It's Curtains (again) For The Roxy Theaters

Posted: October 18, 1994

In its 23 years as a Center City art house, the Roxy Screening Rooms has

closed and reopened more times than an elevator door.

Tonight, after the screening of What Happened Was . . . and Employee's

Entrance, the twin theaters at 2023 Sansom St. will close once again. And this time, says its owner, it likely will stay closed.

"What happened was . . . there will no longer be an employee's entrance at the Roxy," said Jennifer Steinberg, who for the last year has been the theater's general manager. Steinberg is one of the Roxy's two full-time and 10 part-time employees, most of them college students, who will be looking for work tomorrow morning.

The Roxy's inability to book high-profile art films is the reason for its closing, theater owner Max Raab said yesterday.

While other area theaters played films such as The Piano and Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, the Roxy had to content itself with obscure art fare, repertory programs and "move-overs," films that had made their debuts in other theaters and were trickling down to second-tier houses.

The theater had difficulty negotiating with certain distributors to exhibit their films, said Raab, who also is chairman of the J.G. Hook and Tango clothing companies. The distributors, he alleged, preferred to hold out for a shot at area chains, such as the American Multi Cinema and United Artists circuits, suburban independents and the Ritz at the Bourse and the Ritz Five, the city's dominant art houses, both owned by Ramon Posel.

Because such discrimination violates federal antitrust laws and the state Motion Picture Fairness Practice Act, the Roxy's corporate entity, Orson Inc., last year filed suit against Miramax Films. According to the Roxy's attorney, Paul Rosen, the suit charged that Miramax, distributor of such films as The

Piano and Pulp Fiction, had an agreement with the Ritz theaters that they would be the exclusive first-run exhibitors of Miramax films in Center City.

In a summary judgment on Friday, U.S. District Judge J. Curtis Joyner found that such an agreement existed, but that it did not violate federal law.

Rosen said that the Roxy will pursue the suit on the state level. But Raab, a former film producer who financed Walkabout and executive-produced A Clockwork Orange, could not afford to keep the Roxy open in the interim.

"I'm sad about the closing of the Roxy," said Posel yesterday. Although

neither Posel nor the Ritz was a party to the suit, the theater owner - whose two houses comprise 10 screens in the city and who plans to build a third theater in New Jersey - gave a deposition about local booking practices.

"If Center City is going to hold its own, it has to offer things the consumer can't get in the suburbs. If the Roxy's going to close, there's one fewer reason to come to Center City, which I lament," said Posel.

"Nobody died. It's just a theater," Raab said yesterday.

But is it really dead, this funky little movie house that has had five incarnations in 23 years?

"Well," said Raab, "it could be reborn again in another form. We'd like to run it with foundation funding like the County Theater in Doylestown. Now, there's a nonprofit that just happens to be profitable."

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