Michael Moore, whose documentary Fahrenheit 9/11 caught fire at the Lincoln Plaza Cinemas at the start of its 2003 run, said one factor rises to the top of the list of myriad forces that brought the indie temple down.

“Capitalism killed this cinema — this evil, greedy, 20th century form of capitalism,” said Moore, the closing speaker at today’s memorial for Dan Talbot, the theater’s late programmer. “The multi-billionaires known as [landlord Milstein Properties] have done this.”

Talbot died in late December at 91, just two weeks after word came down that the Lincoln Plaza Cinemas would be closing its doors after Talbot and his wife and business partner, Toby, were unable reach terms on a new lease. The news unsettled the specialty film sector as well as many longtime patrons of the six-screen, below-ground mecca. A Milstein rep later affirmed that the Upper West Side space, which the company has owned since 1978, would reopen as a theater following some necessary renovation work in the months to come.

While some of Moore’s targets were predictable (he also heaped blame on President Donald Trump), some were more surprising, including his assertion that too-passive liberals were at fault. His attack stood out in the event’s lineup of speakers, which included veteran distributors Michael Barker of Sony Classics and Jonathan Sehring of IFC Films; producer Annette Insdorf; film critic/writer Molly Haskell and producer/filmmaker Jeff Lipsky, who worked with Dan Talbot at New Yorker Films. The memorial was held inside the theater itself on its final day of operation (at least for the foreseeable future).

Michael Moore
Jeremy Gerard

Moore warned the capacity crowd that his remarks might make some people uncomfortable (whereupon one attendee took the warning and walked out). The Milsteins, Moore said, “are part and parcel of what this city and liberals have done for a long time — and that’s just to sit back and take it. It’s so strange that this neighborhood, the capital of the left in America, would allow this theater to close. It’s shameful — it should be embarrassing.” Other cities around the world would have ensured a better fate for the cinephile destination built by Talbot and his wife, Toby, Moore insisted, his voice showing emotion. “Historical building commissions in other places have [controls] on culture. They would not allow the closure of a theater like this.”

Moore appealed to the crowd to take action to keep Lincoln Plaza alive, calling for the removal of the Milsteins from the affairs of the theater, which opened in 1981. 

“I don’t know what to do about this situation,” Moore conceded. “I can say, I’ll be there for anything you want to do — anything you can do to out the Millsteins for what they have done here… At some point, people say, ‘I’ve had enough.’ And the revolt begins. I encourage you and all of us.”

Moore blamed the changing face of New York City, where gentrification has swept through neighborhoods with great force in recent years, sending rents skyrocketing and longtime mom-and-pop proprietors out of business. And speaking of the city, one of products is also at the root of the problem, he said — for the Lincoln Plaza and for the country more broadly. Nevertheless, and despite dismal poll numbers, Moore sees a good chance Trump will win re-election in 2020. Our nation’s 45th president is the subject of Moore’s upcoming project, Fahrenheit 11/9, whose release has been caught in a legal battle involving Moore and the Weinstein Co. given the shrapnel caused by company’s spectacular collapse.

It is a “fact that New York City gave us Donald Trump,” Moore said. “My friends, for 40 years, he was a joke. He was ‘The Donald.’ He was tabloid fodder. If he was from Flint [Mich.], I wouldn’t be able to speak in front of anybody here. How could I explain that I let this [person] out to the rest of the country? … But that’s the ‘other’ New York. It’s the city that gave us Rush Limbaugh. It gave us the Buckleys. Wall Street did all of this to Flint. Now we lose the Lincoln Plaza Cinemas. You understand though that each time we let another thing like this happen, they become empowered. It’s like in horror films when the beast gets fed another morsel and it becomes stronger and stronger.”

Moore reined it in by the end of his remarks, ending with a filmmaker’s heartfelt praise for the Talbots. “We’ve learned so much about the world from Dan and Toby have given us through these cinemas,” he said. “It made a huge impact on a kid from Flint, Michigan. I’m not giving up yet and I hope you won’t either.”