VINTAGE COLUMN: ‘CINEMA IN YOUR FACE!’? — THAT’S RIGHT, A THIRD ART THEATER OPENS IN SLC

       

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Feb. 27, 2015

EDITOR’S NOTE: Today we have two movie art houses in Salt Lake City — the single-screen Tower Theater and the multiplex Broadway Centre Cinemas. And art films are also shown in the bigger commercial multiplexes more often than ever before. When I landed in Salt Lake City in 1978, however, the Blue Mouse was the only game in town. Then the Utah Theater began running art films for a time. And both were successful enough that the owners of the Blue Mouse decided to add yet another art house — and all three were right downtown competing with each other. This ‘Hicks on Flicks’ column ran in the Deseret News on May 10, 1987, announcing the debut of the latter.

Can you picture Bogie and Bacall toasting one another? …

Bogie: Here’s mud in your eye.

Bacall: Here’s Cinema In Your Face!

Well, maybe not. But that’s the name of a new Salt Lake City theater. No, no, not “Mud In Your Eye” – that would be silly.

The theater is called “Cinema In Your Face!”

Right.

You will no doubt think this is some bizarre joke, but I promise it’s true. Should you doubt it look up the ad in the theater pages.

Here’s the setup:

A couple of months ago you may have read about the Art Cinema, at 45 W. Third South, a new movie theater that would specialize in foreign-language and offbeat independent productions, competing with the Blue Mouse and Plitt’s Utah Theater downtown.

The building housing the Art Cinema was, until recently, one of Salt Lake’s soft-core porno houses, but you may recall that the people operating those places were run out of town.

      

The new owners – Greg Tanner and John Bray – opened the Art Cinema with “Blue Velvet,” which had played several weeks during its first Salt Lake run. Then they played a Blue Mouse staple, “Harold and Maude.” A short time later they brought in their first first-run films — “Beyond Therapy,” followed by “Monster In the Closet.”

Those are hardly top-of-the-line pictures, but Tanner and Bray made up for it when they brought in “True Stories” for a two-week run, a film that had played only one week during its initial run in February. And Friday they opened their most prestigious film yet, “Waiting for the Moon.”

Customers have not exactly been pounding down the Art Cinema’s doors, however.

Tanner and Bray decided that people were probably just not aware of the theater – or if they were aware of it, perhaps they thought it was still a porn theater. They also worried that the name they had chosen for the theater, “Art Cinema,” may have had people thinking “Adult Films,” as in X-rated.

     

In order to draw attention to the establishment and its new decorum, they decided to change the theater’s name once more. It is no longer the Art Cinema.

But is it something in the least bit conventional? Say, the Bijou? Nope.

As of Friday it became … that’s right … Cinema In Your Face! (Don’t forget the exclamation point!)

“We figured this was the greatest way to grab some attention, an obnoxious name like that.” Tanner explained over the phone.

Well, he got my attention.

“We feel the marquee, which said ‘Art films shown daily’ was just a minor change from ‘Adult entertainment nightly.’ Some people may confuse ‘art’ films with ‘blue,’ or X-rated films.”

He said the plan is to aggressively seek out special-interest groups, as the Blue Mouse does, and advertise on radio as well as in the newspapers, or wherever they can best hit the target audiences for specific films.

Of course, the real question is whether Salt Lake City can sustain three “art” movie theaters.

I suspect not.

The Blue Mouse has a mailing list and sends quarterly calendars to its faithful customers, who sometimes plan months ahead to see certain movies. It is a small, intimate theater, with an ambiance that keeps as many people away as it attracts.

What’s more, its location, 260 E. First South, is directly down the hill from the University of Utah, which probably draws in college students. And there is parking available on the streets.

After all these years, the Mouse’s biggest draw is still midnight (OK, OK, 11:30) showings of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” on Fridays and Saturdays.

Plitt’s two-screen Utah Theater, on Main Street downtown, is bigger and more comfortable (though there is a problem with overlapping sound from auditorium to auditorium), and shows some great films. But there’s no convenient parking, and the number of people in attendance is sometimes less than you’ll see at the Mouse.

Because it is part of a major chain, the Utah Theater tends to book the biggest films off the art/foreign circuit, but then it does little to let the public know they are here. “True Stories,” for example, might have done a lot more business the first time around if Talking Heads fans knew it was playing.

The Art Cinema … er, excuse me … the Cinema In Your Face! (that ought to be hyphenated, don’t you think?) is somewhere in between the Utah and the Mouse in terms of size. Parking is better, and the theater is comfortable and clean.

But it takes time to build up any kind of audience, and an art house crowd is even tougher.

Toughest of all for the three theaters, however, is the competition for movies. We may find ourselves getting more art and foreign films in town, which film buffs will appreciate, but we will also probably get more mediocre movies.

Worst of all, sooner or later someone will have to cave in. Competition is a wonderful thing, until it drives somebody out of business.

We can only hope that doesn’t happen in this case.