The Isis looks like it’s tanking again. Aspen’s only dedicated movie venue. Can’t make a profit. Rent’s too high. COVID-19. Abandon ship!
Venues are important. It could be argued that a town is only as good as its movie theater(s). If Aspen wants to keep up as a prestigious arts and culture hotspot it must have a nice movie theater, even if it can’t make a profit because of the absurd rents and high costs of doing business in Aspen.
By comparison, Park City, Utah has three theater venues. With a population similar to Aspen and rents catching up quickly, the town remains THE place to see films here in the USA. The Sundance Film Festival has been held in Park City since 1978 and pumps culture, cash and international attention into the town. Film defines Park City.
France has the Cannes Film Festival. The United States has Sundance. Aspen could and should step up and figure out a way to have a world-class film festival theater complex. It costs money, but that’s one thing falling from the skies here.
Back in the early 1980s when I moved to Aspen, the Playhouse Theater showed X-rated midnight films to steaming audiences. That would never fly these days and honestly, I never attended those showings. But Aspen was footloose and fancy-free back in those days.
COVID-19 has put the kibosh on all but the most secret saucy assemblages, even in Aspen.
One of the very last public activities I participated in was in February 2020 when I endured the screening of the independent film, “Tread.” The documentary is about a bulldozer rampage by disgruntled Grand County resident Marvin Heemeyer. Marv got mad when he felt like the county government was impeding his ability to do whatever the hell he wanted, zoning be damned. So he built a tank out of a giant bulldozer and took his slow-motion revenge on the town of Granby.
Others who came for the film filed into the theater brushing up against my party, butts in our faces as they scooted for their seats, buttered popcorn and Skittles in hand.
Those were the days of innocence.
I followed that entertainment with a bit of bowling where I shared air and droplets with a wide variety of the community.
About two weeks later I fell into a monthlong coughing fit, which in retrospect was probably an early case of COVID-19. There was not a test to be found.
The first known case of the pandemic in Aspen was still months away. That first infestation was traced to Australian tourists who came to party and left faster than you can say, “Testing … one, two, three.”
I haven’t been to a movie theater since and I wonder how things will turn out. You can’t blame the Isis owners. They are not running a charity and many landlords around here are not charitable. Aspen needs a theater complex in order to keep up but everything is so complex now that there are no easy answers to these complex questions.
Steve Skinner has no answers, only observations. Reach him at