May 7, 2021


Damascus Center for Theoretical and Civil Rights Studies

Save ArcLight Cinemas: 14 filmmakers share their memories

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.

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?”

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)