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The Roxy resurrected: Mainstream screens return to Center City

3 minute read
The Roxy on Sansom Street (image from Geekadelphia.com)
The Roxy on Sansom Street (image from Geekadelphia.com)

The newly reborn Roxy Theater is the baby-bear of Philadelphia-area movie theaters. With the same two tiny rooms, it came back to life last December with Saving Mr. Banks. Within a week, The Wolf of Wall Street began creating a dramatic contrast. Just a hop, skip, and a box of popcorn away from the dearly-beloved-but-dark Boyd Theatre, the Roxy has risen like a phoenix after one long, dark year.

The Roxy is now under the aegis of the Philadelphia Film Society, aka Filmadelphia. The primary motivator for the total upgrade was the lack of digital projectors. As the film industry began releasing more, then all, of its products electronically, the Roxy, like other small theaters around the country, couldn’t show new pictures. Now it boasts a digital cinematic projection and Dolby 7.1 Surround Sound.

Movie theaters first began installing digital projectors in about 2001, says The Atlantic Cities. Going digital, it says, creates a “generally clearer” picture and radically lowers the financial and logistical costs of distribution. A single copy of a 35-mm feature film costs studios more than $1,500, while digital copies could cost a tenth of that, with prices falling fast.

One of the Roxy’s theaters has a 35-millimeter reel-to-reel device to show classic films like On the Waterfront, Rashomon, and Cat Ballou.

The larger theater? (Larger, of course, being a relative word here.) The Roxy’s chambers, 74 and 75 seats each, feature new ceilings, floors, acoustic paneling, painted drywall, and one cleaned-up interior brick wall. The front of the house sports updated washrooms, a new stand selling Dots and Raisinets, and ADA-compliant ramps to accommodate everyone.

The theater, technically at both 2021 and 2023 Sansom Street, Philadelphia, a few minutes’ walk from the highly populated Rittenhouse Square neighborhood, has admirers and detractors. (What else? It’s Philadelphia.) Some prefer its storied older lives, beginning with its 1975 dawning: art-house and independent movies. Or its 1984 incarnation, which offered new releases. Other folks, pleased to lose the musty smells and leaky ceilings, look to a future of popular live-action, horror, and zombie flicks.

Regardless of popular opinion, though, the Roxy is the sole movie provider within the official boundaries of the Center City District. The 12 Ritz/Landmark screens lie east of its borders. Occasionally the Prince Music Theater and the Kimmel Center screen films, and the IMAX in the Franklin Institute shows family-friendly, science-related stuff. Only the Roxy shows mainstream movies in Center City.

According to its website, Filmadelphia aims “to utilize film’s unique capacity to engage a broad cross-section of the community, while further providing access to powerful films from around the world in order to increase education and understanding.” It runs the Philadelphia Film Festival, scheduled for next October.

PFS executive director Andrew Greenblatt studied political science at American University and law at George Washington University. He produced a few films and moved back to Philadelphia. He says he always loved movies but prefers not to name names.

The film society manages but does not own the Roxy. The landlord does. In some ways, though, it belongs to all of us. See you after the credits.

To see more of the Roxy remodel, check out Geekadelphia's October 2013 photo-tour of the renovations.

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