Starring: Nigel Agnew, Keith Altomare, Colin Brunton
The tagline of The Rep is “A year in the life of a repertory cinema.” You pretty much pay for what you get when it comes to the price of admission — and then some. The Rep tells the story of three movie lovers and geeks just like most of us: Nigel, Keith and Colin. Where they differ from us writers and readers is the fact that they put their blood, sweat and tears into running the Underground Cinema, a rep theater located in downtown Toronto.
The Rep basically follows about a year or so in their journey, which features plenty of excitement, heartbreak and soul searching as they experience the ups and downs of trying their damnedest to keep an old movie house afloat. At first things seem promising, but after the luster of the grand opening fades the trio is often reduced to infighting and tears as they see only a few people come through the door to purchase tickets each night. Still, their resolve is unquestionable and at some times unfathomable. Perhaps it’s their love of film that keeps them going. Perhaps it’s that one time they had Adam West come in for a Q&A following a screening of the campy ’60s Batman film (one of both the tensest and awesome sequences of the doc) that makes them think “Hey, this might work.” But through interviews with other rep theater runners/owners one aspect of the business becomes very clear: unless you’re a place like the Berkeley or Seattle Rep, you’re gonna have a hard time. As interviewee Mike Torgan, operator of the New Beverly Cinema in Los Angeles puts it, “It’s a money losing proposition.”
I’m going to venture into spoiler territory here and tell you that things don’t end well for the Underground Theater. After witnessing nearly all of the documentary’s 90 minute run time, replete with a crushing montage of other rep theaters closing down as if they were infected with some kind of anti-geek supervirus, it’s still kind of hard to understand why — and therein lies the brilliance of this film, and of film itself. As the movie business grows, rep theaters are a thing of the past. Profits and print prices are what’s important now — and prints themselves are hard to obtain due to the digital revolution. I’m not saying I can’t embrace new technology; I’m just wondering, after watching this doc, why there’s not room for both the new and the old.
An indoor children’s playhouse recently opening up in my adopted hometown in upstate New York. This in and of itself is not remarkable, nor very pertinent. What is pertinent is the fact that they’ve also slapped a part-time “Jones Theater” moniker on their marquee, deciding to play old movies on the weekends. Lately titles like Army of Darkness, Pink Floyd’s The Wall and — for this Halloween weekend — Young Frankenstein have played. It’s only a few blocks away and sounds perfect for a geek like me. The only question I ask myself, especially after seeing The Rep and sympathizing so greatly with not only Agnew, Altomare and Brunton but all fans of all things cinema everywhere is, simply, why haven’t I gone down for a Saturday 9 o’clock showing yet? The answer? I should. And if you’ve got a repertory theater new you, you should too. If you don’t agree, watch The Rep. It’ll change your mind.
This review was prepared from an online screening copy made available to Renegade Cinema by Tricon Films and Television
To watch The Rep go here