Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Dobie theater closing Sunday

Yes, I saw Slacker there. In high school we used to go to the midnight screenings of naughty films like Flesh Gordon and Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS. I saw Eraserhead there. My mother and I watched Babe together. My former students who worked there used to let me in for free. It was a frequent stop for Austin Film Festival and South By Southwest film screenings. I remember the television converted to a fish tank that dominated the lobby before the odd redesign that guaranteed everyone a bad seat. The place always seemed to be crawling with that special breed of nerdy college hipsters. It was Austin.

This Sunday the four screens of the Dobie theater go black for the last time. Or is it? There is still hope that someone else will take over for the Landmark chain, which never seemed to get the Dobie.

Perhaps it's a sign of the growth and change of the Austin film viewing scene. The Alamo Drafthouse changed everything. The Drag, which once was the epicenter of Austin film with the Dobie, Varsity, Texan and Texas Union theaters showing all of the cool arthouse fare, is now a filmic wasteland.

But you can't help but wonder if it has to be that way.

Here's how the Landmark web site describes the place (and totally disregards that the Dobie operated before Slacker, like for about two decades before it!):

4 Screens. Operated by Landmark since 1999. Located in the heart of "The Drag," the Dobie Theatre sits just off the University of Texas campus on the second floor of the Dobie Mall. The theatre has been a beloved Austin institution for well over twenty (?) years. Each of its four auditoriums have a unique theme-- Egyptian, French Tudor, Gargoyle Gothic and Space-Age Art Deco. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the Dobie became the epicenter for Austin's independent film community when a then unknown Richard Linklater walked in and asked if he could have some experimental 16mm films shown. This collection of film came to be known as Slacker. Later, when Linklater made his follow up film, Dazed and Confused, he insisted, much to the distributor's chagrin, that it be shown exclusively at the Dobie. It went on to play for over a year to sold out shows and posted the film's highest cumulative gross in the country. The Dobie also boasts a record-breaking, one year plus run of the local documentary favorite, Hands on a Hard Body.

It's closing is a waste, but was known by former staffers to be coming for the last few years. Landmark obviously never understood the place or its history and potential.

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