vermilion Heritage Foundation to assess whether future restoration and operation of the Fischer Theatre in downtown Danville would be a viable investment. (Remember that the direct link to this article will expire after Thursday, June 7.)


Editor’s note: With the apparent desire for mid-sized cities across the United States to gentrify their downtown areas pronto for a multitude of economic and political reasons, I hope that the denizens of relatively blue-collar Danville take their sweet time to make the right decision about whether they should restore or demolish the Fischer Theatre. Considering that Danville does not have the cultural bustle of Champaign-Urbana, Bloomington-Normal, or even Decatur, one honestly wonders if a retro-fit Fischer would get the support that it needs quickly enough to make the effort worthwhile. At this point, the vintage palace also does not have a true champion at the wheel with either the show-biz gusto or technical savvy that will be necessary to attract a sizeable regular audience that will appreciate (and pay to see) a superior theatrical experience.

Even if the Vermilion Heritage Foundation and the city of Danville award the Fischer a reprieve, what happens if its operators decide to make it a movie house again? Could the Fischer survive on anything less than a diet of first-run Hollywood product? (Then again, assuming Danville has a multiplex, you know darn well that their corporate assassins would attempt to strangle the Fischer by pacting with the studios to gain exclusive first-run rights for as many movies as possible. Ask Greg Boardman and Skip Huston all about that racket.) We’ve now learned that a diet of second-run Hollywood isn’t a sure bet, given the recent closings of the Castle in Bloomington (see item: 1/5/07) and the Heart in Effingham (see item: 3/24/07), and yet the Avon in Decatur (captained by Huston) and the Art in Champaign (led by Boardman) have enough of a faithful clientel that they can open wide-release films right alongside the big box theaters … when they can actually get them.

It’s good for business, but such reliance on scheduling big-studio product makes me ill. I’m honestly losing faith in the “independent” part of the independent theater mystique since this game plan slowly but surely dilutes the important part these types of places used to play in the lives of foreign and independent cinema. The Art has certainly been more aggressive lately in its breadth of programming than the Avon, which is saying something since the Avon has three screens versus the Art’s solo auditorium. Yet, now that Boardman has finally sold off the Lorraine in Hoopeston – which did feature Hollywood releases every week – I wonder how often he’ll be willing to impose those same releases on the Art’s silver screen from this point on.

We all know the thought has been on Boardman’s mind for a while. He’s written numerous times in the Art’s weekly e-mail announcements that he might be “forced” to run more Hollywood if attendance doesn’t stay up for the traditional art-house menu. And then, he issues an amazingly wishy-washy statement to justify scheduling PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: AT WORLD’S END:

It seems to be feast or famine with Indy [sic] releases lately. After a period of nothing popular enough to show, now there are several films being released within a few weeks of each other. I’ll see what I can do with the schedule and the battle with the multiplexes for them. Here are the ones I’m working on: AWAY FROM HER, ONCE, and SICKO. And coming in Aug., INTRODUCING THE DWIGHTS (at Sundance known as CLUBLAND).

I’m not exactly sure what prompted this defense which came through the official pipeline on Thursday, unless he’s received enough lip from patrons who’ve questioned his decision to run the mass-market PIRATES at the Art. I also have no clue about Boardman’s research methods out there in sunny California where he lives. The last time I looked, “Indy” releases and popularity did not necessarily go hand-in-hand. I’m a bit surprised that he didn’t name-check Adrienne Shelley‘s WAITRESS as a possible pick since it’s actually making some money, although by the time the multiplexes let that one go it’ll be played out. SICKO is the new Michael Moore film, which I knew Boardman would want since he made a mint with FAHRENHEIT 9/11, but I’m not familiar with the other films he mentions. At least he managed to snag the excellent South Korean monster-fest THE HOST last month, albeit on a week-long split bill. Thank you, Mr. Boardman!

One area movie theater that has stood its ground is the Normal, managed by Dawn Riordan and operated by the Town of Normal. I’ve always admired their scheduling because of its dependably eclectic nature – some art-house titles, some vintage classics, occasional short-film collections, once-in-a-blue-moon festivals – as well as their efforts to keep it real with affordable refreshments, cartoons before certain shows, and a real live person introducing the main attraction. If you watch the papers and public flyer-boards closely, you’ll also find that special events and local film showings will take place during the Normal’s “off” nights, Monday through Wednesday. Riordan and company have started billing the Normal as a “film center,” which is an accurate label since it does not follow the typical mandates of a first-run house. Fischer Theatre advocates would do well to look 90 miles west for a model operation that can teach them how to revive their beleaguered cinema and carve out its own crowd-pleasing niche.

~ Jason Pankoke

P.S. In this Internet age where only the vast minority seems capable of using punctuation, abbreviations, and colloquialisms correctly, I’d like to differentiate the following terms: “Indy” = short for Indianapolis, Indiana, as in “Indy 500;” “indie” = short for independent, as in “independent cinema.” To confuse things, activists have co-opted “Indy” for the term “Indymedia,” refering to independent journalism of a typically political bent.

P.P.S. This forces me to slightly amend my previous rant attached to a News-Gazette link (see item: 5/23/07) regarding their extremely selective posting scheme. Apart from heavy coverage of the annual “Ebertfest,” the only movie-related stories that show up on their Web site with any frequency have to do with local movie theaters, such as the one linked up top. Why that is, I have no clue…

Comments closed.