The End of the Galaxy

It’s official, Cary’s gem of an art-house multiplex, the Galaxy Cinema, has announced that they will be closing the doors this weekend. The last movies will unspool on Sunday evening, and then the Research Triangle will have lost one of its most significant–and eclectic–movie theaters. The theater has been fending off an eviction notice for the last few months, along with development plans that would turn the location into the site of a grocery store. Even so, it’s impossible not to see the Galaxy’s struggles in the context of the turbulent futures of so many art house theaters as we convert from film to digital projection. David Bordwell has written eloquently about this topic, and independent art-house theaters across the country have been facing difficult decisions about whether to convert or not, given that most new digital projectors cost around $100,000. It’s a situation that affects another theater dear to my heart, the Cameo Art House in Fayetteville, where I saw dozens of movies every year before moving up to Raleigh. Both theaters are owned by local citizens who love movies and who have attempted to create not just a place for watching good, engaging, independent films but also places that give back to the community in a variety of ways through fundraisers, debate screenings, and other events.

The Galaxy has always been a hybrid space–one that offered Bollywood hits alongside of art house and independent movies and that catered to the diverse communities of professors, tech industry professionals, and others who called the Raleigh suburb home. The theater employees were knowledgeable about film and consistently friendly. It was clear that the workers were passionate about movies and about creating an atmosphere where film lovers would feel at home. It’s also the place where I had part of my first date with my wife, Andrea, so of course, there is some profound personal nostalgia that I will always have for the theater. There are a couple of other art house theaters in the Triangle–the Rialto in downtown Raleigh, the Colony in north Raleigh, and the Carolina in Durham, but it’s hard not to feel like a distinctive, local space has been lost, and I’d imagine that even with these other movie theaters, that I’ll be seeing far fewer movies in theaters (and maybe even far fewer movies) in the months to come.

I do hope that some of my local readers will consider the option of donating to support the survival of the Cameo Art House in Fayetteville. They have a page on their website calling for donations and explaining the costs (about $100,000 per screen) and the necessity of conversion, as well as the difficulty of financing this type of cost for theaters operating on the margins. It’s easy to say that movie lovers still have unprecedented choices when it comes to art house and independent films–the VOD menus on most cable sites offer a massive “multiplex” on-demand for costs that aren’t that much higher than a movie ticket, but the cultural pleasures of getting out of the house, of watching with others, are in danger of fading away. I realize that I’m verging on some of the nostalgic language about a dying movie culture that I generally try to criticize, but it’s hard to keep a sense of critical distance when those industrial changes hit so close to home.

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