Widen weds his love of cinema to Times
It was recently announced that writer, Milwaukee cinema historian and history buff Larry Widen is buying the Times Cinema on Vliet Street, maintaining former owner Eric Levin as general manager.
We caught up with Widen -- co-author of "Silver Screens," a book about Milwaukee's cinema history -- to ask him about his plans and the realization of a dream.
OMC: What prompted you to buy the Times? Is it a dream come true for a theater buff?
LW: The chance to buy the Times came along at a point in my life when I was able to take advantage of it. And yes, it's something I've wanted to do for many years, but it wasn't until now that the opportunity and resources were aligned.
OMC: Sounds like you have big plans for the place, can you tell us about them?
LW: My vision for the Times is one of continual growth and development. The theater is uniquely positioned in a great neighborhood and I want to see it become even more of a multi-media community gathering place. In addition to great movies, we will be presenting live shows for a variety of tastes. We're bringing several blues legends in for shows this spring: harmonica player Corky Siegel on Saturday, April 28, plus guitarists Sam Lay and "Honeyboy" Edwards in May and June. We're also planning a weekend-long "Cavalcade of Magic" in June with several Las Vegas magicians. And next Dec. 21-23, the actress who plays Zuzu in "It's A Wonderful Life" will be at the theater to meet film fans and sign autographs. That's only the tip of the iceberg.
OMC: I hear that Eric Levin will remain on staff. He must be a valuable asset.
LW: It was very important to me that Eric become a part of this new phase of the Times. He's kept it going for the last 13 years, and he's got a great sense for picking what films to book.
OMC: What's the state of the theater from a historical standpoint? Will you work to restore it or would that ignore the realities of what it takes to keep a single screen theater open in 2007?
LW: I don't want to ignore the realities of trying to run a single-screen theater in 2007, but I also don't think it has to be a liability. The Times is really in excellent shape, and anything we do in there is cosmetic rather than structural. For example, I'm looking at putting more comfortable seats in there. That's much more exciting than having to tear out walls or something. As this deal was coming together, we talked a great deal about whether to try and twin the theater or work with what we currently have, and it keeps coming back to retaining the beautiful shape of the auditorium rather than try and squeeze two screens out of it.
From a live performance standpoint, the Times is fabulous because the farthest any audience member is from a performer is only 75 ft. Conversely, they can be as close as five feet. The auditorium is wide rather than deep, so there's not a bad seat in the house. It's a very intimate venue with a ready-made stage, and that would all be lost if we tried to make it into a twin cinema.
So the solution we've come up with is to double-book the screen we have. You can come at 1 or 3 on a weekend and see one film, or you can come at 7 or 9 and see something completely different. I really believe that creativity and flexibility is the key to success with this project.
OMC: Do you have a favorite old film that you've been dying to see on the big screen and that we can expect to see at the Times soon?
LW: My personal favorite films can be found among the classics of the 1930s, '40s and '50s. In the coming months we'll be interspersing the best of the new independent releases with great Hitchcocks, Bogarts, film noir, the Connery James Bonds, vintage Three Stooges, and a lot more. We're even showing the 1943 Batman serial chapters on some nights!
Film Fan | Jan. 11, 2007 at 11:33 a.m. (report)
I hope they revive the Friday Night Freak Show!
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