The Landmark chain runs a large percentage of the theaters offering the opportunity to see independent and foreign films. For this, they receive my gratitude. But the theaters vary widely in design and comfort; for every NuArt, there is a Westside Pavilions, for every large screen in the Piedmont Theater, in Oakland, there are the small screens upstairs at the Piedmont. The Act One/ Act Two, in downtown Berkeley, are not as bad as the small screens at the Piedmont, but it has definite problems.
On a recent visit to the Act One/ Act Two, I learned that they have adopted a repertory schedule for the downstairs theater, similar to the NuArt; the films showing in the Act One change on a weekly basis. If the film is popular, it might move to the Shattuck Theater for an extended run. The Act Two, which is upstairs, plays films for extended periods.
The theater was probably built in the late 60s or early 70s and is in the space of what were two or three store fronts on a street off of Shattuck Avenue. The marquee and architecture are plain and unspectacular. The nicest addition is the selection of foreign film posters lining the walls as you enter.
On this visit, our film was playing in the Act One. As we purchased tickets, a sign was posted noting that the air conditioning in the theater was under repair and wouldn't be at full power. The Bay Area is a little chilly during early summer, so this doesn't normally present a problem.
Entering the theater, the floor is covered with a piece of plywood sloping down, providing "wheelchair access". The way it was constructed created a little tunnel under the wood, allowing every footstep to echo from underneath. Heavy footsteps, heavy echoes. People walking in and out through the film, disturbing. The theater is also in need of a remodel. The layout is barely sloped and the seats are old and close together. There was barely enough room to move our legs, let alone cross them.
As show time approached, the theater gradually filled because the film showing was receiving great reviews. People were anxious to see it, to experience what all the buzz was about. And it was a matinee. Soon, the theater was very crowded and someone sat down directly in front of us, blocking my mother's view. She and my stepfather changed seats, and he sat next to me. Cramped in the small seats. At least I had the aisle. As the film started (late), the absence of air conditioning quickly became apparent.
Was this the most uncomfortable theater I have ever been in? No, that honor belongs to the Cineplex Beverly Center. But why should people who want to experience independent and foreign films have to suffer in the art house ghetto?
The Landmark Theaters chain was recently purchased by billionaire Mark Cuban. He has made noise about adding digital projectors to many of the screens and building a new, fancy multiplex at the Westside Pavilion, in West Los Angeles.
I'm all for completely eradicating the current Westside Pavilion Cinemas from the face of the Earth. But before he begins adding new technology to the theaters, he should spend some dollars on making the existing screens more comfortable, unless the two efforts are completed hand in hand.
Come on, Mr. Cuban. You don't want to be known as the Art House Slum Lord. Prove you aren't all talk. Provide the people who are loyal to these theaters, because they are the only place to catch these films, with a comfortable, enjoyable environment. This would also help to entice people to come to your theaters. You know, the people who would normally wait for a film to come out on DVD because it is more comfortable to watch the film at home.