Print Columns   |   Web Chats   |   Blog Archives   |  

The Tragedy of the Dying Movie Houses

The roster of Washington area movie theaters shut down in the last few years is already depressing: the Biograph, Key, Cerberus, Fine Arts, Janus, Visions, Inner Circle, Outer Circle, Cinema, Jenifer, MacArthur, Paris, Studio, Tenley, and West End theaters closed, most of them to make way for CVS drug stores or to sit empty for year after year.

Now add two more to the list of the lost: In the suburbs, one of the last of the second-run theaters, the Premier Cinemas at Jumpers in Pasadena in Anne Arundel County, shut its doors on Sunday, a victim of changing moviegoing habits and an inability to afford the new digital screening technology. And in the District, the Loews Wisconsin Avenue in upper Northwest is next to go, a victim of the merger between the Loews and AMC chains. Insiders say it will shut its doors at the end of November.

And while there's no official word, projectionists and other local movie industry workers are hearing more and more gloomy rumors about the future of the region's grandest remaining movie house, the Uptown in Cleveland Park. If its days are numbered too, that calls for a popular uprising even more vociferous than that which eventually saved the Avalon in Chevy Chase.

The culprits for all those losses: Home video, the multiplexing of American movie houses, the insatiable spread of CVS, and the decline of the second-run and repertory formats.

The replacements: The AFI Silver, the Landmark art houses on E Street and in Bethesda, and the Loews complex in Georgetown.

Net loss: Huge, especially in Dupont Circle, the Wisconsin Avenue corridor in upper Northwest, and Georgetown.

Moviegoing at the 4000 Wisconsin was never a spectacular experience; the place is among the better of the 1980s theaters, but that's not saying much. The walls are too thin, the sound bleeds from one theater to the next, several of the boxes are way too small--but there are decent-sized screens and even advanced sound and projection systems in the two largest theaters in the multiplex. But this is a case of Loews wanting to push business to its new Georgetown complex and of the landlord, Fannie Mae, never having been all that thrilled about having the unwashed public wandering through its corporate headquarters, according to workers at the theater.

Can and should the Uptown be saved?


By Marc Fisher |  October 31, 2006; 7:39 AM ET
Previous: Gallaudet's Grievous Misstep | Next: D.C. Ain't Paris: Welcome to the City of Darkness

Comments

Please email us to report offensive comments.



Marc, you've disappinted me. I thought sure you would host a chat about the Cardin/Steele debate on the Tim Russert show. Clearly, Cardin came out on top of that one!

Posted by: WB | October 31, 2006 8:46 AM

Save the Uptown, just urge them to play better films than "The Guardian." I'd go more often if they played decent stuff.

...and come down to Arlington for the Cinema Drafthouse. With Visions gone, where else can you get cheap beer w/ a movie?

Posted by: Greg | October 31, 2006 8:58 AM

Marc,

Fannie Mae is a tenant at 4000 Wisconsin, just like the theater. They are not the landlord.

Posted by: Brian | October 31, 2006 9:07 AM

The Uptown would be such a huge loss.

I still mourn the Ontario, The Circle,and The Embassy too. So many wonderful movies theaters gone. So many nasty little places left.

The Avalon and the Silver are wonderful places. And I put my money into them, with memberships in both. I'm glad they're around. I don't want to lose any more of those grand movie theaters. Wouldn't it be a wonder if the Uptown could be saved too!

Posted by: sfw | October 31, 2006 9:28 AM

Aren't they still showing "The Perfect Storm" at the Uptown? I love the old single screen movie houses and really bemoan their demise, but the issue with the Uptown is their amzingly generic, brain-dead movie selection. I don't know why they never did more with a reperatory format. The Castro theatre in San Francisco is a beautiful single screen theatre that actively markets itself to cinephiles by always having small festivals and showing older movies...as well as newer indie releases.

For better or for worse, the Uptown will never be able to compete with the newer theaters for the first run type movies. They should market themselves to other audiences.

