Going to the Movies, Post Pandemic

July 21, 2021 § Leave a comment

The Cinerama Dome

On Monday I saw a movie in a theater for the first time in over 19 months. I can’t blame this gap on the pandemic alone, since the last movie I saw publicly was on January 3rd, 2020, when Covid19 was still a Chinese problem. The truth is that I’d been watching at home for years because almost everything–screeners, art films, comedies and dramas–was online. During that time, horror movies and the Marvel juggernaut took over the theaters, leaving me cold. To the extent that I ventured out to the movies, it was to rarely seen films at UCLA Film Archive and the American Cinematheque.

Yet in the nineties, I watched at least three movies a week in cinemas, and scores each year in screening rooms. After Pacific Theaters opened ArcLight Hollywood in 2002, I went there for most new releases, watching them on its fourteen screens or at its flagship Cinerama Dome. For the next decade and a half, I could be found at ArcLight more than any place except home and the gym. And since my gym was located in same complex, it’s not an exaggeration to say that I lived at Ivar and Vine.

The first movie I ever saw at ArcLight was “Training Day”, for me the greatest film of both Denzel Washington and Ethan Hawke. “Training Day” would have been memorable in any setting, but it was a late show in a completely empty theater that made my teenage son and me feel we were in the world’s biggest screening room. The last movie I saw at ArcLight, “Pain and Glory”, was also exceptional, but by  2019 my visits were few and far between. The exception was “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”, which I saw three times at the Dome in its first five weeks. In October of 2019 I saw Robert Eggers’ “The Lighthouse” at the Dome, never imagining it would my last movie there. But in April of 2021, ahead of California’s reopening, Pacific Theaters announced that ArcLight would close permanently due to its pandemic losses.

The sight of a boarded-up Cinerama Dome was depressing enough for the past year, but its continued shuttering is a blight that symbolizes Hollywood’s slow recovery. Now AMC is rumored to be buying Arclight, including the Dome. If it does, I expect even more action and horror movies, with the odd documentary or foreign film for the rest of us. 

No wonder there’s a boom in home theater construction. What used to be a perk of top actors and film executives is becoming a necessity for any homeowner with the room and cash. In Los Angeles, home theaters are the new home gyms: once exotic, now commonplace. Both bring what used to be a public activity into the private realm, which is both a solution and a problem. Though I don’t miss the reek of nachos and the increasingly uncomfortable seats at ArcLight Hollywood, I do miss the laughter, gasps and occasional drolleries of strangers around me. These reactions often enhanced the movies I watched, making me see them in a different light. Home theaters, for all their comforts, can offer no such surprises.

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