Film is dead in KC: B&B will remove the city’s last operating 35mm projector from the old Alamo Drafthouse

If you want to experience the magic of film, you’re going to have to drive to St. Louis.

Today, Liberty-based B&B Theatres announced the rumors are true and the theater chain is acquiring the former Alamo Drafthouse cinema in downtown Kansas City, the city’s most storied moviehouse. The theater will turn a century-old this October and has a special place in the local lore as the site of an infamous screening of The Wild Bunch.

But, as those of us who love the art of film had feared, this acquisition marks the end of the art of cinema in Kansas City.

B&B will be ripping out the old 35mm projector and replacing it with digital.

“This location will be all digital,” says Paul Farnsworth, publicist for B&B Theatres. “B&B Theatres enjoyed a rich and rewarding relationship with 35mm prints and projectors for MANY years, but was also proud to lead the industry revolution toward digital projection and sound.”

Farnsworth said that going with digital will avoid the “technical drawbacks of traditional film” but will show retro movies digitally, “providing the best of both worlds.”

When it comes to the debate about how theaters should be showing movies, things have been settled for the last decade: Digital costs a lot less and looks a little worse.

In this Walmartized world, that’s a recipe for extinction outside a few select markets. Missouri is lucky that St. Louis still has a few.

Auteurs such as Quintin Tarantino say they would rather retire than have his work displayed as “television in public”.

“If we’re acquiescing to digital projection, we’ve already ceded too much ground to the barbarians,” he said. (The Coen Brothers, Martin Scorsese, Christopher Nolan and pretty much every other acknowledged master of the craft agrees.)

It’s been a decade since digital overtook 35mm in theaters and it’s possible few even remember the difference. Despite the pleas of those of us who argue that movie theaters are ultimately making themselves obsolete by adopting 4K technology that is identical to what most people have in their own home, the march goes on. (Among cinema snobs, there is now some argument that a nice at-home movie rig is actually superior to most digital theater experiences.)

Alamo Drafthouse is a troubled company but they are one of the last custodians of the art of film, and with their departure from the KC market, the only remaining 35mm that could be pressed into use is at Overland Park’s Rio and Glenwood Arts. Those theaters are currently closed and plotting the right time to re-open, but do not exhibit 35mm film with any regularity.

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