Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Cinemas in Israel

In contrast to Palestinian film, Israeli film has multiple aspects which I feel each require their own special insights.  Here are some notable landmark movie theaters.

Eden Cinema, Tel Aviv
The Eden Cinema (Kolnoa Eden) was built in 1914 despite objections by the Palestinian residents of Ahuzat Bayit, the neighborhood that became Tel Aviv. This local resistance is notable because of several reasons, including the fact that it shows an early resistance to Zionism before even the end of World War I, the lease's nature itself is an example of Ottoman-Zionist inter-relationships without consent of the governed, and it is a powerful reminder of Western encroachment in that era.  I have mentioned the bias against cinema within the pre-Nakba Palestinian community previously, and this sort of cultural and political colonialism would certainly cause further antagonism to be felt by a population who, for economic reasons, favored dramatic theater instead of film already. The owners, Moshe Abarbanel and Mordechai Wieser received a 13-year franchise, in an era when such administration was managed through the Jewish National Fund, who purchased dunams of Palestinian land from the Ottoman rulers directly. During World War I, the theater was shut down by order of the Ottoman government on the pretext that its generator could be used to send messages to enemy submarines off shore. It reopened to the public during the British Mandate and became a hub of cultural and social activity. It closed down in 1974.
Mograbi Cinema, Tel Aviv
The Mograbi Cinema (Kolnoa Mograbi) opened in 1930. It was designed in an art deco style that was popular in cinemas worldwide. The building was roofless for the first few years and was eventually topped with a sliding roof. People gathered in front of the theater to dance in the streets when the UN General Assembly voted in favor of the Partition Plan in November 1947. After a fire in the summer of 1986 due to an electric short-circuit, the building was demolished.
Armon Cinema, Haifa
In 1931, Moshe Greidinger opened a cinema in Haifa. In 1935 he built a second movie theater, Armon, a large art-deco building with 1,800 seats that became the heart of Haifa’s entertainment district. It was also used as a performance venue by the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra and the Israeli Opera.
Smadar Theater, Jerusalem
The Smadar theater was built in Jerusalem's German Colony in 1928. It was German-owned and mainly served the British Army. In 1935, it opened for commercial screenings as the "Orient Cinema." It was turned over to Jewish management to keep it from being boycotted as a German business, infuriating the head of the Nazi Party branch in Jerusalem. After 1948, it was bought by four demobilized soldiers, one of them Arye Chechik, who bought out his partners in 1950. According to a journalist who lived next door, Chechik sold the tickets, ran to collect them at the door and worked as the projectionist. His wife ran the concession stand.
Alhambra Cinema, Jaffa
The art deco Alhambra cinema, with seating for 1,100, opened in Jaffa in 1937. It was designed by a Lebanese architect, Elias al-Mor, and became a popular venue for concerts of Arab music. Farid al-Atrash and Umm Kulthum appeared there.  While the previous cinemas were opened by Zionists, this one's unique position as a Palestinian theater, as mentioned in a previous post, made this building a vital part of understanding what happened to the Palestinians as a society.  One of my major points is that the existence of a Palestinian film-going sub-culture only further highlights the modern nature of their pre-Nakba society.  It was bombed by the Irgun terrorist cell on December 13, 1947, 6 killed and 25 wounded by explosives planted outside the building.
Today, of course, Israeli cinema is defined by Western motifs in theater design, featuring multi-plex exhibition trends similar to those seen in America.

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