Posted by: John | October 31, 2006 9:29 AM

Oh, save the Uptown! (Maybe get some college kids to pitch a tent city out front.) But, as others have said, expand its offerings. That screen begs for classics.

Posted by: walk left, stand right | October 31, 2006 10:03 AM

(yeah, I'm one of the KB Theaters Burkas)

a) I doubt anybody misses the Heinous Janus, the Cerberus, the Foundry, or even the Paris. (and it's not really fair to include the Paris on the list of shut-down theaters given that the mall it was in still has a mulitplex!) Others on the list leave me far more nostalgic (the Cinema! the MacArthur!). But it's worth noting that only a few of those listed have actually closed in recent years. Many have been gone since the 80s or early 90s.

b) The Uptown remains the best theater in the area, and the only theater to which I'll make a special trip. Its loss would be huge. And yeah, it would be worth fighting for.

Posted by: jburka | October 31, 2006 10:20 AM

If it ever makes it out into the wider media that AMC is think of closing the Uptown there would be a large-scale uprising against AMC. I know I would certainly stop going to their houses. It's not like they're the only game in town and Regal is actually managing to do things right, somewhat more so anyway, with their theatres.

If AMC doesn't want to run it then sell it to someone who will run it right like the P&G folks or maybe the guy who runs The Senator. Heaven knows they know how to run a movie theatre right.

Posted by: EricS | October 31, 2006 10:29 AM

Alas, when AMC bought the Uptown, I feared this would happen. After all, American MULTI-CINEMA doesn't sound like single screen theatres to me.

I agree that the Uptown needs to distinguish itself more, much as the Ziegfeld in New York does. The Uptown should still be rented out for DC fancy premieres, and should also book films suited for a giant screen (such as King Kong and Superman Returns). During slow periods, they should return to having mini-festivals of big screen epics, when they had week-long runs of Ben-Hur, 2001, and the like.

Posted by: This Was Cinerama | October 31, 2006 10:32 AM

But could a house the size of the Uptown survive by showing more indie fare? Landmark seems to do well at E Street but their biggest auditorium is only about 250 seats. I guess the question is, how much business is the Uptown doing with its current programming? The Avalon is not far away with its indie fare in a smaller house. How stable is it these days? I think DVD has been the death knell for lots of theaters. People prefer to watch in the comfort of their own homes rather than go and fight for parking and then have to sit through a film with an audience that has no manners. I suppose more sophisticated film selections would weed out the people who don't know how to behave, but are there enough cinephiles out there to fill the Uptown on a consistent enough basis?

Posted by: Glenn | October 31, 2006 10:38 AM

AMC seems to be sabotaging the Uptown by booking films with weak financial expectations and extending their runs well past public interest.

How valid are these rumors?

Posted by: Anonymous | October 31, 2006 10:47 AM

I think the loss of theses theaters is sad, and it would be a shame if the Uptown closed. But I agree with the earlier poster and would go to the Uptown more often if they showed better movies! I can't help enjoying myself at the big multiplexes with the stadium seating and surround sound in comparison to memories of watching movies at the Dupont theatre which I think was the worst theatre in history.
One interesting place is the Old Town Theatre in Old Town Alexandria. They play first run movies, and pretty good ones at that, but has more of a style of old fashioned theatres and places like Arlington Cinema Drafthouse, with additional features like music etc. There are some kinks in their systems, but overall, you feel like the people that work and run the place love movies and the old fashioned movie theatre style. I know that doesn't answer the question of saving the Uptown, but just wanted to make a plug for an alternative to multiplexes in the burbs.

Posted by: cbs | October 31, 2006 10:50 AM

I drive by the Uptown about once a month and every time when I see the name of the movie playing, I think, "really??" They're never movies I want to see. This might say more about the American movie industry than the people who program the movies, though. And I'm not sure the Uptown could survive by going the way of San Francisco's Castro Theater - the Castro sits in the middle of, well, the Castro. It's full of hip people who go out all the time. Cleveland Park? Not so much.

