The loss of the Arclight Cinema chain—particularly its Hollywood location—has reverberated with such shock because it was more than just a movie theatre; it was a haven for movie lovers. It was, to an awful lot of people, a home away from home. I would go with friends an hour or two before a movie began just to play cards out on the patio because, inevitably, we’d run into other people we knew. Oh, what did you just see? Oh yeah! We’re seeing that too. If I was bored on a Tuesday afternoon—fuck it, let’s go to the Arclight. It’s Thanksgiving weekend—let’s go to the Arclight! It’s raining—let’s go to the Arclight! Oh look, there’s Brad Pitt with his seven kids. There’s Quentin Tarantino. There’s Kirk Douglas?! But nobody’s bothering anyone because this is LA and we’re here to watch movies, and everyone in here is a movie lover. We got a little time though, so let’s get a drink at the bar. Don’t worry about finishing it—you can bring it in with you. I saw everything at the Arclight, from Spiderman 2 to 2001: A Space Odyssey, from The Avengers to The French Connection.
Every Halloween I’d go with a girlfriend or my core group of movie buddies and watch one of the many classic horrors they screened. Every season, I’d book tickets to any number of ARCLIGHT PRESENTS screenings of classic films. One of my best friends broke her Godfather cherry with screenings of Parts I & II over two nights in the Dome and loved every minute of it. When we went to the opening night of Iron Man, Robert Downey Jr was there as a surprise guest. When we went to see Parasite, Bong Joon Ho was there for a Q&A. I saw Denzel Washington, Pedro Almodovar, and Jodie Foster present films. Shit, even Jack Nicholson stopped by once to introduce One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest. In what other city in the world could you get so many industry insiders coming out to talk to you about their films? And make no mistake—the Arclight was not a small repertory BFI type charity cinema. It wasn’t the Egyptian. And it wasn’t a film school. It was a fully functioning multi-screen movie theatre. The difference was it gave a damn.
Everything about The Arclight was catered to making movies a pleasurable experience. Pre-selected seating (one of the first in this country). No entry allowed after the film had begun. A staff that actually liked movies instead of your usual crop of spotty teenagers trying to get some money in between school holidays. No commercials. That bears repeating. NO COMMERCIALS! God, what a luxury! Ushers checking the quality of the film for the first ten minutes. Good popcorn popped in canola oil. The best gourmet hotdogs in town. Wine bars. Cleanliness. And the patrons appreciated it. You didn’t get noisy drunks talking through the movie or iPhones lighting up the rows. You didn’t get all the things that people complain about when talking about what a bore it is to go see movies these days. The things which make you think—oh to hell with the lines and the noise and the stupid commercials and sticky seats and floors and the asshole talking on his phone, I’ll just stay here and watch something else in peace on my couch.
With the announcement of the shuttering of all Arclight doors, the hope that cinema—The Cinema, the actual theatre going experience—could survive the streaming home-entertainment couch-potato lifestyle we’ve all become so accustomed to finally faded like a hot, glaring spotlight switched off on a lonely struck movie set. The era of going to the movies is over. Sure, event films will still play on giant screens across the world, and you’ll sit in your stadium seating next to some annoying brat eating extra-large nachos with cheese, talking loudly between mouthfuls to his idiot friends, and you’ll get all the CGI and cacophony you can handle in a two-hour period. But you’re not going to see the quiet movies anymore. The little ones that sneak up on you and whisper in your ear. That stick with you long after you’ve driven home and gone to sleep. The surprises. No, those won’t screen anymore, and you probably won’t find them on your streaming service either, set to suggest films based on algorithms which don’t take into account that people like to browse. That they like to come across things that might not actually be like the last six films they watched. Films that might offer something new, something they don’t even know they’re looking for. I might like films by Ingmar Bergman, but I prefer Die Hard and The Long Goodbye. So, will the algorithm ever suggest The Three Amigos, I wonder? Or Picnic at Hanging Rock? Or how about that new indie that just came out of Texas and would’ve gotten some buzz if it had only played the festival circuit a few years ago and been distributed in movie theatres where good reviews and word of mouth could actually have done it some good?
Today we live in a world of so much choice, that we’ve somehow ended up with less choice than ever before. The cinema has been stripped down to an event. Going to a movie is like going to see a Broadway show, or worse – like going bowling. Just something to do to get away from the kids. When Martin Scorsese said Marvel films weren’t cinema (and was taken to task for it), he was on the one hand mistaken because, of course, they are cinema, but what he meant was, they’re really just there to be consumed. Going to see a superhero film, or a new Star Wars adventure, or any other sequel or reboot, for the most part, is like going on a rollercoaster. There is absolutely nothing wrong with enjoying rollercoasters—I enjoy them immensely. And the younger I was, the more I enjoyed them. But they’re not meant to be experiences that sit with you. You’re not meant to think about them for long once you’ve stepped off them. They’re fun. They’re scary, enjoyable, exciting, often funny—and utterly forgettable. This has been the case with summer tentpole movies for some time. The only difference is, now, with places like the Arclight closing, there’s not going to be room for any other types of movies ever again.
And that’s what was so special about The Arclight—it catered to everyone and every taste. It had its blockbusters and its indies, its foreign films and its classics. The Arclight was a community. With its points systems and five dollars off concessions and free ticket on your birthday. The regulars all knew their favorite seats (Row L, Seats 22 and adjacent). The real regulars even knew their favorite parking spots (down in the basement, entrance off Sunset, just east of the Dome). On busy opening weekends you knew to get there early because although you had your seat, you’d get screwed by that concessions line!
After the movie it was essential (essential!) that you go stand outside the main entrance, near the band playing cover songs on guitars and steel drums, and excitedly discuss the film you’d just seen—why would he do that? What a stupid movie! Wasn’t it GREAT?!—but not too loud, mind you, ‘cause etiquette dictate you not spoil it for the other patrons walking in (who very often were people someone in your group probably knew). What should we do now? Let’s go get a burger next door, or an ice cream, or a drink and keep reliving the moment. The twists and turns. The great performance. The heartbreak. The movies—any movie, which brought us back to that place in time where we first discovered films as children, when they were truly magic. Only the cinema can conjure up those spells. Sure, films can still be good at home—of course they can. But they can’t be magic. They can’t transcend into the deepest regions of our psyche. Into that place where anything is possible. Where there’s an electricity in the air. Where the audience mood-changes are palpable. Where you want to believe. Well, the Arclight made us believe. It made us believe with all our hearts and soul because inside its walls, the magic still existed.
And that’s the saddest thing about this loss. It’s not just the loss of another theatre chain or the end of any semblance of cinema going as we know it. It’s the loss of that theatre chain. The Arclight. The last refuge for the film lover. The high crest of a wave that we rode and loved every minute of.
‘Cinerama Dome at Night’ Oil on canvas, 30”x40” 2018 (Sold)
By John Tierney.