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Farewell to the Village Cinema and our own Robert Bryce.

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As a longtime patron of the Village theatre, I was depressed to see it go. But I also saw how little the local media knew about the movie theatre's role in Austin film. One TV station framed the Village's closing as the homegrown business losing out to the chains. That's silly. The Village Cinema was built by the Presidio chain, the largest locally owned theatre chain in the Seventies and through the mid-Eighties in Austin (probably the only one). It was run by the Chick brothers (Charles and Dick). They built theatres but also developed shopping centers (the legendary John Bird was involved at some point, but my memory is fuzzy). The Village opened as a first-run house, the commercial theatre that was the furthest north. It was, as Publisher Nick Barbaro notes, "The Arbor of its time (though the Arbor is no longer the Arbor of its time anymore)."

The Village was the prize North Austin cinema. Eventually, years later, it became an arthouse and, at some point, was acquired by Act III, a theatre chain with holdings in several states. One of the largest shareholders was Norman Lear, creator of All in the Family. At some point, Act III/Presidio very aggressively booked against the Dobie, which lead to some outstanding programming at the theatre (though it was always well-booked). Over the years, through different incarnations, the Village was home to many, many special movies. A few years back, Act III was sold to Regal Cinemas, a huge national chain out of Knoxville, Tennessee. The chain booked it as an arthouse, but the Arbor took over the role as the crucial North Austin arthouse (one with a citywide presence now).

By the end, the Village was mostly showing second-run art films. It's been obvious for a while that the chain was going to close it; rumors have circulated before. American theatre chains overbuilt like crazy in the last half of the Nineties and many have entered into some kind of bankruptcy/reorganization. So rather than the small guy losing out to the big guy, this was a strategic move by the big guy. In another slip-up on the same TV report, the station used a clip of the animated version of The Little Prince to illustrate a discussion of the Village run of Stanley Donen's 1974 live-action version -- but what the hell.

This is not to say I don't have more than two decades worth of great cinema memories from the Village. I especially remember bursting out into the small lobby after some particularly great cinematic adventure, then standing outside excitedly talking, savoring the filmic tastes, smelling the night air.

(For more on the Village's closing, see Marc Savlov's story "It's the Village, Idiot!" on p. 64.)

The issue you hold in your hand is unique to the last decade of the Chronicle in one way – Robert Bryce is not in the staff box. Robert began writing for the Chronicle in the late Eighties, debuting as a dance writer. But he was soon writing about politics, which proved to be his calling and his love. During the Nineties, he became one of the preeminent political writers in Austin, regularly published nationally as a freelancer in such publications as The Christian Science Monitor and The New York Times. Bryce was an intelligent and persistent voice, often championing stories others would have left for dead. The paper is very sorry to lose him as he joins Interactive Week as a writer. Just a week ago, when I was hanging out with Sammy and Bob on their KVET-FM show, they began talking very fondly of Bryce, though they share few common opinions. A terrific journalist, Bryce has something very down-home and honest about him. Even people who disagree with him are usually charmed by him and often friendly to him. As a reporter, Bryce is of the people, taking our questions and concerns to those responsible. We wish him the best in his new job and will always count him as one of our immediate family.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

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village theatre, village cinema art, regal cinemas, robert bryce

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