Posted by: h3 | October 31, 2006 10:55 AM

The bottom line on the Uptown is exactly that. If the theater can't make a go of it financially, then it should be shuttered.

This same cry of "save this!" or "save that!" so often arises. Who will pay to save and maintain the Uptown? If audiences stop going, it should close.

Totally unfair to blame CVS for closed movie theaters. That corporation was doing business, pumping dollars into the local economy. The owners of the former theaters made business decisions.

And using the Biograph as an example is laughable. The Biograph closed in 1996 - and wasn't even built as a theater. Would you have decried the departure of the auto dealership from that location when the Biograph moved in? Save the old dealerships!

Posted by: Kelly | October 31, 2006 10:59 AM

Marc,

This is another in your "nostalgia isn't what it used to be" series.

Yes, the Uptown was wonderful in its day, but its day was 15 years ago. Today, it is an obsolere dinosaur, and it's not a pleasant place to see a movie. Give me Potomac Yards or Mazza with their stadium seating and convenient parking. The land that the Uptown sits on is too valuable to be wasted in its present use.

Posted by: Kalorama Kat | October 31, 2006 11:00 AM

Under better management, the Uptown could provide a phenomenal experience: exceptional films, stadium-like seating, cafe-style food, promotional events, etc., thus giving people a reason to go to Cleveland Park and spend their money at other business near the theater.

Posted by: Anonymous | October 31, 2006 11:25 AM

"Moviegoing at the 4000 Wisconsin was never a spectacular experience; the place is among the better of the 1980s theaters, but that's not saying much. The walls are too thin, the sound bleeds from one theater to the next, several of the boxes are way too small"

Gee, I wonder why they wanted to close it? Nostalgia is great and all, right up to a point. I mean, horse and buggy was pretty cool too, does that mean no one should fly or drive anymore?

I dont need all the whiz bang food choices at a movie theater. Popcorn, soda, pretzels thats it. But a good screen, decent soundsystem and comfortable seats are an absolutely MUST. Otherwise, I'll keep my familys $40 (5 tickets) and $35 (food/drinks for 5) and stay at home. $75 to be in a miserable setting? Pass.

You can keep your nostalgia for all I care, if theaters want to survive, they have to earn it just like any other business. My wife and I love the Drafthouse for that reason. Cheap tickets, cheap food and good service. The actually offer you something for the money. Nope, the screen isnt great, but at least they go out of their way to give you something for the money. Just having a rundown theater and this attitude of wanting nostalgia for nostalgias sake is absurd.

Posted by: jc | October 31, 2006 11:42 AM

Sorry, but you can't pay me to go to a public movie theater anymore. Crying babies, rude patrons, sticky floors, uncomfortable seats, flickery projection systems and scratchy sound? No thank you. I'd rather invite a dozen of my closest friends over to my house where we can have a lovely dinner and then adjourn to the basement home theater for comfy seats, gorgeous picture and sound, and a dessert intermission--my favorite part of the evening when we all discuss how the movie is going while packing in those LAST few cubic inches of calories. And best of all, no crying babies.

Posted by: Hometheaterrulez | October 31, 2006 11:47 AM

Post 1
I am glad someone else remembered the Foundry and equally glad I never went.

First some quick judgments: Biograph (sorely missed), Key (great imports, especailly after old Dupont went), Cerebus (adequeately replaced by current Regal,. Cerebus was second multi in DC after not missed Janus.), Fine Arts (I enjoyed. People just stoped coming), Bring back Circle!! (Inner and Outer adequatelly replaced by Dupont and E Street), Paris replaced by Mazza, Visions (E Street). The Biograph filled a real need (its festivals were supurb). The Studio never found its metier and only 20-30 somethings (The Studio has been gone a long long time) knew where it was.

