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 Shattuck Theaters, on Shattuck Avenue in downtown Berkeley, are a little of both. The good and the bad.
Built in the 80s, the theater fills a space formerly occupied by Hinks, a downtown Berkeley department store, which was an institution for years.
The Shattuck Cinemas now has ten screens and shows an eclectic mix of first-run studio features, independent and foreign films.
Entering the theater, a small concession stand is to your left. On a recent visit, it was apparent that the concessions area had been expanded, in both size and selection. The small restrooms are on the opposite side of the narrow lobby.
A long lobby stretches to the back of the complex, screens line both sides of the hall. At the end, the two largest screens. Studio releases tend to dominate these theaters. Large is a relative term for this complex. I would venture to say that all of the theaters at the AMC Bay Street 16 are larger than the screens at the Shattuck. However, if you are in downtown Berkeley, this is a comfortable, good choice. Each of the larger theaters has two aisles with small seating areas on each side. A moderately larger area sits in the middle. The screens are not large, but comfortable.
The majority of the screens are in long, skinny, rectangular theaters. Small screens and aisles down the center create boxy, rudimentary environments all too familiar to devotees of foreign and independent films. Thankfully, someone shows these films, but this is another example of the Art House ghetto.
At the end of the hallway, closest to the concession stand are two medium theaters. Again, a relative term. A lot of children's films tend to play here. In theaters next to the concessions. Get it?
Because these theaters were built from scratch, a little more effort was spent in design. Very little, but they tried. The larger theaters have a vague sort of Art Deco look.
A couple of years ago, they added two additional screens. Sitting between the restrooms and the front entrance, I suspect they were built in an old storage closet, or an office. Two screens in an old storage closet? Thankfully, I have never been inside.
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 into your theaters. You know, the people who wait for films to come out on DVD because it is more comfortable to watch the film at home.