The Last Picture Show 

Watkins Belcourt to close in January

Watkins Belcourt to close in January

Barring a miracle, Nashville will lose its last historic theater when the Watkins Belcourt, the city's only arthouse cinema, closes at the end of January.

Developer Charles Hawkins, who purchased the Hillsboro Village theater last year from the Fred Massey family with a group of investors, said the moviehouse had been losing an average of $7,000 a month. Then, after a disastrous November with losses nearing $20,000, Hawkins said the owners agreed to sell the property. The theater will close when its current calendar ends Jan. 28.

The Watkins Belcourt has struggled ever since the new owners took over the theater from its longtime lessee, Carmike Cinemas, in October 1997. The theater floundered to find an identity for its first few months, and its ancient facility and equipment required expensive upgrades.

Most damning, though, was the sudden onslaught from Regal's 100 Oaks and Green Hills megaplexes, both of which opened this year within miles of the Belcourt. Without a chain's clout, the Belcourt found it hard to book arthouse mainstays like ElizabethLife Is Beautiful. "You will simply not get those films," Hawkins says he was told by his New York-based booker, Jeffrey Jacobs. "There's no way you can win that battle."

Indie arthouses are dying all across America, but the Belcourt's loss is especially crushing. For one thing, the Belcourt's mix of first-run and revival programming had turned it into a truly remarkable theater. By dealing with small distributors, it gave Nashville access to films that were too edgy or controversial for Regal and Carmike.

To make matters worse, Vanderbilt's Sarratt Cinema is said to be undergoing a drastic reduction in its scheduling. In other words, said a glum Belcourt patron last weekend, ``We've gone from having almost too many choices to having none.''

Saddest of all is that the Belcourt itself—a Hillsboro Village anchor for most of the century, and a former home of the Grand Ole Opry—may face the wrecking ball. Future plans for the two-screen facility would almost certainly involve razing the theater, unless a savior can be found.

For sale: The Watkins Belcourt, built 1928. Asking price: $1.85 million. Maybe Hillsboro Village can use a Walgreens.

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