The story of Toronto’s west end Metro Theatre is fascinating. Opened in the 1930s, the Metro is one of the Toronto’s oldest independent theatres. The theatre switched to adult-only fare in the 1970s (I remember reading that the owner held the Canadian distribution rights to the Emanuelle series), and has been dying slowly ever since, a not uncommon fate for adult film theatres.
Generally, the story of the Metro and its downfall is a depressing one, particularly the owner’s perpetual bad luck (he actually had dreams of screening Bollywood movies), who is by all accounts a nice guy (the ticket booth used to stock charged car batteries for people with car problems). The Metro has always had a place in my heart. Back in the ’90s, I was lucky enough to catch Shaw Bros. classic Master Killer: 36th Chamber of Shaolin at the Metro where it played as part the Kung Fu Fridays series.
However, there may still be hope for the theatre yet. The Toronto Star reports that Jonathan Hlibka and Nadia Sandhu, owner-operators of east end rep theatre the Projection Booth, have a management deal to program nightly screenings at the Metro.
Hlibka and Sandu plan to schedule a mix similar to that of the Projection Booth–recent indies, documentaries and cult faves. This is great news and Hlibka and Sandu are the right people for the project.
Pagliaro, Jennifer. “Toronto’s Last Porn Movie Theatre to get Art House Cinema Makeover.” The Toronto Star. 3 Aug 2012.
Jonathan Hlibka is smiling in the Metro Theatre‘s front lobby, pointing behind the concession stand to the Caribbean-themed mural of a giant big-beaked toucan and the words “Welcome” spelled out in yellow and orange paint.
Nearby is another out-of-place bird — so dirty it’s hard to tell if it’s bronze or gold — perched atop a stone fountain, buried under piles of junk and debris through a nearby door whose frame hangs orphan from any wall.
“It’s like Scarface,” Hlibka says of the west-end Koreatown space. “I love the space…I love how ostentatious and how gaudy it is. It’s charming.”
Al Pacino reportedly liked it, too, and was rumoured to have sat in one of the dingy theatre seats during the filming of his 1989 film Sea of Love, in which the opening credits feature the exterior “XXX” marquee.
In those days, the theatre had passed through the glorious cinema boom, having switched to adult movies — what film buffs call “skin cinema” or simply, pornography — for more than a decade.
But after sinking its current owners into debt, the province’s last porn palace may finally make a comeback with the help of Hlibka and partner, Nadia Sandhu, who hope their “labour of love” will transform the near Bloor St. W. theatre, near Christie St., into a nightly arthouse cinematic experience.
The pair, who run the distribution company Studio Film Group, will be kicking off their trial run on Aug. 17 with regular programming of “art, schlock, indie and foreign” films.
“Consider us like a pop-up shop,” Hbilka said.
For more on the Metro’s depressing but interesting history, also check out the following stories.
Akler, Howard. “A Tale of Two Theatres: While the Bloor Cinema is Reborn, nearby Metro Threatre Languishes.” National Post. 10 Mar 2012.
Kennedy, Brendan. “The Metro: Still X-rated, still for sale.” Toronto Star. 29 Dec 2011.