AMC cinemas reopening? Not yet in Somerville, and other local screens are staying dark as well
This week AMC cinemas will open across the country with such new, theatrically released-only titles such as “Unhinged” starring Russell Crowe as a violent sociopath. If that feels like we’re getting back to normal, let’s not be too quick. The Crowe flick will play AMC Boston Common – but it won’t play this side of the river. The chain had presumptively listed the Assembly Row theater in Somerville on its openings list, but Mayor Joseph Curtatone and the Somerville City Council said otherwise. For now, according to communications personnel at Somerville City Hall, the focus is on getting public schools back up and running and wrestling with concerns over returning college students. (Tufts University in Somerville and Medford, unlike Harvard, Lesley and MIT in Cambridge, plans to hold classes in person.) “Entertainment and gaming are a lower priority,” I was told. Meanwhile, the chain said via email it “could not speak specifically about the specific theater” but hoped to have all its theaters open early in September while being respectful of state and municipal policies. The bottom line: It committed July 20 to the city’s Licensing Commission to stay closed, and missed even getting on the agenda for the month’s meeting, which was Monday.
Over in Cambridge, first-run theaters Apple Cinemas and Landmark Cinema in Kendall Square remain closed until further notice, while art house venue The Brattle keeps its options open, remaining closed to the public but available for private rentals. One of the big limitations for the Brattle and Somerville Theatre in Davis Square are the attendee caps under Phase 3 of Gov. Charlie Baker’s return-to-normal plan, which is 25. Even if they could open, that’s an exceptionally challenging number for the Somerville Theatre, which has five screens ranging in capacity from 62 seats to 800-plus – putting 25 people in an 800-seat theater with no concession revenue does not make sound sense financially. No food service is part of current Phase 3 restrictions, and the next step has been indefinitely postponed by state government.
The Brattle, in its plans for reopening in that next step, notes “preordered concession sales only, with contactless pickup” as well as reserved seats that avoid patrons passing each other, distanced entry, no late admissions and a redirected flow like the one-way aisles in supermarkets. After its phase of private rentals, it anticipates moving to member- and donor-only screenings before ultimately opening to the public. Managers said last week that they were cutting back the “Brattle Film Podcast” schedule to every other week in anticipation of the phased reopening.
The Harvard Film Archive says its staff is working remotely on projects and preparing for “an eventual reopening most likely in 2021.”
How people react to AMC opening in Boston and any infection spread that results will have a lot to say about what happens across the Charles. Also likely: AMC will need bigger titles than just “Unhinged.” Disney has just opted to release the much anticipated live-action version of “Mulan” via streaming early in September.