Don Coscarelli Explains Why Art House Theaters Still Matter

Don Coscarelli Explains Why Art House Theaters Still Matter

Sep 21, 2016

Phantasm Remastered

This Saturday (September 24, 2016), something very cool is happening in movie theaters around the country. It's called Art House Theater Day, and it's a celebration of what both movies and movie theaters mean to their communities. Over 160 theaters are participating in the event, which will screen movies both new and old. And in one particularly serendipitous case, part of the Art House Theater Day programming includes a stunning new version of a fantastic old classic that most people have probably never seen on the big screen: Don Coscarelli's Phantasm.

Lovingly remastered in 4K by J.J. Abrams' Bad Robot company, Phantasm: Remastered is an absolutely gorgeous presentation of a truly memorable horror movie. And it is our honor to bring a special note from Coscarelli about the past, present and future importance of art house theaters.

In Praise of the Art House Theater

By Don Coscarelli

As a student filmmaker in my teens the art house theaters had an incredible lure. When I was coming up, this is where the cinema greats from around the world showcased their talents. Every week there would be a new Godard or Truffaut or a Costa-Gavras. If you wanted to see something cutting edge, it was usually at the art house theater. They didn’t discriminate. If you wanted to see a Universal monster on the big screen, then the art house was the only place where Karloff, Lugosi and Chaney still terrorized audiences. Genre has always been big at the art house. Sure, the art houses played a lot of film noir, but they were also directly responsible for promoting new visions from transgressive filmmakers such as Dario Argento, George Romero and Lucio Fulci.

Yeah, yeah, I know you can download a lot of that stuff today or find it on Blu-ray. And I won’t go into the old arguments about the shared communal experience of watching a great movie on the big screen, despite the fact that it is true!

The thing that is overlooked is that the art houses were the curators, establishing such directors as Spike Lee, Richard Linklater, Kathryn Bigelow, and David Lynch in their theaters. Their film bookers had a passion not only to entertain, but also to educate film fans and young filmmakers too. And they still do.

There are visionary exhibitors out there working in the art house world right now-- like Tim League with his Alamo Drafthouse chain and the durable Laemmle family in Los Angeles who have been supporting independent and international filmmakers since the dawn of movies themselves. There are institutions like SIFF in Seattle and TIFF in Toronto, which have a mandate to keep compelling movies on the big screen, no matter what the box office numbers are. And then there are individuals like filmmaker Quentin Tarantino who single-handedly have kept theaters like the New Beverly in Los Angeles open and programming amazing films. These heroes and their like are keeping their theaters running despite overwhelming odds.

The art house theaters of today are truly in jeopardy. There was a recent culling of their ranks due to the almost insurmountable costs of upgrading to digital projectors. Sure the mega-chains, showing their mindless studio fare could afford the six figure sums to convert their auditoriums to the new projection systems, but an unknown number of great art houses were forced to close their doors and give up the ghost during this calamitous period.

But these survivors are not giving up. They have banded together as the Art House Convergence and on Saturday September 24th they are hosting the very first Art House Theater Day nationwide. I was honored when AHC co-founders Gabriel Ciccione and Lawren Desai invited me to screen the new JJ Abrams and Bad Robot produced restoration of my film Phantasm as one of the participating films in this event. Truth be told, the first place I ever screened my little horror film some three decades ago was at the fittingly-named Art Theater in my hometown of Long Beach, California.

Along with Phantasm and Terry Gilliam’s Time Bandits and some amazing others, the AHC will offer a full program of compelling films on Art House Theater Day. I hope you will join me in celebrating and protecting these venerable institutions that are truly a national treasure.

For more information and to find a participating theater near you, head to the official Art House Theater Day site.


Categories: Features, Exclusives, Indie, Horror
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