Reason to love Toronto: Because art house cinema is alive and well at the Carlton

Reason to love Toronto: Because art house cinema is alive and well at the Carlton

(Image: Lorne Bridgman; film still courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics; photo-illustration by Ken Ogawa) 

When the Carlton Cinemas closed last December (a casualty of Cineplex Odeon downsizing), it left a celluloid void in the city’s cinematic scene. Sure, the seats were rickety, the air conditioning putzed out mid-movie and some theatres still had mono sound systems, but where else would a tiny Japanese film like Departures play for 21 weeks, slowly building a word-of-mouth audience? The Carlton was one of the few theatres that took risks on Canadian movies, like Atom Egoyan’s first feature, Next of Kin, in 1985. For movie­goers wanting something more than the latest comic book cash-in, the theatre’s demise marked the end of an era.

Mercifully, it’s back, and unlike most sequels, it’s better than its predecessor. Magic Lantern Theatres, the company behind Rainbow Cinemas near the St. Lawrence Market, has resurrected the nine-screen multiplex with a $1.5-million make-over. The seats are now structurally sound, the stereo and projection equipment hail from this century (tellingly, no 3-D technology has been installed), and the air conditioning lasts through an entire movie.

Most important, however, is what hasn’t changed. During the summer blockbuster season, when robots and superheroes reign, the marquee included a smorgasbord of Australian, Iranian, Chinese, Indian, French and Canadian films. And in the age of Avatar, when tickets can push $17, old-school prices ($9 and $5 on Tuesdays) give cinephiles a small thrill.