ILast week, I planned to attend a 70th anniversary screening of “The Quiet Man,” John Ford’s Oscar-winning Irish romance. The film was shown in select theaters as part of an ongoing partnership between the TCM network and Fathom Events, a company that distributes specialty content to multiplexes.
Tried to make plans to see the movie at Cinemark Robinson Township; I like their deluxe seats and the snack prices are reasonable. I couldn’t get in, though; all but the seats closest to the screen were full.
It was the same story at Cinemark North Hills. A seven-decade-old film, currently available to stream for free, filled theaters. (I finally found tickets at the Cinemark Monroeville mall.)
A week prior, I had pretty much given up on attending an All Elite Wrestling pay-per-view event; my group of wrestling friends (every fan has a group) was unavailable, and I didn’t want to drop the expensive fee to watch it from home. Then I found out it was playing in theaters, including Cinemark Robinson – for far less than the cost of watching at home. I saw the show to a room full (yes, it’s too full) of cheering, cheering fans.
A week before that, a beautiful restoration of “The Godfather” was presented at AMC Waterfront’s lush Dolby Theater in honor of the film’s 50th anniversary. It’s the best screen in the multiplex (and the best audiovisual experience in town), and they weren’t showing “Uncharted” or another current hit; they gave the best real estate to the “Godfather”.
Those of us who enjoy watching movies in theaters felt an added sense of doom and gloom at the start of the pandemic. There was plenty of speculation that most theatrical shows would go away, as all but the biggest blockbusters opted for streaming releases. I know dedicated moviegoers who truly believed that their days of leaving home to go to the movies were almost over.
Certainly there have been changes; some are in progress, and the dust hasn’t completely settled on the movies where will end up in the future. But rumors of the cinema’s death are greatly exaggerated. In fact, by many accounts, the need to roll back audiences has rattled many chains and theaters out of complacency.
Part of that change is presentation, as many cinemas have converted more and more screens into a luxury experience, with roomy recliners instead of squeaky seats and brilliant picture and sound instead of low brightness projector bulbs. Advancements like these make it all the more vital to see tentpole releases in person – a fact not lost on fans, as indicated by the mammoth box office returns of ‘The Batman’ and ‘Spider-Man’. : No Way Home”.
But the quality of programming, even in the channels, has also diversified. AMC and Cinemark have launched intriguing and well-organized secret movie nights, where an unannounced film is screened at a reduced price. Repertoire screenings, like the TCM series and anniversary screenings of movies like “The Godfather,” are more frequent than ever; even the chains act quickly on these screenings, as evidenced by the return of “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” in theaters days after Sidney Poitier’s death earlier this year.
Meanwhile, while major studios are releasing relatively fewer films than before the pandemic, multiplexes have also increased their lineup of Indian and Chinese releases, attracting more Pittsburghers than ever before.
That’s all without even mentioning that local independent cinemas are booming. The Harris Theater is stronger than it’s ever been, with a lineup of acclaimed feature films and intriguing special events. Row House Cinema is often crowded, offering always exciting and diverse queues; its annual Pittsburgh Japanese Film Festival begins later this week. The Tull Family Theater in Sewickley puts on a great selection for its audience; the Manor Theater in Squirrel Hill does the same.
Did I mention the five excellent drive-ins within an hour of downtown? Because they are all fantastic places to spend a long evening. (Reliable near the airport, Riverside in Vandergrift, Starlight in Butler, and Evergreen and Brownsville to the south. There are some further afield as well.)
When a multiplex in the city closed a few years ago — I won’t mention them, they’ve been through enough — the then-executive blamed Netflix for the downturn in business. I hate to speak ill of the dead, but that was precisely wrong; the theater in question, throughout its entire lifespan, had the worst picture quality in town, the worst sound quality in town, uncomfortable seats, bland popcorn, and a largely uninspired lineup.
Only movie theater owners too lazy to try (and patrons too lazy to leave the house) shout that movie theaters are dying. While there’s always more I want to see in town (Alamo Drafthouse, we have real estate available), the state of cinema in Pittsburgh is generally excellent.
I should know: I see it in action every week.