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‘I can’t imagine Hollywood without the ArcLight.’ Filmmakers explain why the loss matters

A passerby at the closed entrance to the Cinerama Dome in Hollywood.
Shuttered due to the pandemic, the historic ArcLight Cinerama Dome is one of hundreds of theaters owned by Decurion Corp. that will not be reopening, the parent company announced this week.
(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)
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In a breathtaking sequence in Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time ... In Hollywood,” the majestic Cinerama Dome marquee glimmers to life at dusk, a beacon beckoning movie lovers from its perch overlooking Sunset Boulevard. Wistfulness, promise and a tinge of nostalgia commingle in one magical moment; the music playing is the Rolling Stones’ “Out of Time.”

That song proved prophetic on Monday as Los Angeles-based Decurion Corp. announced it would not be reopening its Pacific Theatres and ArcLight Cinema chains, which were shuttered last year due to the pandemic, even as Angelenos start returning to shops, restaurants and the movies with COVID-19 restrictions lifting.

Among the 300-plus movie screens affected are high-profile and widely trafficked multiplexes at the Grove and Americana shopping malls, and in a crushing blow to local cinephiles, the historic Cinerama Dome, first opened in 1963, whose massive, 126-degree curved screen played host to countless classics, premieres and special presentations in digital, 35 millimeter and 70 millimeter beneath the arched embrace of a geodesic dome for more than half a century.

After the news broke, social media flooded with memories of the theater. A movie-loving couple who got engaged in the ArcLight parking lot. A devotee who threw up during a movie but made sure to return for the end of the film. Former employees recalling run-ins with industry figures in line for popcorn, regulars who’d sidle up to the theater bar before showtime, and others who made the ArcLight and its locations across L.A. their go-to houses of cinematic worship.

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On weekend nights in particular, the lobby of the ArcLight Hollywood was a bustling, lively place, with audiences coming and going from their showings, filmmakers arriving for post-screening Q&As and the frequent sighting of celebrities — just like us — simply catching new movies at their favored local venue.

“Especially the ArcLight Hollywood had really become this center of movie culture in this town,” said Peter Avellino, an avid moviegoer who runs the website Mr. Peel’s Sardine Liqueur. “It made things really special to go there, because this wasn’t just a theater.”

Filmmaker Rian Johnson appeared at the ArcLight Hollywood on the opening nights for his films “Looper,” “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” and “Knives Out” dressed in the blue shirt uniform of the theater staff to deliver the venue’s typical pre-show introductions.

“There’s a reason every movie lover in L.A. is in mourning. If you lived in this town and loved movies, you’ve had life changing experiences in that complex,” Johnson said via email. “But more than that, it’s easy to forget how the ArcLight completely transformed the moviegoing experience: assigned seating, plush comfy chairs, no late entry to screenings, these were all considered wild and crazy ideas when they first opened. The ArcLight loved and respected movies, and you felt that from every person who worked there. This is a huge, huge loss.”

More filmmakers shared their memories with The Times — written or by phone — of favorite screenings, memorable premieres, and personal and professional milestones marked at one of Hollywood’s most beloved theaters, as well as what the closures mean to L.A.'s film-loving community. With the future of the theaters uncertain, amid the eulogizing and a quickly circulating petition to save the Dome, many have resisted the implications, asking instead: “Can anything be done?”

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The Cinerama Dome stars in "Once Upon A Time... In Hollywood"
In happier times: The historic Cinerama Dome takes center stage on the set of Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood.”
(Columbia Pictures)

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EDGAR WRIGHT

(director, “The World’s End,” “Baby Driver”)

When I woke to get a glass of water at 3 a.m. in London [Tuesday] morning, I saw the flurry of texts on my phone about the depressing news about the Pacific / ArcLight theater chain. I immediately wrote a number of emails to people in the industry asking the question: Can anything be done?

It was then a little disturbing to see on social media, among the shock and sadness, a flat acceptance of what had happened, with little thought of what could be done to save the cinemas. It’s also worth noting that while the majority of the press and reactions revolved around the Dome, it was also worth talking about the plight of the rest of the excellent Pacific and ArcLight theatres — many of which I would regularly frequent, not just ArcLight Hollywood itself, but also the theatres at the Grove and the Americana. These locations and many more in the same chain were the heart of the town for many filmmakers and film-goers alike.

