Vi­enna’s vin­tage movie houses en­dure and thrive with niche pro­gram­ming

METROPOLE - Vienna in English - - CONTENTS - By Binu Starnegg By Su­sanne Got­tlieb

Nos­tal­gic cinephiles are spoiled for choice at Vi­enna’s many vin­tage movie the­aters. Lov­ing Vin­cent recre­ates van Gogh’s fi­nal days with stun­ning an­i­mated oil paint­ings, but suf­fers from bad pac­ing.

Cin­ema is a young medium, around for just over a cen­tury. But it’s made up for it with nos­tal­gia. Sel­fref­er­en­tial and prone to look­ing back, some of the great­est films are about cin­ema it­self, like Billy Wilder’s Sun­set Boule­vard, Giuseppe Tor­na­tore’s Cin­ema Par­adiso or Martin Scors­ese’s Hugo. And since it’s been up­staged by tele­vi­sion, and now on­line stream­ing, the big screen wist­fully yearns all the more for its own glo­ri­ous past – with ever-big­ger re­makes, re-imag­in­ings and re­boots shown at enor­mous-yet-charm­less mul­ti­plex the­atres.

But when it comes to am­biance, au­then­tic­ity trumps size. And for­tu­nately for us, Vi­enna boasts a re­mark­able num­ber of clas­sic movie houses, many largely un­changed since the 1950s. While some have tried to keep up and failed, oth­ers have sur­vived. The beloved Flot­tenk­ino shut down in 2002, and the lovely Auge Gottes (Eye of God) lasted un­til 2011; both are now supermarkets. The Apollo Kino, orig­i­nally a vaudeville stage open­ing in 1904, sur­vived by bulk­ing up to 12 screens, in­clud­ing the only IMAX pro­jec­tor within the Gür­tel – while los­ing its charm in the bar­gain. Other the­aters have in­stead courted niche au­di­ences, many by show­ing films in English or with sub­ti­tles.


The BREITENSEER LICHTSPIELE (BSL) is one of the sur­vivors, bear­ing the honor of Vi­enna’s (and pos­si­bly the world’s) old­est cin­ema since the cen­tury-old Erika Kino (now The­ater Spiel­raum) closed in 1999. This old nick­elodeon has screened films in a quiet part of the 14th dis­trict since 1905. A far cry from glitz and glam­our, BSL may be small and Spar­tan with wooden seats, but it has room for a pi­ano: They still put on silent mati­nees with mu­si­cal ac­com­pa­ni­ment, with Ce­cil B. Demille’s The Whis­per­ing Cho­rus, Al­fred Hitch­cock’s Down­hill and Buster Keaton’s Steam­boat Bill, Jr. (Dec 15-17) up this month. Oth­er­wise, they spe­cial­ize in doc­u­men­taries, Aus­trian films and in­ter­na­tional art house fare, usu­ally in English or sub­ti­tled. Still, its sur­vival re­mains pre­car­i­ous, so catch a show while you still can!

The GARTENBAUKINO is on the other end of the spec­trum: De­vised as a glam­orous venue for pre­mieres on Parkring, it still boasts one of the big­gest screens in the coun­try, largely un­changed since open­ing in 1960 with

Stan­ley Kubrick’s Spar­ta­cus, with Kirk Dou­glas in at­ten­dance. Run by the Vi­en­nale film fes­ti­val as of 2002, Garten­bau shows in­ter­na­tional films in their orig­i­nal lan­guages; since last year, they’ve even re­tooled them­selves for the rare, high-res 70 mm for­mat, not seen there for decades.

The STADTKINO IM KÜN­STLER­HAUS just around the cor­ner screens films in a stun­ning au­di­to­rium con­verted in 1949, un­der mu­rals by Aus­trian artists Ru­dolf Eisen­menger and Ru­dolf Holzinger. The Kün­stler­haus spe­cial­izes in off­beat films, screen­ing in­de­pen­dent doc­u­men­taries and fea­tures, mainly from Aus­tria, Ger­many and far afield. Then there’s the FILM­CASINO, a 1950s jewel in dark wood and brass re­stored in 1989. Cater­ing to both cinephiles and ex­pats, it stays afloat with orig­i­nal-lan­guage pro­gram­ming and quirky events like the an­nual /Slash film fes­ti­val, a cel­e­bra­tion of cin­ema’s lu­natic fringe.


And fi­nally, two honor­able men­tions: The Fil­marchiv Aus­tria’s METROKINO is ded­i­cated to pre­serv­ing cin­ema as an art form, but the place it­self is a spe­cial treat. A 19th cen­tury stage (once run by Otto Preminger) con­verted to a cin­ema in 1951, the in­te­rior is a mashup of both eras, dark wood pan­els and cut-glass chan­de­liers off­set with bright, geo­met­ric car­pet­ing – quite pos­si­bly the pret­ti­est (cer­tainly the most un­usual) movie the­atre in town.

The Un­sicht­bares Kino (in­vis­i­ble cin­ema) of the AUS­TRIAN FILM MU­SEUM, a plain black au­di­to­rium un­der­neath the Al­bertina, cer­tainly can’t com­pare, but in­ten­tion­ally so: It tries not to dis­tract from the screen. With ma­jor ret­ro­spec­tives ev­ery month – in­clud­ing one hon­or­ing Kathryn Bigelow and other Amer­i­can women film­mak­ers in De­cem­ber – the Film Mu­seum has even cre­ated some nos­tal­gia of its own: ev­ery year on Christ­mas Eve, they show The Wiz­ard of Oz and hold a Marx Broth­ers mini-fes­ti­val in the run up to New Year’s.

Watch­ing larger-than-life sto­ries on the big screen in a packed house re­mains cin­ema’s great­est ap­peal – some­thing you can never re­place at home. Like other al­legedly ob­so­lete en­ter­tain­ments, main­stream cin­ema may have to lose its “big­ger is bet­ter” mantra and rein­vent it­self to sur­vive an­other cen­tury – as the­ater and ra­dio have be­fore. But in venues like these, the magic of the sil­ver-screen will never die.

The Gartenbaukino re­mains largely un­changed since 1960.

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