With the recent news of the closing of Pacific Theaters and the ArcLight that you’ve likely already heard/reacted to, I couldn’t help but think: Sh*t. As someone who believes deeply in the shared human experience of theatergoing, I’ve always been a big believer in watching films on larger-than-life screens (with equally adept sound systems) to achieve all-consuming escapism.
Don’t agree? Well, I will submit a recent scene from my own life as a testament, perhaps you will relate. While lying in bed to start watching the delayed release of Godzilla vs. Kong (from HBO Max, a streamer that shocked the industry and especially Christopher Nolan with the announcement to proceed with day-and-date releases), the following three things happened:
- The Warner Bros. logo was barely done presenting itself when my 13-year-old barged into the room to tell me about a baseball card he tracked down on eBay.
- Kong pounded his chest to assert his dominance over Godzilla, just as two fairly disengaged house cats chased each other across our bed.
- Then, one fight sequence later, a call came in, followed by a text to see why I didn’t pick up said call.
All fine if you’re watching an episode of The Bachelor, but if you’re trying to lose yourself in popcorn entertainment, it’s a smidge distracting and makes you Google “how to weld a door frame.”
I say all this of course to share in the collective pain that LA is experiencing right now. To hear that all cinephile heavens known as ArcLight are closing is a monumental blow to those who appreciate isolated viewing outside the home. Sure, I’ll be able to traipse over the hill to an AMC or iPic when people are doing that again. But the Arclight, well, that’s my jam, man.
That’s where I find myself getting lost in cinema the way one should, in a dark room, with a group of strangers, despite the efforts of the occasional loud chewer, or the person who pulls out their phone screen mid-movie to fire off a text. And sure, there’s still the occasional cretin who decides to slowly unwrap their Raisinets at the quietest time in a film. But by and large, there’s no parade of distraction coursing through movie houses like the bedroom door at the Rosenzweig house.
From assigned seats to no ads to the Arclight usher spiel that preceded every movie reminding us of the film’s running time, who to talk to if the sound is off and really, just to support our humanity in a blue shirt, the Arclight experience was dedicated to being different.
In support of why we should still care about — and possibly even save — the existence of a quality destination like ArcLight, I’ve decided to encapsulate five movies I’ve seen in a theater over the course of my life that changed it or added things to my world I could not have seen coming.
The Year: 1980
The Film: The Jazz Singer
The Theater: Hollywood’s Cinerama Dome
I was barely seven years old, but my Neil Diamond-loving parents (fresh off Hot August Night just eight years earlier) took me to see their Elvis in The Jazz Singer inside the geodesic Cinerama Dome, which just tragically closed until a savior appears. Neil parading around that oversized screen in his sequins, crooning about immigrants coming to America made me want to be somebody. Namely, him. I still remember how loud the music was in this film — and how unbelievable it was to be seeing a movie inside a giant golf ball. Neil’s effect on me wore off eventually, but this experience didn’t. Still one of my most prominent film memories of seeing a movie with my parents before they got divorced. Love on the rocks, ain’t no surprise.
The Year: 1982
The Film: Poltergeist
The Theater: Not sure because I was too freaked out to remember.
I’m still perplexed to this day how a film featuring child abduction, demonic possession, a tree (and clown!) attacking a boy, as well as a swimming pool full of skeletons, was a PG affair. But I remember the film like it was yesterday in all its scary big-screen splendor — as does probably every child who was tricked into seeing this movie. Still, in retrospect, it was one of those great cinematic experiences that you appreciate as an adult since it became an iconic cultural moment despite our parents’ ignorance about the ensuing trauma. Didn’t matter that I was nine. It was still great to watch all those horrifying moments play out in a theater, regardless of how many times I had to check under my bed after to make sure a clown wasn’t trying to kill me.
The Year: 1989
The Film: Field of Dreams
The Theater: GCC Sherman Oaks
Of all the movies my father took me to as a teenager visiting his divorced, now soon-to-be remarried dad, there was one film he insisted on taking me to Field of Dreams. In sharing a deep love of baseball, my dad delivered me to this motion picture having already seen it once. It was of course incredible and even though the theater was average at best, I’ll never forget the sound of his sniffles morphing into a full-on man cry during the game of father-son catch at the end.
To this day, I can’t watch the scene without welling up with tears — and I’m not sure that would’ve happened without sitting in a dark room bereft of distraction. To prove the power of this moment, I took my son to the AMC on Father’s Day 2019 to watch the 30th-anniversary re-release of this film to recreate this experience. Hard to imagine that happening in a living room.
The Year: 1995
The Film: The Usual Suspects
The Theater: Palais des Festivals at the 1995 Cannes Film Festival
As a 21-year-old film student traveling through Europe, I ended up at the Cannes Film Festival scrounging up tickets to any possible film I could find. One of those films was the out-of-competition film The Usual Suspects, playing at the Palais up the longest red carpet you’ve ever seen. Like many of the films you wander into at a film festival, nobody knew anything about it. What unfolded from there was an extraordinary film that blew me away with its fast pacing and brilliant script from Christopher McQuarrie and the devilish portrayal by Kevin Spacey. All I remember is the standing ovation after the film, being mesmerized at the film achievement, and then telling everyone in my world about the film for months before it received a U.S. release.
That probably wouldn’t have happened if I watched the film on my laptop in between Zooms.
The Year: 1997
The Film: Titanic
The Theater: Fox Theater in Westwood
With all the hype, delays, and buzz about being over budget, Titanic seemed poised to sink at the box office. But the day I ventured to see the film on a dark December day in 1997 was one I’ll never forget. What I remember of that experience is sitting through the first half of the three-hour-plus movie in anticipation of the iceberg and the next half not believing what I was seeing. The sinking sequences felt so real, the technical feat so unprecedented, and the scope so magnificent that you couldn’t help but marvel at this cinematic masterpiece. Didn’t matter that the dialogue was a bit forced. This was an experience meant for a theater well-versed in 35mm — and seeing it as such was something that millions across the world no doubt will ever forget.
Is there a movie theater experience you’ll never forget? Share it with us by emailing email@example.com and we’ll consider publishing as part of an ongoing series called “Love Letters to Movie Theaters.”
Gregg Rosenzweig has been a writer, creative director and managing editor for various entertainment clients, ad agencies and digital media companies over the past 20 years. He is also a partner in the talent management/production company, The Rosenzweig Group.