Tuesday, May 14, 2024

Sad Week for Cinema: FAU’s Living Room Theaters to Close After 12 Years

After more than 12 years of bringing unique art-house, foreign and independent movies to Palm Beach County, FAU’s Living Room Theaters will be closing its doors permanently this weekend. Thursday, Feb. 9 will be the four-plex cinema’s final day of screenings.

The company, which also operates similar theaters in Oregon and Indiana, posted this statement on its Facebook page this week: “With a heavy heart, we are announcing that we will be closing our theater at the Boca Raton location. Aside from a short closure for COVID, we have been in continuous operation since November 2010, recently celebrating 12 years. Our independent and foreign films have traditionally been patronized by an older audience that has been hesitant to return to public movie screenings following the public health crisis of the pandemic. With our primary focus on these specialty films, the protracted downturn has been especially devastating. Attendance in the key holiday period of Christmas through New Years was down by 65% compared to 2019.”

This is an incalculable loss for culture in the Palm Beaches. With the occasional exception of Fort Lauderdale’s Savor Cinema, Living Room Theaters was the only space between Lake Worth and Miami that exhibited truly challenging fare—the hulking three-hour documentaries, the American indies for grown-ups, the esoteric labors of love from far-flung countries around the world, and yes, the occasional cat video compilation. Over the past year or so, Living Room Theaters even projected retro titles, like “The Conversation” and “Strangers on a Train,” on the big screen where they belong.

I was one of its regular attendees as well as one of its champions in the press. Seldom were the weeks I did not find an exciting Living Room Theaters opening to trumpet in my Week Ahead columns.

In one sense, the announcement of the closure was as shocking as it was saddening. Because the theater survived COVID, and had even recently returned to Monday and Tuesday screenings after a years-long hiatus, I thought its finances must be fine. But in the long view, there’s no skirting the fact that on many occasions when I saw movies at Living Room, I could count the number of my fellow-patrons on one hand. That’s not enough support to keep any venue in business.

I have no doubt that everything the theater posted about the reasons for its closure is true; older audiences are still wary to return to closed indoor spaces, an impact that can be felt on live performing-arts theaters as well. But the overarching problem has little to do with COVID, or with Living Room Theaters’ business model. It’s the changing habits of the former movie-going populace.

There’s no way to say this without sounding like I’m hectoring from a soapbox, but we’ve become a nation of streamers, wherein if a film doesn’t open on one of the major platforms, it may as well not exist for the overwhelming majority of eyeballs in this country.

The fact is, going to the movies is simply too inconvenient for most people. You’ve got to have the time, and if you’re a parent, you’ve got to pay for a sitter, and you’ve got to have the disposable income, and the patience to sit through trailers, yada yada yada, when compared to the “have it your way” freedom of the streaming-verse. I get it; I even contribute to this streaming-or-nothing sensibility in my monthly previews of movies I started during the pandemic, because it meets a demand.

But as a viewer, I try to unplug from this matrix as much as possible. The promise of the internet was supposed to splinter our entertainment habits in a thousand different directions, exposing us to a variety of projects and artists and titles that couldn’t be farther from the content spoon-fed by the broadcast and major cable networks. I fear we’ve regressed back to the old mentality of simply watching whatever’s on the five networks, except now the networks are Amazon, Netflix, HBO, Apple and Hulu.

I pay for and use some of these services, mind you. But I also watch Blu-rays and DVDs, and DVR rare titles from TCM, and stream art-house fare on providers like Kino Cult and Kanopy, with their seemingly endless reservoir of interesting titles. And for a while, anyway, I had Living Room Theaters, my favorite escape from the controlling algorithms of the Machine.

Living Room isn’t alone, of course; with Regal Shadowood in West Boca evidently on life support after filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, it’s hard to imagine another entity getting into the theater business to save these institutions. This leaves cinephiles like me facing a hard truth: The era of the art-house cinema, outside of supportive metropolises like New York and L.A., may well be over.

For more of Boca magazine’s arts and entertainment coverage, click here.

John Thomason
John Thomason
As the A&E editor of bocamag.com, I offer reviews, previews, interviews, news reports and musings on all things arty and entertainment-y in Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties.

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