I myself have literally hundreds of memories, not just from screenings or premieres of my own work, but just watching new movies — be it in a packed house, close to midnight with the hardcore geeks or in the peaceful Sunday morning screenings. It wouldn’t be wrong to call it my home away from home, I’ve spent more time in those ArcLight chairs than my own couch in Los Feliz.

But while many in the industry were posting photos of favourite memories, screen signage or ticket stubs, I really didn’t want to post an obituary and refer to the theatres in the past tense. I wanted to know if this was in any way solvable or reversible.

Some social media commenters have suggested that filmmakers like Nolan and Tarantino just buy the famous Dome theatre outright, but that isn’t really the answer. (Not least, for the rest of the cinemas in the chain.) The solution, is, as it has always been, to make films for the cinema screen, and then for studios and exhibitors to work together so we can see them safely and, by doing so, encourage the audiences back. Both those filmmakers, and some others, have stood by the power of the cinema experience, and feel keenly what people often forget, that exhibition and the big screen experience is still the foundation of the business. It’s been easy, in the pandemic year and the dominance of streamers, for many to forget that people like going to the movies.

There are encouraging signs that audiences are coming back and I feel this will only snowball in the coming months. So with all that, the news of the Pacific / ArcLight Theatres is a cruel blow coming just weeks before their planned reopening.

I will continue to do what I can, which is to deliver new movies to an audience who wants to go back. I hope something meaningful can be done, both for purely selfish reasons, as I would really miss my favourite places in L.A., and for the sake of the actual film lovers in Hollywood; those that go and see films with an audience.

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AUBREY PLAZA

(actress, producer, “Ingrid Goes West,” “Black Bear”)

The closing of the ArcLight theater feels like a bad dream that I hope I wake up from. … It’s heartbreaking. I have so many beautiful memories there, personal and professional. I attended the premiere of “Funny People” there, which was my very first premiere and introduction to Hollywood. More recently, the “Ingrid Goes West” premiere where Elizabeth Olsen and I showed up in the same dress and Amy Poehler came to be my friend.

Since then so many premieres and so many Friday nights and so many afternoon matinees. There is nothing like seeing a Tarantino movie on 70mm in the Cinerama Dome opening night. What a loss.

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Passersby on the walkway from the Cinerama Dome to the larger ArcLight Cinemas building.
The ArcLight Cinemas Hollywood and Cinerama Dome have been shuttered since March 2020 for the pandemic.
(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

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VICTORIA MAHONEY

(second unit director, “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker”)

Across two decades, I’ve held three unshakable ArcLight routines:

I) I’d pre-purchase tickets months in advance with a friend or group of friends to the Thursday midnight showing of a brand new megawatt, slaughter-the-zeitgeist film. The very last film I saw with an audience at ArcLight Cinerama Dome was “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” on opening night.

II) I’d purchase a solitary ticket 10:30 a.m., first showing, Friday opening weekend of films.

III) Once a week for the past 20 years (time permitting), I’d sit with a cup of tea, comb through the ArcLight’s roster, calibrate my timing for three different films, purchase tickets online. [Then] show up on the given day, buy a slamming espresso from the the northwest corner shop and purchase a film book or two while excitedly waiting — to spend the entire day bopping from one theater to the next.

Chatting with folks who worked as ushers, concession stand, ticket takers, and other moviegoers.

I mostly sat center/center for SOUND but I slowly favored the fourth seat in (on either side) of the first row from the main thoroughfare.

After the warm-hearted usher finished their intro, I’d hold my breath, living for the moment when the theater went dark, watching the velvet curtains retract over mystical silence — you truly could hear a pin drop. I cannot describe the levels of wonder, curiosity, hope, excitement, adrenaline and joy that filled my being scalp to toe, seconds before a film started. ... [T]he only place I find that specific type of unfiltered, unified sense of wonderment is on set, after the words “rolling” and “speed” — the nanosecond before I call, ACTION.

Farewell, ArcLight. You have fed this ever-famished dreamer for a lifetime.

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ADAM McKAY

(director, “Step Brothers,” “Vice”)

If I’m being honest I think I’m in denial. I can’t imagine Hollywood without the ArcLight. I really can’t.

