News Column

Dipson Theatres will no longer operate North Park Theatre

May 23, 2013

YellowBrix

May 23--It was the news that Buffalo's informed movie audience both long dreaded and long expected: Dipson Theatres announced today that it will no longer be operating the North Park Theatre on Hertel Avenue after June 6.

The theater property is owned by local attorney Thomas J. Eoannu, who has not announced his plans for the theater after the Dipson lease is up and could not be reached for comment.

Michael Clement, president of Dipson Theatres, admitted today that "the North Park hasn't made a profit for us in five years." Essentially, then, the company can no longer afford to operate a cinematic charity.

"This is something that has been troubling us for some time" he said. "The North Park wasn't the big guy in town, but it sure felt like it in the day, and that is thanks to all the wonderful community members and their support."

Terrence Malick's film "To the Wonder" remains there this weekend. The theater's final showing beginning May 31 will be Peter McGennis' film "Queen City," which was filmed in Buffalo with Vivica A. Fox and previously premiered in the Dipson's Market Arcade Theater downtown.

Previously, it was a source of Dipson corporate pride that the world premiere of Vincent Gallo's "Buffalo '66" was at the North Park.

In addition to the North Park, Dipson operates the Amherst, Market Arcade Film and Arts Center, McKinley Mall 6, Eastern Hills and Flix Stadium theaters.

Today's announcement is a wrenching development for Buffalo's art and independent film audience, many of whom remember the North Park as a kind of '40s and '50s "Cinema Paradiso" -- that is, a North Buffalo neighborhood house that showed the action B-movies and even movie serials that functioned for many as their primal moviehouse experiences.

Its end now as an art and independent film theater closes a brilliant 30-year chapter of the North Park as the city's premier theater for showing art and independent films in the city.

The circumstances of its closing followed from a kind of "perfect storm" of film exhibition as an independent showcase house.

In 1983, the estate of Alfred Hitchcock began a policy of releasing to theaters beautifully restored prints of the Hitchcock classics the estate controlled -- films which, in many cases, hadn't been seen in 12 years and had begun acquiring gigantic reputations: "Vertigo" and "Rear Window," most importantly.

The first such film to be released to indy theaters, "Rear Window," began the North Park's existence as an independent art theater. Because it promised others in the series -- and because local critical reaction was so extreme -- the late Dipson proprietor Bernard Clement decided that art and independent film exhibition was a very viable commercial course for his theater.

It was Clement's film booker, the late Isaac Ehrlichman of Frontier Amusement, who first suggested the idea to him but it was the Hitchcock series that instantly confirmed its possibilities.

The North Park has, in the three decades that followed, been a cherished place for local moviegoers to see some of the very best movies have to offer. All has not always been smooth. There have been rough patches before but nothing like the downturn Michael Clement admitted today.

As Clement points out, circumstances have changed completely. Not only is the technology of movie-watching radically different from what it was in 1983 -- with at least one generation actually accepting movies on tablets, if not smart phones -- but the competition from major chains has heated up.

Because the North Park is less than two miles away from the Regal Elmwood Theater, Clement said, he is routinely prohibited from showing certain films that might be large sources of revenue for his company.

A good example is the current blockbuster "The Great Gatsby," which is actually being shown in one of Dipson's other theaters, the Amherst Theater.

Because the North Park isn't equipped to show 3-D and is, besides, prohibited from showing the film so close to a Regal megaplex, the film could not open in the North Park, where its large box office would have been welcome.

When Clement and his current booker discovered at last fall's Toronto Film Festival a film both considered ideal for the North Park -- Joe Wright's "Anna Karenina" -- the film turned out to be both a critical and box office disappointment.

That, to many local film onlookers, that has seemed more the rule recently than the exception.

The theater was once part of the chain of the late, great local film exhibitor Mike Shea. It was opened as a moviehouse in 1920.

And it was probably the most plush moviehouse to be operated by the Dipson chain during the era when William Dipson could walk from his apartment into a glassed-off screening room he'd built into the back of his Art Deco Colvin Theater to watch that theater's current attraction.

The North Park had no such facility but it occupied pride of place in all of Shea's chain of Buffalo neighborhood moviehouses.

The North Park is the very last to keep on running as a completely integral first-run part of the city's movie-going life.

Its impending darkness --unless a savior can be found-- is both a sign of the times and the announcement of a day of immense sadness for Buffalo moviegoers.

email: jsimon@buffnews.com

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(c)2013 The Buffalo News (Buffalo, N.Y.)

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