|A WEEK AGO, THEY PUBLICLY ANNOUNCED THE CLOSING OF THE
YORK. "They" are the Cineplex Odeon Corporation, and the York is the York
Cinemas, a thirty-two-year old movie theatre in midtown Toronto. The last
movie shown in the larger of the cinema's two theatres would be Lawrence
of Arabia. Lawrence is one of my favorite films, ever, so I
made a point of going, if only to see a decent print, shown the way movies
should be seen.
At nearly midnight, as Maurice Jarre's soundtrack continued
playing after the credits had rolled, staff dismanted the concession stands
while customers looted what they could. In the lobby, a small crowd, what
looked like a family, grandmother and all, scooped the dregs out of a large,
clear lucite bulk candy display, scraping dusty jujubes, jellybeans and
smarties into paper bags, their wrists tightly wedged into the plastic
bins. In the upstairs lobby, a young man sat on a bench under one of the
empty display cases where movie posters had been displayed, slowly peeling
the "Coming Soon" sticker from the empty frame.
Two hours before, during the film's intermission, there
were still posters in the frames, advertising the fall's upcoming releases.
While we watched Peter O'Toole scream "No prisoners!" before the awful
but exhilarating massacre of the retreating Turkish army, employees had
unlocked the shallow cases to unpin and roll up the posters, still officially
the property of the movie studios who make and distribute the films. They
might, out of a sense of neatness, have re-locked the cases, but they didn't,
leaving them empty and ajar, an unmistakable and intentional image of decrepitude.
I took something, too. I'm not proud of it -- in fact,
I've probably broken some kind of law -- but I couldn't resist. As I stood
by the ticket booth, ignored by the redundant staff emptying the concession
stand, and the patrons scanning the lobby for souvenirs, I saw a clipboard,
sitting on the tall box with the slot on top where ticket stubs come to
rest, mere feet from where they're issued. The clipboard was labelled "York
Ops Checklist" and sitting on top of it, free of the metal clamp,
was a letter to a York employee, informing them of their imminent unemployment.
Later, checking my Perly's city map, I saw that the employee
lived only a short drive -- or a healthy walk -- from the York. The letter,
dated twelve days earlier, was written in an impeccable corporate tone,
remarkable if nothing else for its vague hints of guilt, regret, and mea
culpa, issued through the gritted teeth of formal business jargon.
|This letter will confirm the announcement today that
the York Cinemas will close on August 26th, 2001. This letter will serve
as written notice that there will no longer be a need for your services
effective August 26th, 2001. This notice period meets any obligation on
the Company's part under your province's Employment Standards Act of any
other applicable legislation.
There's no indication from the letter what the recipient
did, and I can't help but wonder why he or she left the letter out there,
on top of the "Ops Checklist", except as a kind of small, subtle, theatrical
gesture. Before the film began, a young man turned on a microphone at the
front of the theatre and introduced himself as Chris, "at the moment, the
manager of the York Cinemas." He got a big laugh and a round of applause
from the crowd, which barely filled the theatre to a third of capacity.
He made a little speech about the York, which opened on
Christmas Eve, 1969, and pointed out that rooms like the York One were
built specifically for films like Lawrence: wide and deep, with long, sloping
aisles and the remnants of a theatre's proscenium arch and stage apron.
Chris explained that the soundtrack would begin playing an overture before
the film itself began, that there would be a fifteen-minute intermission,
and that music would play again to announce the film's second half. There
was a reverence in his voice, as if he was describing the rituals of some
long-gone civilization, one whose worldview could accomodate such careful
formality, where time passed in solemnly respected intervals.
|As we announced on February 15, 2001, in order to
complete a strategic restructuring of the finances and business operations
of Loews Cineplex Entertainment Corporation, Cineplex Odeon Corporation
and other Canadian subsidiaries have sought and obtained an Order under
the Companies' Creditors Arrangement Act from the Ontario Superior Court
The York is not the first cinema that the Cineplex Odeon
Corporation has had to close in Toronto, and it won't be the last. First
to go was the Cineplex flagship facility, the Eaton Centre multiplex that
opened in the late Seventies; the first ever built, more than a dozen shoebox-sized theatres in the city's newest supermall, which had quickly turned into
a tawdry grind house full of teen comedies, slasher flicks, and months-old
summer and Christmas blockbusters that still drew modest crowds. No one
seemed sad when it closed, but it provided a too-neat indication of grim
portents for Cineplex Odeon, and the industry at large.
Over the past year, more of the chain's older theatres
and multiplexes all over the city's core were closed: Market Square, the
Hyland, and Canada Square, the last only three blocks from the York. Time
is apparently running out for the Carlton Cineplex, the chain's art house
multiplex, only a block from Church Street, the heart of Toronto's gay
ghetto. An AMC megaplex was supposed to go up within sight of the Eaton
Centre cineplex, and was actually cited as a reason to close the old complex,
even before AMC had broken ground. To date, the site still sits empty behind
its hoardings, as AMC seems to be angling quietly out of the project after
a brutal sea-change in movie exhibitors' business climate.