The End of an Era in Philadelphia and South Jersey Film Going

This weekend marks the first “official” weekend of new ownership of the Ritz Film Group.  Once operating three theaters in Philadelphia and one multiplex in my hometown of Voorhees, the Ritz was one of the only locally owned art-house theater chains left in the United States.  Known for showing films of distinction, and beloved by its loyal patrons for its classy decor, fantastic popcorn, and sensible rules (no kids under 6, and no kids 6-16 without an adult present, no commercials before the films, and classical music and local art scene slides playing before the trailers), the Ritz was a true institution in Philly and South Jersey.  They are the only theaters I know of where people don’t go to see any particular film; they simply go because they know any film showing at the Ritz will be unique and something to talk about.  I can still remember seeing my first Ritz film at the original Ritz Five in Philly, Much Ado About Nothing.  My first film at the Ritz in Voorhees was The English Patient.  One of the primary reasons I decided to settle in Voorhees a few years ago was the presence of the Ritz 16, knowing that nowhere else would I be able to enjoy independent films, foreign titles, and the latest Hollywood blockbuster under one roof.

Sadly, the owner of the Ritz decided to sell.  The three Philly locations were sold to Landmark, the only national chain dedicated to art-house fare.  Hopefully little will change at these locations.  The Ritz 16, on the other hand, was sold to National Amusements (the chain responsible for IMAX).  They, too, promise to continue showing a combination of mainstream films and the types of distinct entertainment the audience of the Ritz has come to love. 

This weekend, their first under new management, the Ritz 16 is showing Spiderman 3 on 4 screens, and traditional art-house Ritz films on 6 screens.  These numbers seem acceptable, and hopefully they will see the advantage of continuing to cater to the loyal patrons of “movies to talk about.” 

Here’s a list of things I can live with under the new management of the Ritz 16:

-The change in name to “Showcase at the Ritz”

-The inevitable higher ticket and concession prices

-The inevitable onslaught of corporate sponsored advertising in the slides before the trailers

Here’s what I can’t live with:

-Catering to the kids (please no Disney or animated films)

-A slow decline in the number of screens dedicated to art-house cinema

-Commercials and loud music in front of the trailers

-Any significant change in the decor or the menu at the concession stands (please, we love our non-Starbucks owned gourmet coffee stand and Toblerone candy).

So it seems for now, all is not lost…just slightly changed.  Let’s continue to support the distinct films the “new Ritz” continues to show to prove to the new owners big profits can be made by not changing the line-up too drastically, lest our worst fears come to life. 

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For some excellent follow-up on this troubling topic check out this active thread on one of Carrie Rickey’s blogs:

http://blogs.phillynews.com/inquirer/flickgrrl/2007/03/movie_shrines_ritz_theaters_to_be_acquired_by_landmark.html

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