Indie Film Deathwatch: An Ode to New York’s Shuttered Pioneer Theater


New York’s home for offbeat film, the Pioneer Theater officially closed — fittingly enough — after a midnight screening of NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD on Halloween. Their lease was up and rent hikes were inevitable. There’s a goodbye party tomorrow night starting at 6 p.m. to celebrate the nearly 10 years that it held court on Avenue A and Third Street in the East Village.

As the Pioneer Web site promises, there will be “free movies, popcorn and reminiscences.”

While this bash is billed as a celebration, we can’t help but be in mourning. We’ve watched so many great and deliciously offbeat films at this single-screen, indie-oriented theater through the years. PRIMER, LAST RESORT, and LA CIENAGA, are among the standout films that quickly come to mind. Not to mention such high jinks as the Mormonsploitation! series or the most recent Schlocktober that unspooled the likes of big-screen rarity BLOOD SUCKING FREAKS.

Or how about the restored classics? We saw RAGING BULL here. And we remember seeing the original HALLOWEEN the day before the actual holiday with only two other people in the 99-seat auditorium. Whether it was LUIS GUZMAN night or an ASIA ARGENTO premiere, the Pioneer — with its creative, independent spirit — made going to the movies fun.

The death of the Pioneer is just the latest sad tale of New York’s slow march toward suburbification. It’s the same old story here with the Pioneer: The promise of increased rents chase away another tenant who’s doing something interesting and unique. You’ve heard it before: The working class and artists — long the lifeblood of the neighborhood — continue to leave for more affordable living in other boroughs and elsewhere. Mom-and-pop shops are forced out by absurd rent hikes. Spiffy bank branches pop up on prominent street corners. Soulless glass boxes replace tenements. Gloss takes the place of grit.

The increasingly sanitized East Village of this era may sadly be remembered for its readily available chain drug stores, frozen yogurt and high-end hair salons. Meanwhile, each day, the neighborhood continues to lose its culture and unique character. The loss of the Pioneer Theater is just the latest example.

EV Grieve