Saturday, November 05, 2005

That's entertainment

I was surprised, shocked and delighted to read this Wisconsin State Journal article reporting that Robert Redford's new Sundance Cinemas will open its first theater at Madison's Hilldale Mall. The six-screen multiplex will replace the Hilldale cinema, one of three commercial houses in town showing independent and foreign films.

This is great news for Madison moviegoers. The film scene here has long made me forlorn, because it thrives largely on the outskirts of town, at megaplexes that show unimaginative fare and are overrun with teenagers yakking on cell phones. Just the other day, a coworker and I were lamenting the impending demise of the University Square theater, which will go away when the mall it is in is demolished. That will be the end of mainstream, first-run movies downtown, and it will be another blow for movie fans in Madison, which has lost two theaters in recent years: downtown's Majestic (which, with its crooked screen, was an unwonderful place to see movies anyway), and the budget cinema at East Towne mall.

We still will lose Hilldale. But as recently as a few months ago, it seemed likely that the rehabbing of Hilldale Mall would mean that the Hilldale cinema would simply be gone, with nothing to replace it. I will miss the Hilldale cinema, which is a perfectly charming place to see a film. But a gleaming new independent house will be terrific, since both Hilldale and Madison's other chain art house, Westgate, are rather grungy compared to the megaplexes.

Hopefully the Redford imprimatur means that the new cinema will get good prints, and perhaps independent films will even open here at the same time that they do in big cities. It can take months for indie films to find their way here, after all, and the prints of independent films that come to Madison are sometimes less than pristine. (Back in my movie-reviewer days, I was blacklisted at Westgate because I pointed this out.)

I came to Madison from Chicago, which has a wonderful film scene. In addition to mainstream cinemas, the Windy City has a wealth of options for independent and foreign stuff, as well as revivals. So although there is much to like about living in Madison, I have been sad about having to change my moviegoing habits. But thanks to Robert Redford, things are looking up.

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