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JON M. CHU

(director, “Crazy Rich Asians,” “In the Heights”)

I am so sad about the ArcLight going away. I know some company may swoop in and take it over, but it isn’t just about the building. It was the philosophy of it. The moviegoers and the staff. The idea that movies could be sacred. That the quality of sound and picture was important, and people were there to make sure it was perfectly delivered to you as the storytellers intended.

I was there opening night of “The Hunger Games” cheering on Katniss out loud with the rest of the crowd in the Dome. I was there l bawling my eyes out attending the opening night of “This Is It.” I was there midnight opening screening of “The Dark Knight Rises” when we walked out afterwards and found out about the shooting in Aurora. Everyone was so distraught we just crowded the courtyard and comforted each other, not leaving for hours.

I had my first premiere for my first feature film ever at the ArcLight. I’ll never forget pulling up to MY neighborhood theater, a place I had been attending movies for many of my adult years, and seeing the lights for my very first movie “Step Up 2 the Streets.” It was surreal. Life fulfilling. And then, in the middle of the screening, I snuck out so I could ask the guys rolling up the red carpet if I could cut a piece off for my memories. They looked at me suspiciously, but then I explained I was the director and their faces lit up. They immediately grabbed scissors and cut me a giant square that I still have today in my house.

Over the years I had costumes from my movies displayed in the lobby and even tested my upcoming movie “In the Heights” at the ArcLight in Pasadena right before the pandemic cut our post process short. So. Many. Memories. So. Many. Friends. Strangers. Fellow Film lovers. Gathered and shared in our love of sharing. This was more than a building.

There’s a lot to be worried about in the world right now, so maybe it seems silly, but this was one thing I wasn’t worried about at all. I knew the movie business was going through a rough time, but I never once considered the ArcLight would be gone when this thing was over. Never. This was our weekend friend that we lost [this week]. Heartbroken.

A security guard on a bicycle rides past the shuttered ArcLight Cinemas in Hollywood.
A security guard rides past the shuttered ArcLight Cinemas in Hollywood.
(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

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KARYN KUSAMA

(director, “Destroyer,” “The Invitation”)

As a film lover and a filmmaker, no theater evokes as much emotion for me as the ArcLight Hollywood. No one place has given me so much joy. Every screen massive, every sound system perfectly calibrated, it is a theater complex that’s been my humble community center and my holy temple since I moved here almost 20 years ago.

To lose it will be unacceptable, and when we face the possibility of this magical theater’s extinction we have to ask a larger question about movies, and art, and humanity, in general. Let’s figure out how to keep this place alive, because there’s nothing else like it, and because [watching] movies on the big screen is human experience worth preserving.

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ALMA HAR’EL

(director, “Honey Boy”)

I had a soft landing in L.A., but that didn’t change the deep loneliness I felt as an immigrant. I remember meeting another filmmaker who said, “It takes three to five years to make real friends in this town and until then your best friend is the ArcLight.” “That can’t be,” I thought, but he was right. L.A. has no center and I spent years walking back and forth between Amoeba Records — also closed [but relocated to Hollywood Boulevard] — and the ArcLight.

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I remember the first time going there and trying to figure out what was worth paying those extra bucks for a ticket. It took one visit to understand it’s a temple of cinema. The unforgettable ushers who introduced each film with crazy excitement, the sound and the picture quality that were always adjusted if you had a problem with anything, the weekly costume displays in big glass cases, the little book store, the talks with legendary filmmakers and the epic soundtracks in the restroom that made every urination feel like a triumphant moment of reflection.

More than a decade passed until I had my own premiere at the Dome. I’ll always consider it one of the happiest nights of my life. Ask many filmmakers and they’ll tell you that no award and no form of success, financial or critical, can compete with the feeling of seeing your film’s poster at the ArcLight. Giving a Q&A to a sold-out Dome full of lovers of cinema who came to watch our film in the same dark theater I sat in for over a decade watching other people’s movies is a physical memory I’ll hold on to for the rest of my life.

One has to ask how can this town let this closure happen. Sometimes impermanence is more than the philosophical problem of change.

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SEAN BAKER

(director, “Tangerine,” “The Florida Project”)

Over the years, ArcLight Hollywood has been near and dear to my cinephile heart. The ArcLight has been a place of comfort, support and more. I have seen countless films there, had two of my features play there and even discovered a lead actor in my next feature there. Not only has the ArcLight Hollywood been my favorite cinema to see new releases, it has been one of the reasons I have continued to live in Los Angeles — Yep, it’s that deep.

