The Orpheum: Soon to become Madison’s largest arthouse theater

Spatially speaking, that is.

This isn’t exactly news but I missed my initial chance to comment on it when I was tied up with graduation stuff last week: 77 Square’s Rob Thomas reports that all summer long the Orpheum will be bringing an assortment of non-commercial (for lack of a better word) films to town for their first runs in Madison. This would be genuinely exciting news but, alas, the lineup is pretty underwhelming.

Yes, “Police, Adjective” (opening on Friday) is a phenomenal piece of work, but it already played here at the Play Circle in February and during the Romanian and Wisconsin Film Festivals. I tend to doubt that anybody who passed on it then is going to jump at the opportunity to see it now.

As for the rest of the films, only “The Most Dangerous Man in America” (opens May 28) and “House” (opens August 1) stick out to me as potential musts. Everything else screams “we took what we could have gotten without having to make much of an effort” (which is just the opposite of Sundance Cinemas’ attitude; to have a theater downtown that has Sundance’s exhibition mentality, though perhaps with truer aim, would be invaluable).

Finally, I’m totally clueless as to what Thomas likes about the Orpheum as a movie-watching venue:

One of the many good things about the Wisconsin Film Festival is that it reminds you what a great place the Orpheum Theatre is to see a movie. Granted, it’s unlikely that a regular screening there will draw a rapt crowd of 1,500 (like “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” did during the fest, which was a great moviegoing experience), but the charm of the elegant old dame can’t be beat.

I went to three different screenings last semester alone in which the Orpheum’s projector broke down—once when there wasn’t a projectionist anywhere near the booth, thereby turning a 90-second bump-in-the-road into a 25-minute gargantuan annoyance. Plus the place has one of the worst sound-systems I’ve ever heard. When I attended a screening of “Collateral” there during the Wisconsin Film Festival, I asked Manohla Dargis what she thought of the theater’s sound-system, knowing perfectly well how’d she’d respond to my query; she said something to the effect of “Horrible. Just awful.” “Elegant old dame” or decrepit old hag?


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