Love let­ter to The Ox­ford

Af­ter 80 years at the movies, we say good­bye to a piece of Hal­i­fax his­tory: The Ox­ford.


It’s about the build­ing, but it isn’t. For some, go­ing to the movies is just go­ing to the movies. Those peo­ple are fine driv­ing out to Bay­ers Lake or Dart­mouth Cross­ing and step­ping into a pho­to­copied mul­ti­plex—if you en­tered a Cine­plex-branded build­ing in Edmonton or Bar­rie, you’d know ex­actly what to do—and en­dur­ing the flash­ing lights of the ar­cade, the lobby you could drive a tank through with no dam­age, the wide ar­ray of hot snacks served by fraz­zled teens. These same peo­ple think arena shows are the best way to see a band. It’s not an ex­pe­ri­ence, it’s just a thing to do.

For oth­ers, to go to the movies is to en­gage with art. It’s an event. It can be the cul­tural high­light of a year.

For 80 years, that is what The Ox­ford gave to Hal­i­fax. As a build­ing, bricks and mor­tar, it’s lack­ing in that way reper­tory cin­e­mas have al­ways been lack­ing: There’s the tiny lobby and the in­ef­fi­cient, down­right be­fud­dling bath­rooms—in the women’s there is a full-on pow­der room next to three stalls cir­cling sin­gle tiny sink (why would the toi­let be raised, any­way?). A few years ago, cos­metic ren­o­va­tions re­sulted in an uglier sign, less character and nei­ther—never, as it turned out—air con­di­tion­ing nor self-serve tick­et­ing. Be­fore the theatre went dig­i­tal, the pro­jec­tor was so dirty that ev­ery movie looked like it was from the 70s, cov­ered in bits of dust and de­tri­tus.

None of that mat­tered, be­cause you loved it any­way. A movie house born in 1937 ver­sus one printed out from a tem­plate in 2017— these two places don’t feel like they’re even on the same earth. The Ox­ford has high ceil­ings, wide aisles, am­ple space be­tween rows, deep seats ar­ranged in gen­tly curv­ing rows to pro­vide good sight­lines. Its big­gest old-world flair is the bal­cony, high up and far back, with a nar­row stair­case. There’s still a mo­ment where the cur­tains pull fully back.

In ret­ro­spect, we should’ve seen this com­ing. The At­lantic In­ter­na­tional Film Fes­ti­val, in a year full of con­fus­ing moves, an­nounced this sum­mer that it would be tak­ing place solely in Park Lane, eight screens hand­ily lo­cated in the down­town core. (Since we’re here—our fin­gers have long been crossed for Park Lane.) But the Ox­ford pre­mieres were the best part of the fes­ti­val. No lo­cal film­maker will ever again get to stand on a red car­pet out­side a sin­gle-screen movie house, with a line stretch­ing down Ox­ford Street, in tan­dem with the trees, com­prised of hun­dreds of peo­ple ex­cited to see their art. No film­goer will ever again get to wit­ness some­thing like Michael Moore in­tro­duc­ing Bowl­ing for Columbine, a doc­u­men­tary that would go on to win an Academy Award for its Hal­i­faxbased pro­duc­ers.

Of course, film ex­hi­bi­tion is not about art, it’s about busi­ness. Em­pire made half-hearted at­tempts to run the Ox­ford as a rep, but it’s too big, over 300 seats. (That’s why the Best Ex­otic Marigold Ho­tel could—needed to?—have an 11-week run.) Cine­plex, since its ac­qui­si­tion of all Em­pire Theatres in 2013, has nei­ther known nor cared what to do with it (al­though it kept run­ning monthly clas­sics un­til open­ing a ded­i­cated Event screen in Park Lane two years back).

That The Ox­ford has fallen to de­vel­op­ment is what hurts the most. Stores and restau­rants close all the time, some­times be­cause of con­dos and some­times be­cause of fail­ure and it’s aw­ful but that’s life. For a cor­po­ra­tion to just sell off a piece of Hal­i­fax his­tory, one that means so much to so many, that of­fers daily ex­pe­ri­en­tial art to cit­i­zens who will cheer­fully, ac­tively work for it—for a cor­po­ra­tion to do some­thing so fuck­ing cor­po­rate— is not sur­pris­ing. But that doesn’t make it any less dev­as­tat­ing.

So it’s about the build­ing, for a few. For the rest of us, it isn’t. It never was.

For a list of The Ox­ford’s fi­nal week of screen­ings Septem­ber 8-13, see Events, page 20.

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