Column: Uniqueness of old theatres can’t be beat

By Jessica Crowe

The Somerset Theatre, a staple of Centretown’s core, will close down on Oct. 31.

Take a drive out of Ottawa’s cramped quarters to airy Gloucester or Kanata and you can find the reason for its demise. Its successors are futuristic multi-theatres like Silver City, housing many movies at once. Wielding cup-holders, high-backed chairs, and an array of pricey junk food, they are designed to make movie watching an exceptionally comfortable experience.

Single-cinema movie houses, like the Somerset, the Bytowne and the Mayfair, just don’t have the convenience and luxury that larger cinemas do. They lack the parking facilities the suburbs offer. Their seats, sound, variety, and picture quality just don’t measure up. Other than cheaper prices, it seems there is nothing the single cinemas can do that the bigger theatres can’t do better.

Yet the loss of these theatres is a tragedy. After nearly 70 years, the Somerset still charms its patrons with old-time decadence. In 10 years, the novelty of the larger theatres will look dated.

People on the street, enjoying and creating the ambiance of their neighbourhood, is the essence of any community. Now, people must drive to get to these mega-theatres. Patrons don’t gather afterwards, discussing what they’ve seen. Instead, they scurry to drive back home. The Somerset is a reminder of a time when people outnumbered cars on the street.

Movie watching has become an isolated experience at the new theatres. High-backed chairs, high armrests and the steep slope of theatre seats allow for little movement and restrict conversation. Is the laughter and noise of others so offensive that we must cage ourselves in when watching a movie? If people don’t like interacting with others, why not wait until the movie comes out on video?

But it’s the patrons themselves who must take the blame for the loss of single-cinema theatre. Those who choose the accessibility of suburban theatres over the uniqueness of smaller ones are the culprits. But who isn’t at fault for this? It seems that in this culture of instant gratification, “style over substance” has us all in its clutches.