EXCLUSIVE: The Lincoln Plaza Cinemas, a temple of the art house movie scene in New York for 30 years, is at the end of its lease and is scheduled to close in January, Deadline has learned.
While we have been told that others are exploring ways to step in to preserve the site as a movie theatre, if the influential six-screen multiplex does go dark, it would be a crushing blow to the specialty film business. A long list of films, including Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11, began their high-grossing, award-winning runs with exclusive engagements there.
Long operated under a joint venture involving Dan Talbot, France’s Gaumont banner and building owner Milstein Properties, Lincoln Plaza has gotten a little scruffy and run-down over the years. One can only imagine what an exhibitor with more resources, anyone from AMC to Alamo Drafthouse, could do with the place.
Located in the basement of a residential building on the corner of Broadway and 62nd Street, Lincoln Plaza still draws solid crowds due to its location and also the taste of its longtime gate-keepers, Talbot and his wife of 68 years, Toby. The Lincoln Plaza is the latest art house hit by a historic confluence of forces, including the streaming boom and New York gentrification. Landmark’s once high-flying Sunshine earlier this year said it would close to make way for a high-rise development.
In an interview with Deadline, Toby Talbot seemed resigned to the likely fate of the theatre. She said she and her husband “did everything we could to ask for the lease to be extended.” Milstein, she added, “is looking to get everything he can. He’s looking to make money.”
A phone message left with Milstein Properties was not immediately returned.
If the end does come, it will close a major chapter in the legendary film careers of the Talbots, who opened the New Yorker Theater in 1960, and followed it with Manhattan’s Cinema Studio and Metro Theater in the mid-1970s and early 1980s. They also maintained a distribution label, New Yorker Films, which was founded in 1965 and distributed some 400 titles, including Shoah, The Decalogue and Aguirre, the Wrath of God.
As the specialty film business evolved into a potent arm of the movie business, films would debut at the Lincoln Plaza and go on to rack up sizable grosses and awards, with the Talbots determining who made the cut. “We acted as kind of first readers,” Toby Talbot said. “If a film opened at Lincoln Plaza, it had to be worthwhile.”
While the Upper West Side exhibition scene saw changes over the past 30 years, notably the renovation of Lincoln Center and the start of commercial bookings there, Lincoln Plaza remained a coveted destination.
Newer players in New York like Alamo in Brooklyn or the Metrograph on Manhattan’s Lower East Side have brought new ways to address today’s distracted, luxury-craving moviegoer. For Alamo, that means in-theatre dining and alcohol and a ban on texting, while Metrograph offers a highly curated lineup designed for ultra-cinephiles. Landmark also just opened a cushy new eight-screen complex in the up-and-coming Far West Side, on 57th Street near the Hudson River. Even the Film Forum down on Houston Street, an art house as dyed in the wool as Lincoln Plaza, finally acknowledged modern reality and plans to close next May and June for a multi-million-dollar expansion and revamp.
New York City, not the movie trade, gets much of the blame for the end of the Lincoln Plaza, Talbot said. While the city is thriving by some measures, its commercial real estate market remains a conundrum, with many mom and pop stores being driven out by skyrocketing rents. A surprising number of empty storefronts fill otherwise flush neighborhoods across town as landlords hold out for big paydays. “If you go along the Upper West Side, there are vast spaces without anything, and then you’ll see another bank, another Bed, Bath & Beyond,” she said.
Toby Talbot, whose 2009 memoir featured an introduction by Martin Scorsese, said word of the January end date has started to circulate among industry execs and filmmakers, but no notices have been posted alerting customers. She said plans are being made for a formal sendoff on January 21.
While the Talbots were regulars on the festival circuit and courted by filmmakers and distributors with commercial ambitions, they maintained an old-fashioned zeal for cinema, which governed many of their choices. “We had the luxury of choosing films that we knew were not going to be successful commercially, and we could put them on our screens,” she said. “We were able to do what we wanted to do.”