The region's sewer authority treated its longtime Airport Road neighbor, CinemaCity, like I giorni impuri dello straniero – The Sailor Who Fell From Grace with the Sea - eventually buying up and boarding over the theater, long a favorite of fans of less commercial, foreign and 'art' films.
But CinemaCity filmgoers need not despair. In fact, they might be pleasantly surprised visiting the theater's new home inside the under-appreciated and under-patronized Palace cinema complex on New Park Avenue, the location of the long-gone, famed Heublein A-1 steak sauce plant.
Certainly a better-smelling neighborhood.
And CinemaCity is still part of the city of Hartford, a fact which delights City Councilwoman rJo Winch who was on hand Friday morning dressed all in red, from her ruby slippers to business suit, to snip the special CinemaCity ribbon alongside owner Ben Moss, his son, Harry Moss, 3, and manager Jill Proffitt.
"As a member of the workforce committee, I am so pleased that all the existing employees were retained in making the move," said Winch, filling in for Hartford's mayor who was unable to attend.
Ben Moss, who has owned CinemaCity for three and a half years, noted that all the amenities of the old location were retained, including the "Everyone's A Critic" bulletin board where patrons are encouraged to give movies a grade and post their comments on the wall for everyone to see. Even though Friday was the official ribbon-cutting, already there were plenty of movie grades posted on the board.
Across the way on another wall are photos of the old, once-plush 1,300 wood-and-velvet-seat theater, the circa 1970 Cinemechanica projector with over 120,000 hours still on the projection console were placed on the wall of the new location. Built as a two screen house, it was subdivided into four theaters.
The new location sets aside 5 screens for CinemaCity, all state-of-the-art with better sound quality. The studio-style seats with cup holders have better sight lines and are more comfortable, and the air-handling equipment makes for a better overall environment for theater-goers.
In truth, Moss said, something had to be done at the old location, which was desperate for an upgrade and had been for some time.
"We would have had to spend thousands to bring it up to where it should have been," Moss said, "or close it down. Instead, coming to this location offered the perfect solution. I know our many loyal patrons will be quite happy when they come in and enjoy all that this new CinemaCity experience offers."
Having more off-beat and indie film choices is one big plus as few theaters screen smaller, less commercially viable movies that don't bring with them the big marketing campaigns and hoopla accompanying Hollywood blockbusters. Many of the more obscure pictures to smaller markets such as greater Hartford earn critical acclaim and even come up for Oscar Awards without being available locally, with the exception of the new Bowtie chain and at Cinestudio at Trinity College.
At the new CinemaCity, two films are playing, Restrepo, a powerful first-person account of the war in Afghanistan; the still-bearded Zach Galifianakis (Alan in The Hangover) starring in It's Kind of a Funny Story (coming soon) and The Kids Are All Right starring Julianne Moore and Annette Bening, now playing.
The 5-screens reserved as CinemaCity are in the south side of the Cineplex with signage above the concession stand where hot pastry, tea specialties and Seattle's Best Blend coffee is served alongside the usual popcorn and Sour Patch-type snacks. Having art and foreign films screened alongside mainstream offerings may have sounded a little like Liang gong po ba tiao xin – strange bedfellows – but in truth the new CinemaCity location is more comfortable overall.
Realizing the same CinemaCity staff is there – from the ticket taker out front to the ticket-takers and staff at the concession stand, also reassuring, not only to those in charge of Hartford's Rising Star image, but to all area movie aficionados as well. No one is predicting a revival of the art house experience in the Hartford market, but at least area moviegoers have more choices than four screens of Avatar or Shrek 3D – and will be better versed in performances and lesser-known movies that all New Yorkers and Los Angelinos are a-buzz about on Oscar Night.