By George Basler
Some sad news came in over the holidays: The Art Mission and Theater gave up the ghost after showing independent films in downtown Binghamton for the past 10 years.
I can’t say I was totally surprised. Sometimes I wondered how the place hung on for so long as it had, given the movie market here in Binghamton. Nonetheless, it was disheartening for me as a movie buff.
Some of my friends would put the theater down, comparing it unfavorably to Cinemapolis, an independent movie house in Ithaca. But making the drive to Ithaca, especially in the middle of a Southern Tier winter, never appealed to me. As far as I was concerned, the Art Mission was a more than a satisfactory outlet to see films that would otherwise go unseen in the area.
The theater had its charms. The small size of the screening rooms created a sense of intimacy. Looking at the artwork on the walls was a pleasant way to pass the time. And the concession prices couldn’t be beat, especially when compared to the outrageous charges at the local multiplexes.
I’ll miss these things. But what’s especially distressing about the closing is what it says about the state of movie audiences.
Too many films these days resemble theme parks with the requisite car crashes and any objects available for explosions. Now, I have nothing against comic book/super hero movies. Everybody needs a sugar high once and awhile. But the bottom line these days is how many millions can be generated by these movies. Other, smaller films are still produced but finding a distributor and a movie house for audiences is difficult. The Art Mission did succeed, for a time, in providing an outlet here.
Over the years I enjoyed number of films at the Art Mission. What comes immediately to mind are Spotlight, an Academy Award winner as best picture; My Week with Marilyn with Michelle Williams; some fine documentaries; Waitress, and Grandma with Lily Tomlin.
A special treat was the theater’s annual showing of films nominated for Academy Awards in the “best short film” and “best short animated film” categories. Try seeing these films anyplace else around here.
But, I have a confession to make. While my wife and I bought annual memberships in the theater, we didn’t go nearly enough as we should have. Other things seemed to come up, and there was always next week. Now, there are no more next weeks.
I’m not close enough to the situation to know why the Art Mission finally closed its doors. But, as a casual observer, I thought the theater was having trouble booking films. Movies such as Lady Bird and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, that might have played there once, weren’t coming there anymore. Instead, for the past few months, the theater was booking films that were obscure and painfully esoteric.
Rebecca Sheriff, executive director, blamed the shutdown on “the Netflix culture.” And, maybe a theater like the Art Mission is superfluous in an era when film enthusiasts can sit home on their couches and watch their favorites. But I’m old school. I still like the communal experience of watching a movie in a theater.
So, this is a tribute to the Art Mission folks. You gave it a good effort. This is a note of appreciation for your persistence and vision. To paraphrase the Jimmy Stewart character in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (one of my favorite Frank Capra movies) sometimes “the only causes worth fighting for are the lost causes.”