Embassy Cinema falls prey to the profit-seekers

Have a good summer and we’ll see you in September. The sign outside the Embassy Cinema, with its shutters closed, is misleading. The historic cinema on Patriarchou Ioakeim is closing down and Kolonaki is losing one of its last remaining landmarks. The loss affects all of downtown Athens which is slowly losing its meeting places and enclaves for cultural activities. The reason for the closure is, predictably enough, financial. A healthy commercial enterprise has agreed to pay a very high price for the right to use the space, so as to convince the tenant to move out before the current contract expires (which was to have been in 2008). Sources say the cinema was not in financial difficulties, but that the proposal was too tempting to refuse. This means the Embassy won’t manage to celebrate its 40th birthday – it opened in 1962. The Embassy Cinema’s history was linked to Giorgos Papantoniou, who worked there from September 1971. He was the manager, but he was also the first person you saw as you went down the steps on Patriarchou Ioakeim. He speaks tenderly of the cinema and its clientele: It was a cinema that screened films which appealed to women, meaning that we didn’t show many adventure films. This choice created a specific audience, most of whom were women. Ladies in hats Papantoniou recalls the celebrities who came to the Embassy. Andreas Papandreou was the only one who didn’t come, he says. I remember Constantinos Karamanlis came to see ‘Borsalino’ with Alain Delon; Costas Simitis was a regular customer. And he wonders, Where will all those ladies in hats go now? The question of the Embassy is not purely sentimental, but above all, a matter of culture. The fact that Kolonaki will be without a winter cinema flatters nobody. The most bourgeois neighborhood in Athens cannot support its only cinema, which indicates other priorities. We don’t know whether the Embassy will become a fast-food or a lingerie outlet, and it doesn’t matter. What does matter is that a cinema is closing down, and that is not a good omen. The new social status quo and the rapid changes Athens and Greece have undergone in the past 15 years seem to have formed a new scale of values. And it is clear that a cinema which specializes in films with some claims to artistic quality doesn’t rate very high on this new scale.

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