Many of my Raleigh readers will likely know that one of our local independent theaters, the Galaxy Theater, a funky suburban multiplex that offers a mix of art house and Bollywood films, may be demolished. Developers have eyed the location–in the heart of downtown Cary–as a potential site for a new shopping complex featuring a high-end grocery store. Making matters worse, the theater appears to be several months behind on its rent, according to the Raleigh News-Observer. The theater owners are working on rallying the community, and like many other locals, I think closing the Galaxy would be a big, even devastating, loss to the local movie scene and would efface another small part of our history.
The Galaxy will always be a site of intense sentimentality for me. It’s where I went on my first date with my wife, where we saw Is Anybody There?, a drama featuring Michael Caine as a retired magician who befriends a boy whose parents run the retirement home where he lives. I can still point to the parking space where we pulled up in her car and remember squinting into the dark as we sought to find empty seats, one of the rare occasions I’ve arrived late to a movie. Since then, my wife and I have seen dozens of movies there, and I’ll often catch others while she is working, usually enjoying a beer and sometimes a samosa while I watch, often relaxing with a book beforehand on one of the couches in the lobby beforehand. When I do go, the ticket takers invariably recognize us, greeting us personally with a smile and friendly conversation. I’m sure there are hundreds of other people who have similar memories or experiences associated with the Galaxy. No matter what, theaters can provide us with a sense of connection to others, the opportunity to share in the pleasure of watching movies together. And the Galaxy’s unique mixture of Bollywood and art house movies creates a fascinating hybrid space, where different communities cross paths, even if only for the brief instant of passing through the lobby or standing in line for tickets.
The Galaxy’s struggles are familiar to anyone who has been following the fate of independent film and art house theaters. Digital projection has raised a number of challenges for independently-owned theaters, who face the expense of buying expensive projectors with little help from the studios. As this indieWire article reports, hundreds of theaters may face closure, and there is some speculation that the studios are relatively unconcerned about this loss in the number of screens. Furthermore, given that so many independent films are now available through alternative platforms, such as video-on-demand and digital downloads, the place of art house theaters isn’t as clear as it used to be. Even worse, as David Bordwell points out, the core audience for art house movies–Baby Boomers and others who grew up on the ’60s art cinema–isn’t getting younger, and a new generation of moviegoers is accustomed to practices of time-shifting and watching on-demand, rather than tailoring their lives around a movie schedule. The Galaxy has worked hard to diversify, hosting special events like live Wimbledon viewing parties and screenings, like the Kevin Smith Red State Q&A, making it more than simply a place for viewing movies.
Given all of the movie options in a long-tail culture, it’s difficult for art houses to compete, a problem that is exacerbated by the ongoing (and inevitable, at this point) shift to digital projection. But it’s also important to hold onto whatever local sensibilities remain, and the Triangle community would lose quite a bit if the Galaxy were to close. Speaking selfishly, I know that I would lose a tangible reminder of an important part of our first date–thankfully the sushi place where we stopped appears to be still going strong–and a crucial place of relaxation after grading papers or writing articles, a sentiment that I’m sure is shared by others. I know that one person’s opinion isn’t enough to stop a bulldozer and that a fancy grocery store might seem like a safer bet than a business based on predicting the tastes of a bunch of movie buffs, but it would be a significant loss for the community if the Galaxy is shut down. No decisions have been made at this time, and the theater’s owners are gearing up for a fight. Here’s hoping we can keep the Galaxy and its spirit alive.