Santa Monica May Get Two ArcLights. These L.A. Neighborhoods Need One Instead
The Westside's dominance over Los Angeles film culture continues unabated with the news that ArcLight is seeking to open not one but two new theaters in Santa Monica. Its current L.A. locations - in Hollywood, Pasadena, Sherman Oaks, and El Segundo - are distributed fairly evenly, but anyone not within these four theaters' radius could reasonably feel unloved by the reigning king of luxury moviegoing. The Laemmle chain remains our most democratic bastion of cinephilia, with non-obvious outposts (in Encino, NoHo, Pasadena and Claremont) outnumbering the flagships (Santa Monica, Beverly Hills and West L.A.)
The 76-year-old institution is essential, but the comparatively modest atmosphere and bent toward world cinema is a far cry from what denizens of the luxe ArcLight and Landmark chains crave. The fact that ArcLight is expanding at all indicates that audiences are getting reacquainted with the idea of moviegoing-as-event, with assigned seating and chic interiors playing a big role in this shift.
Santa Monica movie buffs may be the most spoiled in all of L.A. There's the Aero, one of repertory mainstay American Cinematheque's two theaters, and Vidiots, a quintessential L.A. video store. Nearby, in West L.A., the Nuart is right next door to Cinefile Video and the Laemmle Royal a few blocks west of that - all on the same stretch of Santa Monica Blvd. And the Landmark on Pico is also not far. With that in mind, it seemed as good a time as any to step on the soapbox and suggest some new locations to the fat cats at Arclight.
First, and most obvious, is Downtown L.A. Anyone there hoping to go beyond the multiplex is likely to head to Downtown Independent, whose programming lives up to its name: It Felt Like Love, Charlie Victor Romeo and other lo-fi indies worth the drive screen there on a regular basis. (Until late 2009, it was also home to the Laemmle Grande.) DTLA is in the midst of a slow-but-steady change in perception as a GQ-endorsed cool place to live, something a luxury multiplex would help solidify. If ArcLight doesn't do it, it seems that Austin-based Alamo Drafthouse will beat them to it - which would be just fine, as Drafthouse has the amenities of Arclight, the programming sensibilities of Cinefamily, and food brought right to your seat.
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Burbank comes to mind as well; your best bet in this part of the Valley is often to wait until movies like The Grand Budapest Hotel open at the AMC Burbank 16 a month after they play at ArcLight Hollywood. An even more glaring omission is Long Beach, home to some 462,000 people and exactly one art-house: the appropriately named Art Theatre, where Budapest is also screening right now. A beautiful single-screen theater that opened 90 years ago, it's a vital cinematic institution in a part of L.A. that's otherwise underserved. In other words, it's an untapped market.
Equally deserving is Whittier, or anywhere else east of Pasadena. The San Gabriel Valley could hardly be called a cultural hotbed, but Uptown Whittier has established itself as a genuinely cool community (though one could argue that its under-the-radar vibe might make it more suited for a Laemmle). It's common knowledge that the rise of streaming video has changed the way we watch movies and, if there's less reason than ever before to leave one's home to see something new on a big screen, then theaters need to keep providing new incentives for potential customers to do so. L.A. traffic being what it is, this may be as simple as bringing the movies to the people. "If you build it..."
Correction: An earlier version of this story mentioned that there's an ArcLight in West Hollywood. It's actually in Hollywood.
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