Everybody loves going to the movies. Especially in the summer. It’s a place where you get to (or are forced to) turn off all your electronic devices, cease conversing with the person next to you, and get immersed in a good piece of fiction or non-fiction. Seeing a movie (if it’s a good one, at least) is like taking a 90 minute vacation from the entire world and I can’t think of anything I’d rather spend my time (mainly because I hate everyone and if you’re reading this you probably do too). While D.C. is blessed to have a pretty amazing film community, and new movie theaters are popping up all the time, it was a pretty big blow to said community when West End Cinema closed its doors in March. I, like many others, flocked to its final showings, desperate to see one last movie there. Of course, I couldn’t help thinking that it would have been even cooler if as many people showed up to West End’s regular screenings, but, whatever. West End was closing, D.C. was losing an incredible important part of its film community, and there was nothing anyone could do about it. So it goes.
BECAUSE IT’S BACK, BITCHES. A Landmark Theater branded poster appeared in the window of West End yesterday with little information except that it was opening July 17th. This July 17th. It looks like I’ll be spending my summer tucked into those terrible folding chairs after all and I couldn’t be more excited.
As of right now, all we know for sure is that West End was definitely bought by Landmark. According to POPville, there are some Craigslist ads floating around looking for new staff, but we have very little information about what West End will be showing, what the atmosphere is going to be like, or if Josh Levin (the original owner) is going to have any part of the new theater. I loved West End the way it was, warts and all (and by warts I mean bad viewing angles), but I get that things are going to change. So, Landmark, if you’re listening, here is my wish list. Here’s what I love about West End, what I think it needs, what I want it to have, and what should be avoided at all costs.
- ADORABLY TINY
One of the things I loved about West End was that it didn’t feel like any other movie theater I had ever been to before. It was tiny, sometimes even cramped. There wasn’t a big lobby to hang out in or even a large concession stand. You were forced to talk to strangers in line (if there was a line) mostly out of pure necessity, but it was nice. West End was bare bones, but it had a lot of charm.
- CHARMING AS HELL
Going to West End felt more like you were going to see a movie at a friends house (a rich friends house) than it felt like you were going to a legitimate establishment. A lot of that can be credited to the owner Josh Levin, who would man the cash register and chat with everyone who came through the door. If you asked for a student discount, he would force you to tell him what the movie had to do with your major. It was hilarious and made that tiny little space feel like the funnest place to be. Not to mention it had a great concession stand, with beer, wine, and great popcorn. I bought something from the concession stand every time I went to West End because the staff was so cool there I wanted to actively support them. Very few places make you feel that way.
- PROBABLY COOLER THAN YOU
I don’t know about anyone else, but going to West End felt cool. Sitting in any of its tiny ass theaters made you feel as if you were in a secret movie club no one else knew about. I honestly think part of the reason it felt that way is because the the screening rooms were a little jacked up. There was the one with the folding chairs, the one with the weird column, and then the one with the wonky viewing angles. It was like that person you know (and hate) with the perfectly tousled hair. West End was the Indie rock of DC’s movie scene.
Obviously Landmark is going to change some things. I’m sure they’re going to take out the folding chairs. I would bet money that they are going to add a full bar. I’m cool with that, but I think it’s important to maintain the kind of messed up nature of West End. That’s what made it feel charming and inviting. It wasn’t perfect and that’s what made it great.
West End did some weird shit for a movie theater that was trying its hardest to stay in business. It showed a lot of opera which is cool as hell, but I can’t imagine it drew much of a crowd. In a theater as small as West End, choosing the movies you’re going to screen is an incredibly important decision, and West End took a lot of risks. Some of them paid off, and some of them didn’t, but either way you could count on them to show things that no other theaters in the area would dare to show.
It also showed more popular films. I saw It Follows and Blue is the Warmest Colour at West End, and while those are pretty ~indie~ those were films you could also see at E Street Cinema or even AMC. Levin did a great job at curating the films at West End. He struck a great balance between weird, awesome, and always interesting. Again, West End was at its best when it was showing things you couldn’t catch at other theaters around the city.
I have a lot of feelings about West End’s film schedule. More than anything it needs to maintain its niche in D.C.’s film community. Keep it weird and wonderful and smart. I’m sure it’s not going to be the same movie theater I fell in love with, but it should be a pretty damn good imitation.
- DAMN THOSE FOLDING CHAIRS
Alright, I love the folding chairs, but they can get kind of uncomfortable. I would not cry myself to sleep if Landmark brought in more comfortable chairs.
Okay, it also wouldn’t kill me if they made the screens a lil bit bigger. They’re kind of tiny now, and while it never bothered me much, an upgrade could be nice.
I’m never going to turn down more booze at movie theaters. I’m 100% down with being able to hang out at West End and drink all of the gin and tonics imaginable.
That’s it. Throw in some booze, better seats, and maybe bigger screens. Don’t do anything else. Don’t even change the logo. Keep it classic. Keep it simple.