The Toronto Underground Cinema is closing.
The really sad thing is, this isn't a surprise. The cult-minded venue nestled into an office building on Spadina just north of Queen was a gamble from the first, though one that operators Alex Woodside, Nigel Agnew and Charlie Lawton put their hearts and souls into.
The theatre's programming - of which I was occasionally delighted to be a part - was inventive, eclectic and unapologetically odd, and it deserved a bigger following than it managed to build. But audiences are hard to come by these days, and a 700-seat venue needs to be busier than the Underground was most nights. The theatre was closed most of the summer for renovations, but for months before that its calendar had been spotty at best.
Yesterday, the news broke that the Underground will be shuttered for good on September 15, after the Toronto Indie Film Festival wraps up. The inevitability of the announcement doesn't make it go down any easier, and the Underground will be sorely missed. It was a place for nerds to express their passions -- to appreciate the unsung charms of Alien Resurrection or MacGyver, to wonder which ending of Clue was going to play this time, to watch Taxi Driver and Observe And Report back to back and realize the later was an infernally faithful tribute to the former.
My favourite night at the Underground was the night last year when I introduced a free screening of Edgar Wright's Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World, a thank-you for naming the theatre the city's best repertory cinema in NOW's 2011 Best of Toronto reader poll.
About 300 people turned up, and it felt like a party. But more than that, it felt like a gathering of kindred spirits, all sharing in the same joyful secret. That was a night when the Underground became what it wanted to be all along - a doorway into a parallel universe where that movie was the blockbuster it should have been, and Dan Harmon's Community was a beloved hit show, and Charlie Sheen's meltdown was just someone's bad dream. For that one night, everything was okay.
Of course it couldn't last.
The closing of the Underground is just a symptom of the struggles facing every rep house these days. When the Revue Cinema reopened back in 2007, it tried to establish itself as a 35mm house, screening movies on film whenever possible. But the digital revolution would not be denied, and the news that studios were abandoning 35mm distribution as early as next year spurred the Revue to install a new digital projection system that can keep up with the times.
That system gets a proper workout this weekend with the new restoration of Steven Spielberg's Jaws, which arrives at the Revue for nightly screenings tonight through Monday after a month at TIFF Bell Lightbox and a couple of weeks at the Yonge-Dundas Cineplex. If you're out in the west end and couldn't find the time to get downtown to see one of the greatest movies ever made ... well, you don't have as far to go this weekend. That's nice, isn't it?
Fancy something more recent? The Carlton Cinemas is screening a new film, Somewhere Tonight, which was booked too late to make NOW's film pages. Directed by Michael di Jiacomo, it stars real-life couple John Turturro and Katherine Borowitz in an English-language reworking of Theo Van Gogh's 1-900, about two strangers who meet on a phone-sex line and have an extremely awkward meeting in the real world.
Playing further east at the Projection Booth is Moloch Tropical, which played the 2009 Toronto Film Festival and subsequently knocked around the fest circuit for years. (It was part of the Human Rights Watch package for a while.) Now Raoul Peck's take of a fictitious Haitian dictator (Zinedine Soualem) watching as his regime collapses around him is resurfacing at the Leslieville cinema.
Back in the Annex, the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema is screening limited runs of This Space Available, which explores the contemporary dilemma of advertising in public space (not just a first-world problem, as it turns out) and Bill W, the first feature-length look at the founder of Alcoholics Anonymous. And it's time for another World Of Shorts collection (Wednesday, 5 pm); this one's called After School Special, and focuses primarily on adolescent characters.
And we discussed it last week, but there's still time to head down to Sugar Beach for the Sail-In Festival, which continues tonight and tomorrow with free screenings of Creature From The Black Lagoon and Steven Spielberg's Hook, respectively. The screenings are free, but if you're watching roomy the beach you'll need tickets, which are available here. Be mindful of land sharks.
Finally, there's Harbourfront's Free Flicks series, which is screening our freshest film of the summer, Bennett Miller's Moneyball - less than a year after its TIFF debut! -- Wednesday night. It's also the longest film we're screening this summer, meaning an earlier start time; I'll be on stage to introduce the film at about 8:30 pm instead of the usual 9 pm. So come down even earlier than usual to get a decent seat, the better to appreciate Brad Pitt's first proper movie-star performance in years, but also the subtle pleasures of Aaron Sorkin and Steven Zaillian's nimble script, which makes statistics not only dramatic but kind of heart-warming.
I'll see you there. We can pour one out for the Underground.