Michael Moore, the firebrand filmmaker whose “Fahrenheit 911” opened at the Lincoln Plaza Cinema in 2003, blamed greedy real estate companies and a rapidly changing New York City for the closing of the iconic independent movie theater.
“Capitalism killed this cinema — this evil, greedy, 20th century form of capitalism,” Moore said at a memorial for the theater’s late founder, Dan Talbot, on Sunday morning. “The multi-billionaires known as [landlord Milstein Properties] have done this.”
Milstein properties, run by Howard Milstein, owns the Upper West Side building that houses the six-screen underground theater. In late December, it was announced that Talbot and wife and business partner Toby, who have run the arthouse theater since its opening in 1981, were not able to reach an agreement with Milstein to renew the lease. Two weeks later, Talbot — also the co-founder of the legendary New Yorker Films — died at the age of 91.
The Milsteins “are part and parcel of what this city and liberals have done for a long time — and that’s just to sit back and take it,” Moore said. “It’s so strange that this neighborhood, the capital of the left in America, would allow this theater to close. It’s shameful — it should be embarrassing.”
Moore was the final speaker at a crowded morning ceremony that took place at the theater, where VIP and industry guests filled one theater while general public attendees watched a live stream in the other rooms. Talbot’s widow Toby, who ran the theater with Dan Talbot for the duration of its run, called her a husband “a gift” and described him as “a softie who was very rigorous about film.”
Director Werner Herzog shared his thoughts about Talbot in a video message, saying that “it’s a whole epoch that is vanishing with him.” Veteran distributor Jeff Lipsky said, “Dan was the Upper West Side,” called the theater “a synagogue of cinema,” and concluded that its closing “isn’t sad, it’s catastrophic.”
Columbia University film professor Annette Insdorf emphasized Talbot’s contributions to New York’s film culture. “Dan created an indispensable home for movies in this space,” she said. “He was the master of the art.” And actor Wallace Shawn, whose “My Dinner With Andre” found its first appreciative audiences at the venue in 1980, said that Talbot “brought us the films that made us.”
IFC Films co-president Jonathan Sehring highlighted the uncertainty of the future for theatrical exhibition in New York, which also lost the Sunshine Cinema over the past week. With respect to Lincoln Plaza, Sehring said: “I can’t imagine a world without it. I hope it’s a void that will be filled, but I can’t imagine how that will happen…it was the theater that people came to, not the movie that they were playing.”
In a video interview, taken from footage provided by longtime distribution executive and Columbia film professor Ira Deutchman, Talbot said, “I pick the best stuff and hope the people show up.”
Moore, the final speaker of the program, warned the audience that his remarks might make people uncomfortable.
He blamed gentrification and skyrocketing rents for changing the face of New York City as a once progressive city that many artists called home. Other cities, he said, would have stepped up to preserve a cultural landmark like the Lincoln Plaza Cinema.
“Historical building commissions in other places have [controls] on culture,” Moore said. “They would not allow the closure of a theater like this.”