Philadelphia Film Society Takes Control of Sansom Street’s Roxy Theater

Coming soon: The Rocky Horror Picture Show and booze-equipped micro-cinemas?

Back in September, I broke the news that Sansom Street’s Roxy Theater would be closing in the immediate future. Well, that immediate future came last Saturday, when longtime operator Bernard Nearey showed his last film in the dilapidated two-screen cinema, which was long ago awesome but had more recently earned a bad and well deserved reputation for sticky floors, terrible sound, and small screens. But that’s all about to change, and no, not thanks to Stephen Starr.

Yesterday afternoon, the Philadelphia Film Society, presenters of next week’s Philadelphia Film Festival, signed a 16-year lease with building owner (and block resident) John Ciccone, who purchased the Roxy in 2008 and owns the neighboring Adrienne Theater. “The Roxy hadn’t really matured the way I thought it would,” says Ciccone of Nearey’s tenure. “I want to go back to being more independent, more variety, more art house films. We need more diversity, and I think that can only be done by people who know the business well.”

Enter the Philadelphia Film Society. “We’d like to see something not dissimilar to Film Forum in New York or Coolidge Corner in Boston,” says PFS executive director J. Andrew Greenblatt. “Even more independent than the Ritz. Stuff that struggles to find a screen in Philadelphia. It’s safe to say that you’ll never again see Batman at the Roxy.”

Greenblatt explains that while immediate plans are to upgrade to digital projectors, he intends to keep one of the Roxy’s 35mm projectors on hand and use it as much as possible to screen classic films. “And most cities have a regular screening of Rocky Horror once a week at midnight,” he adds. “But Philly doesn’t do that. That’s certainly something we want to do.” Or a month long Hitchcock retrospective. Or Tuesday night vintage sci-fi. Who knows?

Other immediate additions: a state-of-the-art sound system and new screens and seats. Greenblatt points to other, more long range possibilities including a liquor license (martinis during Dr. No? Yes!) and expansion. “The Roxy is a three story building, and the screens are currently only on the first floor,” Greenblatt says. “There are possibilities on the second or third floor for micro-theaters: 30 to 50 people cinemas. But let me reiterate that this is nowhere in the immediate future.”

The new lease for the Roxy officially commences on January 1, 2013, although both Greenblatt and Ciccone suggest that screenings could come before the new year.

If anyone call tell me how all of this isn’t awesome news for Center City, I’m listening.