Posted by: A Hardwick | October 31, 2006 11:54 AM

Now if we could just get the Galludet students to mobilize behinf this issue maybe we'd get somewhere!

Posted by: Stick | October 31, 2006 11:58 AM

There is always time for a cheap shot at CVS. They know how to manage the location better than the failed theaters who sell out to them. Most movie theaters priced themselves out of the market a long time ago. Which one of their $8.00 per seat showings cannot be rented on DVD for not even half of that? There are no parking problems at home and no overly loud previews for other movies. And surprise of surprises, if the movie is all that good, it can be viewed again at no additional charge.

Posted by: Steve | October 31, 2006 12:01 PM

Post 2

SAVE THE UPTOWN!!! The would have been no Lord of the Ringss worth seeing with out it. The reissuing of STAR WARS and the prequel would have gone bust without it (alright alright, only A New Hope was shown orignally shown at the Uptown while Episodes 5 & 6 were wrongly debuted at other venues). Unfortunetly, there are only so many films(blockbusters) made that are suitable for its Cinerama screen. However, every one else is right, have festivals of old blockbusters in between the news ones.

Posted by: A Hardwick | October 31, 2006 12:01 PM

Always a cheap shot at CVS. They know how to manage the location better than the failed theaters who sell out to them. Most movie theaters priced themselves out of the market a long time ago. Which one of their $8.00 per seat showings cannot be rented on DVD for not even half of that? And there are no parking problems at home and no overly loud previews for other movies.

Posted by: Steve | October 31, 2006 12:02 PM

Always a cheap shot at CVS. They know how to manage the location better than the failed theaters who sell out to them. Most movie theaters priced themselves out of the market a long time ago. Which one of their $8.00 per seat showings cannot be rented on DVD for not even half of that? And there are no parking problems at home and no overly loud previews for other movies.

Posted by: Steve | October 31, 2006 12:02 PM

Hometheaterrulez, is am in total agreement on the public theater distractions. But you forgot the unchaperoned young teens playing with their ring tones, the couple sitting behind you sucking each other faces throughout the movie, two or three people answering their cell phones and yelling "I CAN'T HEAR YOU, I'M IN THE THEATHER. I CAN'T HEAR YOU, LET ME CALL YOU BACK.", and of course, you are sitting between them and the aisle, so you need to let them out and back in again, flying popcorn, the person sitting next to our eating popcorn with their mouth open (then burping afterwards), and the iPod that someone is playing too loudly.

Yeah, it's not something I want to pay twenty bucks to encounter.

Posted by: sm | October 31, 2006 12:03 PM

Who has time to go to the movies????

Posted by: Billy | October 31, 2006 12:05 PM

As an Anne Arundel county resident, I'm surprised the Jumpers theaters stayed open as long as they did. The last time I was there, which was about 4 years ago, was for a late matinee show, and there were only a handful of patrons in the place. I left, however, along with several others, in the middle of the movie. It turned out the flashes of movement I was seeing peripherally weren't reflections from the screen at all. They were mice scurrying through the theatre having a field day! When I complained about it, I was told that, "er, yes, er, we do have a slight problem with field mice...."

Posted by: buhbyeJumpers | October 31, 2006 12:24 PM

The Uptown should be saved more than just about any movie theater. Netflix and Video-On-Demand have completely changed the way people watch movies. The era of the mall multiplex is dead as much as the urban multiplex is dying. The Uptown Theater should be the last theater standing in 2040.

Do you remember Old Time Radio shows where people listened to hear what the Lone Ranger was going to do? That entire concept died by 1962. What about garage bands and teen clubs where kids can try out the newest dance moves? Gone by 1975. What about Top 40 radio where kids listened to transistor radios at the beach? Completely dissappeared by 2006 and all teens listen to ipods without radio attachments. Movie Theaters will die. It's ok, but can we save the Uptown in order to have one great theater to see one blockbuster movie in? The elder Mr. Pedas (Ted and Jim's father and longtime manager of the beloved original Circle Theater) would turn over in his grave if that closed.

