My two-year love affair with the Madstone Theater at Briarwood
Mall has come to an end. Not long ago, an overpriced United Artists
theater inhabited the Briarwood location. The staff consisted of
all my sister’s friends, working for some extra cash to go
shopping after work. The movie selections were bleak, which may
have been one of the reasons they went out of business.

In 2002, Madstone Theaters came to occupy the mall’s empty
theater space. Madstone offered a wide variety of films ranging
from foreign to classic to independent, as well as new, big budget
movies. But last Tuesday, the Briarwood Madstone closed for good.
Even Madstone’s indie competition, the Michigan Theater, was
less than thrilled to hear of the closing. Michigan Theater
Director and Chief Executive Officer Russ Collins praised Madstone
for its screening variety. “Madstone picked up films that
didn’t have distribution, like foreign language films or
independents,” he explained.

Madstone was unique as it was not only a theater but a
production company as well: The firm distributed small but
exceptional works that were previously shown only at film
festivals.

But Madstone wasn’t just about movies. If you wanted a
little more bang for your buck, you could go to one of the
theater’s activity nights. (A friend continuously dragged me
to Singles Night, which wasn’t a likely place to find your
soul mate, but it’s the thought that counts.)

Madstone also offered free sneak previews. When someone asked me
if they knew what the new release “Big Fish” would be
like, I could tell them, “Been there, seen it.” If
movies weren’t your cup of tea, Madstone even had a book club
where film scripts and novels-turned-movies could be read amongst
friends.

This theater, a hybrid of big-budget chain and art house, social
club and movie hall, was good to me. Madstone let me scarf down a
jalapeño cheese-stuffed soft pretzel during the
pre-previews, and when the cash register wouldn’t take credit
cards, the staff trusted me enough to pay them back later. (I think
I may still owe that nice employee $3.50 for my juice.)

As another theater leaves Ann Arbor, I worry what this will mean
for the film community. Karl Kasischke, now-former manager of
Madstone, previously worked at the Michigan Theater and just might
want his old job back.

Despite Madstone’s cozy, independent theater feel,
it’s still a major company. Kasischke explained that
Madstone’s closing wasn’t unique to Briarwood: Because
of recent corporate restructuring, three other U.S. Madstones
closed. He suggested that the reason for the cutbacks was that
“the whole movie industry isn’t doing well this
year.” Hard to believe, considering Hollywood has offered us
such cinematic gems as “Soul Plane” and “You Got
Served.” It’s sad that the film industry is so
profit-driven that showing art and foreign films can be a liability
for theaters. To survive, art house establishments must receive
funding and community support, which have kept the Michigan Theater
afloat.

Madstone’s closing hurts the Ann Arbor community as well
as its employees: The theater sponsored the University’s Film
and Video department’s end-of-term screening last semester
and contributed over $100 worth of prizes.

And what about Ann Arbor citizens who had memberships to
Madstone? Kasischke said that management is trying to work out a
deal with other local organizations to offer members alternatives.
But even if alternatives are found, they will likely be unable to
offer the eclectic atmosphere of Madstone. Kasischke said that most
of all, he’d miss the access to free movies ––
and, of course, his co-workers. He emphasized that at Madstone,
“It wasn’t just a job. The people who worked there
loved movies.” I think most of all I’ll miss the
pretzels –– it looks like it’s back to stale
popcorn for me.

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