Businesses die every day in New York, but all deaths are not equal. Some rend the very fabric of a city that fancies itself, quite reasonably, the nation’s cultural tastemaker. So there is reason to mourn the passing of two movie houses in Manhattan that believed in the capacity of films that aren’t dominated by car explosions, light sabers and computer-generated gimcrackery to more faithfully reflect the human spirit.
Last Sunday the Sunshine Cinema, dedicated to independent and foreign films, shut its doors after a 16-year run on Houston Street (that’s HOW-stin, people, not HEW-stin). A developer plans to demolish it and put up … something. Whatever it is, it’s bound to be less soul-satisfying.
This Sunday brings the end to an older theater, Lincoln Plaza Cinemas, which has been around since 1981, in a worn area one flight below the street at Broadway and 62nd Street. The Lincoln Plaza faithful — who tend to be, shall we say, not young — aren’t just hanging crepe these days. They are practically ready to call in grief counselors.
Call it an art house if you must, a term bound to scare off some people. It’s where devoted audiences have long flocked to see works of intelligence, many of them imports, because not all things great are American. On the final day at the theater, its six screens have films by Italian, Lebanese, Austrian, English and Scottish directors. There is also one film by a not-so-typical American named Woody Allen.
What happened to this theater is a landlord-tenant story so familiar to New Yorkers that it’s trite. The lease expired, and the building owner, Milstein Properties, didn’t renew it. Structural work is needed around the building, Milstein said. It has promised that once the job is done, a new cinema will be birthed in the old Lincoln Plaza space. We’ll see. For now, it’s probably not a bad idea to bear in mind an old line about verbal agreements and how they’re not worth the paper they’re written on.