In recapping my movie-going for 2010, I wrote this:
This year saw the appearance of a new movie outlet, the West End Cinema. Well, sorta new. It’s a fresh venue in a tired old location. When it was the Circle West End 5-7 in the ’70s and ’80s, I purposefully avoided the place. I loved the original West End, which offered a real moviegoing experience. (Saw Repo Man there. Also, John Cusack riding up to the box office on a bicycle.) But the 5-7 was in the basement of an office building and had all the charms that implies. And, though the new West End still has the same tiny theaters and tinier screens (see image above), the new owners are making interesting programming choices that mitigate the less-than-Cinerama experience. And they’re cleverly taking advantage of modern technology. Before a screening of the hysterical and disturbing Four Lions, they played a video that the director made specifically for this screening — and e-mailed to the theater. I think more films should start this way.
Indeed, the big difference between the West End Cinema and when it was under Circle management was the programming. (And please note, I loved most of the Circle Theaters; the Pedas brothers also ran a great operation. In this instance, they went a theater too far.) There was little point in watching a first-run Hollywood feature on a tiny screen when you could catch it at the Uptown, Avalon, or even a multiplex. And while West End also programmed first-run A pictures, more often it showcased indies, obscure indies, and even local films.
So I came off my high horse and added the West End to my regular filmgoing spots. The new relationship was not not without issues.
When the West End screened a documentary about L.A.’s famed Troubadour nightclub, I was first into the theater — only to be greeted by the menu screen for a Sony Blu-ray player. The screen itself was not all that much larger than the TVs of many of my friends. But I wanted to see the movie in a theater and the West End was the only place to see it.
And the film wasn’t great — I was expecting more on the Troubadour’s legendary owner Doug Weston rather than a tarted up James Taylor/Carole King concert film. But you can’t complain too much about spending time with James Taylor and Carole King.
When the film showed up on PBS two weeks later, I still wasn’t upset. Yes, I could have saved my money, especially as the Troub doc is exactly the type of PBS show you watch on your couch before bedtime. But so what? I got out of the house, had some tasty snacks, and shared an experience with strangers in a darkened room. That last bit sounds kinda dicey. But the West End was always a class joint. And I’ll miss the place.
I knew the end was near when the Oscar-nominated documentary The Square premiered at the West End — and at the same time on Netflix. Hard competing with that.
Fare thee well, Josh Levin and the West End staff.