It’s Oscar season, normally a good time of year to head to the movies. But for Schenectady County residents, the pickings are quite slim at the taxpayer-supported theater in town, the Bow Tie’s Movieland. They’ll have to drive to Albany or Bow Tie’s other downtown theater, the Criterion in Saratoga Springs, if they want to take in most of the Best Picture nominees, or wait for Netflix.
In fact, just two of this year’s crop of nine contenders are currently being screened at Movieland. (In addition to “Her” and “American Hustle,” the theater is showing “I, Frankenstein” on two screens, “Devil’s Due,” “Jack Ryan,” “The Nut Job” and “Lone Survivor,” popular-culture movies that have been generally panned by critics and can be seen in malls across America.
Movieland was supposed to be more than just another mall movie theater, of course. That’s what Bow Tie Chief Operating Officer Joseph Masher told Dan DiNicola, the Gazette’s late movie critic, when the theater opened in 2007; and a member of the company’s family ownership referred to the chain as the “anti-mall” theater.
It never turned out that way, except for a brief experiment with so-called art/independent movies that theater management tried briefly a few months after the theater opened. But by then, the patrons of such films had already given up checking the theater’s listings for such movies and probably didn’t know they were showing. Such audiences have to be cultivated, over more than a few weeks’ time, but Movieland never gave them a proper chance.
This page’s unscientific, unofficial tally shows that since Saratoga’s Criterion opened in October, it has screened 52 weeks' worth of Best Picture nominees to Movieland’s 17. Four of the nine nominees — “Dallas Buyers Club,” “Philomena,” “Nebraska” and “Wolf of Wall Street” — never played Schenectady at all. (The Schenectady theater has also been shut out of a handful of other critically acclaimed films that have played the Criterion, including "Book Thief," "Mandela," "Saving Mr. Banks" and "Inside Llewyn Davis.")
Granted, Criterion has nearly twice as many screens as Movieland. Bow Tie also operates a truly traditional mall cinema at the nearby Wilton Mall. But that’s cold comfort to the adult movie-goers and taxpayers of Schenectady County who, through Metroplex, subsidized Movieland to the tune of a $750,000 facade grant and $3 million construction loan.
Without question, the theater has drawn people to downtown Schenectady — a nearly unalloyed good. However, one can’t help but wonder what a more “upscale, sophisticated type of film product” (which is how Masher described the Criterion’s fare when it opened) would mean to the upscale, sophisticated restaurants that have opened in downtown Schenectady over the past few years and are key to the district’s long-term success. It undoubtedly would have attracted a better-quality clientele than the junky mall movies have.