Friday, April 6, 2012

A Tale of Two Movie Theaters

There we were on Thursday afternoon, a foursome, sitting in theater 8 at Edwards Valencia 12, waiting for the 3:10 showing of Titanic 3D. When Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace came out, I toyed with the thought of seeing it, but decided to save my money for this one. It turns out I didn't have to spend my money, because Dad wanted to see it chiefly because of the song, Meridith hadn't seen it in theaters (It was my birthday, March 21, 1998 when Mom, Dad and I saw it, and there was a babysitting place near the movie theater where we dropped off her eight-year-old self, since it wasn't likely that she could sit there for over three hours), and Mom decided to join us because there's just such a great deal of things to do in this valley that she could have become totally indecisive over what to do first, so this was best. *Overreacting Sarcasmotron off*

At Edwards Valencia 12, you buy your tickets at the box office outside, walk in and to the guy standing next to the ticket receptacle, give him your tickets, take them after he rips them, and go find your theater. It's an average-person movie theater, and I like it, though I don't particularly like this one. I tolerate it because it's one of only two theaters in this valley, and you work with what you have.

Since Edwards is owned by the Regal Entertainment Group, the screens light up with Regal First Look 20 minutes before the feature, beamed through a separate projector. I used to be against commercials being shown, and making-of segments about upcoming TV shows, but it's what's at the movies now. It's not going to change. If you don't want it, then you have to find a theater that still preserves what the moviegoing experience used to be, where it's all about the movies and only the movies.

That would be The Landmark in Los Angeles. Ever since seeing the trailer for We Have a Pope early last month, I desperately wanted to see the movie. It's about Cardinal Melville, who's elected Pope by the conclave, but right before when he has to address the faithful, he cries out, and runs away from the world outside and the Cardinals gathered around him. He can't do it. The Cardinals and the Vatican spokesman are worried, because how is it going to look to the faithful when they've announced "Habemus Papum," and there's no Pope present?

The Cardinals decide to try psychoanalysis, and invite a psychiatrist (director Nanni Moretti) to try to figure out what's disturbing Cardinal Melville. He can't ask about the Cardinal's childhood or anything about his mother, but he tries. This leads to a visit with the psychiatrist's estranged wife, who he claims is "the second best after me", but is obsessed with "parental deficit." After Melville visits this psychiatrist, he slips away from his security detail and walks among the people of Rome for the next few days, trying to figure himself out, and this is part of what made me want to see this movie. This Cardinal does not feel he is above the people. He is among them. I have great respect for that. The ending was quite a surprise, a little disappointing, but understandable, and I liked the message that I perceived in it: Someone who is staunchly himself or herself is more holy than any religion.

From the outside, The Landmark is a steel-and-glass building, with shiny white tile flooring after you reach the second floor by escalator or stairs. You go to the ticket counter, and after choosing the movie and showtime, you lean over a flatscreen monitor looking up at you and choose which seat you want. Then after you pay, depending on when your movie is, you either go right in, or wait until it's time for seating in your theater.

We nearly didn't make it on time for the 11:15 a.m. showing of Jiro Dreams of Sushi, a subtitled documentary about an 85-year-old master sushi maker in Tokyo. I saw it on the schedule, showed Meridith, and she wanted to see it. As soon as we got our tickets, she went right into her theater and I had some time to wait, because through the wooden slats of the closed wine bar (I'm sure it opens later in the day), I saw a vertical monitor behind the bar that counts down the minutes until seating begins for each theater. For We Have a Pope, the monitor said, "Seating Begins in 18 Minutes," so I had time to start reading Sin City by Harold Robbins (written by someone else under his name since he died in 1997), which takes place in Las Vegas, and which I've had in my Las Vegas stack for a while. Since I'm working on shrinking it, it was next in the stack.

18 minutes later, I got up, walked to the first ticket guy, who ripped the side of my ticket that belongs to The Landmark, and then I walked to theater 7, handing my ticket to the guy at the door.

It wasn't enough that the theater looked upscale by the architecture alone, or that the digital board showing what movies were playing and the showtimes at the box office counter was crystal clear. The guy looked at my ticket, saw that I was in seat D3, and escorted me to that row, floor level, three rows back from the screen. I found the seat in that row, sat down, and the screen loomed like Godzilla above me, but I was ok with that. At least it wasn't Titanic 3D, which wasn't one of the movies being shown at The Landmark, since they show some Hollywood movies, but mostly independent and foreign films, We Have a Pope being an Italian film.

Seated where I chose, I opened Sin City again, and listened to The Landmark's own music program which plays before the movie begins. I remember there being a music program that played before the movie at Muvico Paradise 24 in Davie, Florida, but it was a national program, not customized like it was for The Landmark. They can afford it.

Before the movie started, the guy who had escorted me to my seat walked to the front of the theater, welcoming everyone, and announced the movie, giving us the running time, as well as when it would end. He then said that if we had any questions or needed anything (probably if the film suddenly went out of focus, which didn't happen), to find him or someone dressed like him, "in this lovely shade of burgundy," he joked, holding out his shirt a bit with two fingers. "And now: We Have a Pope," he announced, and then walked out of the theater. Right at that point (because before the guy made his announcements, he told the projectionist over the radio to start theater 7's projector in two minutes), the lights went down and there were trailers for Darling Companion, Bernie, Monsieur Lazhar, and Trishna. Then the movie began.

I'm tempted to consider The Landmark great luxury in moviegoing because they have great respect for movies in general, but it feels too cold to me. The glass-and-steel design doesn't help it much, and though I do like the organization involved in presenting a movie on time with announcements to boot, I'm happy with a regular theater. It feels like this movie theater is for what I'm sure The Landmark perceives as a higher class of people, but I'm not part of it. I don't like class distinctions and I don't observe them. But considering that The Landmark connects to a Nordstrom which then leads into the high-end Westside Pavilion mall, well, that's a world that doesn't fit me. For sheer respect of movies, I love that dignified treatment, but it's not my kind of theater, even though the guy introducing the movie requested that there be no talking or cell phone usage during the movie. That was nice. However, I can ignore such things. At one point during the sinking of the Titanic yesterday, I heard sirens on the road outside the theater (the walls are that thin, though not between auditoriums), and ignored it. I'm there to see the movie, and it matters nothing what's going on around me. That's other people's business.

I'm sure there are theaters just like The Landmark in Las Vegas, but I hope they feel more accessible than this. Same dignified treatment, but more welcoming to all. I think that balance can be achieved.

1 comment:

  1. It's kind of sad that now we have movie multi-plexes with 10, 12, or even 16 theaters. I remember going to The Dickinson in downtown Topeka, Kansas. It was huge and the seats were covered in red plush. It was clean and one's feet didn't stick to the floor. It was a nice experience to see a movie at The Dickinson.