Only In Theaters: The Laemmle Family and the American Dream

Only In Theaters isn’t just a love letter to cinema but a story about the Laemmle family and living the American Dream.

Over the course of two and a half years, filmmaker Raphael Sbarge traces the family’s history all the way back to the 1930s. He was given complete access and full creative control in telling their story. While the final run time is about an hour and a half, the initial cut ran around two hours and change. I spoke with the filmmaker last week but due to technical issues, I’m sorry to report that the interview didn’t get recorded. He did say that Kino Lorber was interested in releasing the film on Blu-ray. What this means is that we’ll get extra interview footage in terms of bonus content.

There has been a Laemmle working in the film industry almost as long as the industry has existed. If not for Carl Laemmle, this film would not even exist, let alone the Laemmle Theatres. If you’re familiar with Uncle Carl, you know of his efforts to save some 350+ Jews from the Nazis. Among those Jews were cousins Kurt, Alyse (Kurt’s wife), and Max Laemmle. Kurt and Max would go into business as the founders of the first Laemmle Theatre in 1938. From there, they spread throughout the Los Angeles area and the rest is history. Once the 1950s and 60s came around, TV started to impact the attendance. As such, they went down from six locations to a single location. Eventually, they would rebound but it wasn’t easy there for a while. You look at what’s happening now and it’s a flashback to previous events.

Streaming has been taking away business from the theaters. It’s sad–there’s nothing that I love more than getting to experience a film in a theatrical setting. Unfortunately, the pandemic has changed things once again. I suppose it was getting there eventually but I wonder if audiences will return for anything that isn’t a huge blockbuster movie like Marvel or Star Wars. It takes a certain type of film to bring in audiences in large numbers. However, the art house theaters are suffering even more. They’re playing the independent films that are usually fighting for coverage. What’s more is that the Laemmle chain is one of the go-to theaters for filmmakers to play their films and qualify for the Oscars. In 2018, the numbers weren’t looking good and Greg Laemmle was looking at selling. In the end, they didn’t but this is the reality for many.

The pandemic shaped the film’s storytelling. For the first time in history, the theater shut down for ten months. They had fun with the signage throughout this time. It never gets more emotional than it does in the run up to last year’s reopening.

Losing the Laemmle chain would be terrible for the film industry. Not so much the industry but Los Angeles in general. The city is already reeling from Arclight going under. Will the Cinerama Dome ever open its doors again? One can only hope. From where I sit, these theaters are in the fight of their lives right now. That’s why this film isn’t just for cinephiles in Los Angeles. What is happening to the Laemmle family is happening all across the country. As Raphael Sbarge told me last week over Zoom, there are areas of this country that are a so-called movie desert. The theaters have closed and these communities have nowhere.

This is not a corporate chain but a family business that has been passed down from generation to generation. The only thing that makes them different from other families is that they are focusing on the love of art. If not for them, there might not be a theater for independent films, documentaries, or even local film festivals. The Laemmles have helped up-and-coming filmmakers through the years in that regard. A number of them repay the favor by sitting down for interviews.

Only In Theaters isn’t just a celebration of the Laemmles and their love of sharing cinema but the American Dream. At a time with much uncertainty in the film business, this film couldn’t be more important.

DIRECTOR: Raphael Sbarge
FEATURING: Greg Laemmle, Tish Laemmle, Gabriel Laemmle, Nadav Laemmle, Ezra Laemmle, Alyse Laemmle, Alison Anders, Toni Basil, Cameron Crowe, Holly Derosiers, Ava DuVernay, Jay Friedman, Neil Friedman, Edward Goldman, Roberta Grossman, Nicole Holofcener, James Ivory, Vladek Juszkiewicz, Melody Korenbrot, Leonard Maltin, Ross Melnick, Vera Mijojlic, Bill Ostroff, Michael Renov, Bruce Joel Rubin, David L. Snyder, Kevin Thomas, Kenneth Turan, Mark Ulano, Isaac Wade

The Collaborative will release Only In Theaters in theaters on November 18, 2022. Grade: 4/5

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Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.

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