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The Little Art
An early shot of the Little Art Theatre in Yellow Springs, OH

Do the palatial cinema “multiplexes” sometimes overwhelm you? Do you feel like the screen is practically in your lap with those so-called “improved” stadium-style seats? Thank goodness there is an alternative (in most towns, anyway), called the “art” movie house.

More often than not, it’s a very old theatre with creaky seats covered in threadbare, red velour. The smell permeating the air—a hint of mildew mixed with age-old cinemuck on the floor—is not due to lack of cleanliness, but merely age. This sort of authentic atmosphere lends itself to the quality of films shown there. They are mostly foreign or independent, and rarely played at the mainstream theatres. You will find them near college campuses, the cultural area of a city, or in the heart of some little town. People can actually drive by and check the marquee for show times without having to buy a paper or call the movie hotline. The staff who run the box office are usually dressed in whatever informal and self-expressive clothes they choose to wear, and are extremely friendly. They can afford to be, because they deal with small clusters of moviegoers at a time, and might even remember your name and face after a few trips. Best of all, if the economy is good, art house prices tend to be a little lower than big cinemas.

These are the theatres that give a town notoriety. Like The Little Art Theatre in Yellow Springs, Ohio. Described as “one of the U.S.A’s cinematic treasures,” it sits on the main drag in between quaint shops and cafes, and attracts many customers from its tiny college town and beyond.

The Little Art has been in business for over fifty years, and changed hands several times. Its current owner, Jenny Cowperthwaite, was a former employee and manager of the theatre before buying it in 1998. It has a cozy little street-side box office, and a concession stand in its tiny lobby that serves mineral water, fruit beverages, herbal tea and their famous Butter Bars. A signature feature of this movie house is its set of house lights designed by an English artist who attended nearby Antioch University in 1947. Their design is an eagle with open wings and a Native American man in profile.

A trip to this theatre is not only an opportunity to get out to the cultural Yellow Springs, but a guarantee that I’m most likely to see a film whose images and lines will stay with me for a long, long time.

When you get a chance, patronize the art movie houses. Take a break from the congested mall areas and overproduced films, and go see something extraordinary. It makes for a cozier date and more interesting conversation in the break room Monday morning.

In order for readers to get a sampling of art movie houses throughout the nation, please email me (alander@randomville.com) a description and brief history of yours, and I will make it the next featured theatre in this series. If possible, include a permissioned image of the theatre.

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