Tuesday, January 16, 1996
The Emery: What have we got to lose?

BY LAURA PULFER
The Cincinnati Enquirer

I have nothing against great big movie theater complexes.

Well, to be honest, I occasionally grumble about outrageously high prices for popcorn that was popped during the Ming Dynasty and drinks that when ''our machine isn't working right'' could be used to clean the grout in your shower and dinky screening rooms where you can watch Father of the Bride, Part II and hear Toy Story at the same time.

Basically, I do not object to National Amusements or their monopoly on first-run movies here, even if I do think they treat us like cattle. They are just trying to make a buck. Or seven.

But, just for the sake of comparison, have you been to the Emery Theatre lately?

A downtown-only attraction

Last weekend, I went to see the real Sabrina in a real movie theater. The Emery is at 1112 Walnut St. in Over-the-Rhine, which means you can park once, have a beer and dinner on Main Street, then walk to the movie. It's a thoroughly satisfying urban experience.

Cheap, too.

And one, may I say, that cannot be duplicated in Green Township or Eastgate.

This was the 1954 black-and-white version of Sabrina with a dour but sexy Humphrey Bogart and a beautifully tanned and embarrassingly blonded William Holden. And the exquisite Audrey Hepburn. It was just right to see this movie sitting on faded plush seats and juggling a jumbo cup of fresh popcorn, which tasted like popcorn instead of spitballs.

If you get there early, instead of commercials or dopey Silver Screen Scramblers - ARDB TIPT and LVA LIKREM - you can hear the mighty Wurlitzer organ from the old Albee Theater.

It even has a balcony.

It just doesn't have much of a future.

For one thing, the building with the 1,500-seat theater is inextricably linked with its less attractive next-door neighbor, the OMI Building. They share walls and some mechanicals. Both are owned by the University of Cincinnati and were originally built for the Ohio Mechanics Institute, which went broke in the mid-1960s.

As usual, when a college is in financial trouble, it merges with the University of Cincinnati. If you don't believe me, just remember what happened with colleges of music, nursing and pharmacy. Anyway, the old OMI became the Ohio College of Applied Science in 1969 and moved to new digs on Victory Parkway in 1989.

Right now, UC pays the taxes and maintenance and rents the theater out for movies and the occasional concert, slightly less than a break-even prospect. Spokesman Greg Hand says renting it isn't going to help save it, and UC is officially committed to saving it.

More than just a theater

''We have a concern that if we put it on the market, the buyer wouldn't want to preserve it,'' Mr. Hand said. ''It seems a shame. The Emery has the potential to contribute to a neighborhood that could use some help.''

It might be noted that this is a neighborhood that already is helping itself, thank-you-very-much. Japps, Westminster's Billiard Club, Main Street Brewery, Stow's, Marta Hewett Gallery, John 3:16 Baptist Church, Kaldi's, St. John Social Service Center, New York Dry Cleaners, Rhino's.

And it is already a neighborhood with distinctive facilities not available elsewhere, the soon-to-be-fabulous new Public Library expansion and the already-fabulous Music Hall, to name two.

Next time you have a chance, give the Emery a try. Movie tickets on a Saturday night are $4 for adults and $2 for kids, about what you'd spend to buy them a 5-ounce bag of Twizzlers. I know the current price because the day after I saw the old Sabrina, I went to see the one with Harrison Ford, Greg Kinnear and Julia Ormond.

And, I'm sorry. I wanted to like the old movie better, but the new one was funnier and in color, and Harrison Ford is hotter than Humphrey Bogart and Greg Kinnear was more appealing than a bleached William Holden. And Julia Ormond was a more believable nerd.

I think they make better movies now.

But not better movie theaters.

Laura Pulfer's column appears Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Call 768-8393 or fax at 768-8340. She can be heard Monday mornings on WVXU (91.7 MHz), and as a regular commentator on NPR's Morning Edition.