I've been haphazardly following the saga of the Oak Street Cinema over the last few months, as it has struggled not to go under. I think of the Oak Street fondly, since some of Dr. Dregs's and my earliest "dates" involved seeing a movie at the Oak Street. We saw Michael Moore speak there years ago, when he was only known for Roger & Me, and Bowling for Columbine and Fahrenheit 9/11 were not even twinkles in his eye. My first exposure to many great classic and foreign films was at the Oak Street -- and even the movies we saw there that we didn't particularly like still always offered plenty of fodder for discussion (and post-film drunken laughter).
So I was a little saddened to read that the Oak Street has (at least temporarily) gone dark. But only a little saddened. We haven't actually been to a movie at the Oak Street in a long, long time. I'm sorry to admit that, on the one hand, but on the other hand, we've run out of reasons in recent years to go there. The facilities are substandard, with uncomfortable seats, a small screen, and (the last few times we were there) indifferent projection. And it costs $8 a pop to get in -- which means we could see a first-run film in a nice theater for the same amount of cash.
But it isn't just the Oak Street's flaws that caused us to stop seeing films there. It was also the advent of DVD and Netflix, which have made it possible for us to see classic, foreign, and art films in high quality on our big-screen HDTV in the comfort of our own home. This just wasn't an option back in the mid-late 90s, when we used to go to the Oak Street with some regularity. Seeing a poor-quality VHS copy of a film on a small screen could not compare to any movie theater, even one as modest as the Oak Street.
It's clear that the Oak Street's problems have been brought on by a combination of circumstances, many of which have nothing to do with the ability of the audience to simply rent a DVD and watch films at home. But rep theaters everywhere must be suffering because of DVD and the ready availability of high-quality transfers of the kinds of films that have been their bread and butter. I know that the Oak Street and its parent organization, Minnesota Film Arts, have done very good work in sponsoring and providing venues for local film festivals -- and these festivals continue to show films that often can't be seen elsewhere. But when there isn't a festival, a theater like the Oak Street has to find another way to attract audiences, and I'm sorry to say that I don't think they've done a very good job of that in recent years.Posted by at April 11, 2006 8:34 PM