It is not just the historic Cinerama Dome that makes this location special, their dedication to optimal presentation of films in all of the auditoriums is noteworthy. I think it is imperative for the film industry to do whatever it can to make sure this closing does not happen. It would be the equivalent of the music industry allowing the Hollywood Bowl to close. It’s not just a movie theater, it’s a landmark that deserves to be protected, especially in Hollywood.

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ANA LILY AMIRPOUR

(director, “A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night,” “The Bad Batch”)

When I moved to L.A., it was literally my first kind of social group, my first welcome to the industry, people in the industry, going to that place every week. ... I cannot accept it. It’s L.A. I can just remember, how many times, the feeling of walking from that parking lot into the theater, sitting in that restaurant and having onion rings after a movie. It can’t go away.

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MELINA MATSOUKAS

(director, “Queen & Slim”)

This is heartbreaking. I have so many memories tied to the ArcLight, it’s been a part of my film education. And more recently, I remember when I got to go see my film “Queen & Slim” on the big screen there. I remember thinking,
“Wow, we did it. We made it.” It was a particularly special moment for me.

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CORALIE FARGEAT

(director, “Revenge”)

When I came to L.A. for the first time a few years ago, I was staying in Hollywood, so actually the first L.A. theater I went into was the ArcLight Hollywood! At that time I was also discovering Amoeba in the neighborhood (which has also disappeared ...).

Two years after, for the U.S. release of “Revenge,” the movie was playing in a few select theaters, and one them was the ArcLight Hollywood. I remember [when I shared the list of theaters with] a friend of mine who was living in L.A. ... he told me, “You have the ArcLight Hollywood, that’s great!” As a filmmaker I feel really sad and worried that those places are shutting down, because as a human society we’re going to need so much to get back to some collective experiences once the pandemic will be over.

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Cinerama Dome is L.A. Historic-Cultural Monument No. 659. City and preservation officials explain what that means for protection against demo or gutting.

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ZOE LISTER-JONES

(actress, director, “Band Aid,” “How It Ends”)

As a born and bred New Yorker, in my first few years of living in L.A., I often found myself proselytizing L.A.'s advantages to friends and family back home. And while sunshine and turning right on red were two substantive assets, the ArcLight was a close third. I remember calling my mom and exclaiming, “You choose your seats ahead of time! And it’s like clean and beautiful and their staff are all cinephiles, and they play amazing films, it doesn’t make any sense!”

Whenever anyone would visit me from New York, I would take them to the ArcLight almost immediately, as a legit tourist attraction. Like Pink’s or the Observatory, the ArcLight was synonymous with Los Angeles; it was a glorious way to view films, oftentimes with amazing Q&As with legendary filmmakers.

I was lucky enough to have my directorial debut, “Band Aid,” screen there, and I remember opening weekend, signing my name on the wall of the infamous green room next to auteurs I had spent my life admiring, and pinching myself that I could be among them in this cinematic rite of passage. Without the ArcLight, there will be such a dearth of what makes L.A. so special. It embodied a celebration of cinema in a way I have rarely experienced in any other theater. I hope we can save it from destruction.

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LIZ HANNAH

(screenwriter, “The Post,” “Long Shot”)

I’ve lived in Los Angeles for 14 years and it’s not hyperbolic to say that the ArcLight has been central to both my personal and professional lives here. I’ve had bad dates, good dates, seen good movies and bad movies, gone to see my own movies and (a dream come true) had a premiere for one of my films. Someone else said this [this week], but it rings so true: “In a city as big as Los Angeles, the ArcLight made you feel like you lived in a small community.”

Because that’s what the ArcLight was — a community. Yes, it was about the movies — but not entirely. It was about the people who came to the ArcLight to watch the movies. I mean, what other audience but this group applauds the ushers after they tell you the run time, emergency exits and not to talk during the movie? And how many people were planning their first post-pandemic trip to the ArcLight? How many debates were being made about whether or not the ArcLight had the best parking (it does) or whether you were stairs or escalator people?

I’m sure someone will buy the theater. I’m sure someone will pump money into “updating” it. But I’m also sure that it won’t be the same. I guess we’re supposed to be happy that we had it for as long as we did, but screw that, I wanted it for longer.

And, I swear, if they change that popcorn recipe in any way they might as well shut the place down all over again.

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