Movie review: Documentary goes Underground

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Kevin Smith calls it a rejuvenating experience -- and it has nothing to do with R-rated substances. Others invoke the word "magic" or describe it as "a space filled with people collectively dreaming in the dark."

It's the experience of going to a repertory house specializing in classic films or an independent theater struggling to keep the lights on and the popcorn fresh in these days of megaplexes, video on demand, DVDs and online rentals.

"The Rep" (• • 1/2), by Morgan White, follows three film geeks as they open the Underground Cinema, a single-screen rep theater in the basement of a condo building in Toronto. What started as a Web series expanded into a documentary about how such North American theaters are an endangered species.

The Underground, a 700-seat house, opened in May 2010 to robust crowds but saw audiences dwindle to two or eight customers some nights.

"The Rep" examines the challenges theaters such as this face, from the difficulty of obtaining 35mm prints in a digital world and the ease of watching movies at home to Facebook interest that doesn't translate into ticket buyers. This is why managers turn to "showmanship" with sing-alongs, brunch or, if you're lucky, actor Adam West doing the Batusi after a showing of his Batman movie.

Mr. White makes you care about the Underground (hobbled, it seems for starters, by the lack of an outdoor sign) and its operators but then leaves you hanging until he reveals the venue's fate. It feels as if a chapter is missing.

"The Rep," with some R-rated language, will play at 7 p.m. Saturday and Wednesday at the Oaks in Oakmont.

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Movie editor Barbara Vancheri: bvancheri@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1632. Read her blog: www.post-gazette.com.


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