Posted by: Bethesdan | October 31, 2006 12:27 PM

and there are no parking problems at home and no overly loud previews for other movies.
----

And the kids today with their crazy dances all hippin and hoppin, who can listen to all that herky jerky rhythm and you can't understand the lyrics, I tells ya, in MY DAY...

Posted by: Bethesdan | October 31, 2006 12:30 PM

You can keep your nostalgia for all I care, if theaters want to survive, they have to earn it just like any other business. My wife and I love the Drafthouse for that reason. Cheap tickets, cheap food and good service.

----
uh. I tried watching a movie at the drafthouse where customers, waiters and cellphone fans talked the whole time and walked in front of me. The only thing they gave me was an excuse to never go back. The WORST movie experience in the DC area.

Posted by: Anonymous | October 31, 2006 12:33 PM

If the Uptown is eventually shuttered, AMC will have to do that over my most strident possible objections. I might even try to become a public citizen just for the purpose of excoriating them.

The 4000 Wisconsin Ave. theater is worthless, except to those in the immediate neighborhood. The Uptown is irreplacable.

Here's a lengthy discussion of the merits (or lack thereof) of some theaters with which I have become familiar. My knowledge doesn't stretch as far back as some people's, though:

http://www.spam-o-matic.org/culture/dctheaters.html

Posted by: Lindemann | October 31, 2006 12:41 PM

The Uptown is the nicest most elegant theater remaining in DC. It is what it is today because of a failure of vision and marketing. It might thrive if it went boutique and provided a first-class luxury media experience (and charged for it), and left the mass-produced easily-forgotten films to Georgetown and Union Station.

Posted by: Mark | October 31, 2006 12:48 PM

As one of the many Chevy Chase residents who banded together to help save the Avalon Theater several years ago, I can attest that the loss of the Uptown might prove to be a boon to a real community bonding experience in Cleveland Park. If the locals rally around, given what I am sure is the depth in legal and non-profit administrative experience in that area, the Uptown could be saved, restored, and improved. The shuttering of the Avalon really brought the Chevy Chase neighborhood together and the way people worked together to bring it back, was just wonderful to see. There is a future for 'independents' like the Avalon for film, and many-blessed Politics and Prose Bookstore for literature. The chains can be defeated, IF people pull together as a team.

Posted by: Selden | October 31, 2006 12:50 PM

Hmmmm, I remember the Roth Chain of Movie Theaters where, if one of your buddies worked there, you could all go to the Birthday Party Room and get stoned while watching the flick......They were really neighborhood places. I really miss the Key , Biograph and Outer Circle too....

Now, well, I have a 100" screen and a 1080p Projector in the Basement. There are so few "must see" films being released. I saw the three LOTR flicks in single screen palaces..the last one at the Uptown, the first two in Manhattan...But, there really have not been compelling reasons to see any movie on a huge screen since then...

Posted by: Seventies Kid | October 31, 2006 12:59 PM

Tragedy? Dying? It's a movie theater, not a person.

Posted by: bkp | October 31, 2006 1:21 PM

Having spent my teen-age years working at the MacArthur, the Uptown and the Biograph, I strangely find myself with mixed feeling about all of this.

The only movie I have enjoyed seeing at the Uptown in the last ten years was a special showing of "Rear Window." The problem, as I see it, is not that we need to save movie theaters. We need to save movies.

I would much rather watch an "oldie" at home than go to a theatre to watch the latest crap from Hollywood.

But with that said, a festival/art house/indie movie approach at a place like the Uptown is not viable. E Street is successful because they have multiple, semi-small screens. It's not a great place to watch a movie, but the content is worth it. I suppose that's the trade-off we need to get used to.

Will I be sorry when they shutter the Uptown? Yes. But that's not the problem. The problem lies in what they're putting on the screen.

Posted by: Glover Park | October 31, 2006 1:24 PM

There are too many people and too much traffic on the Cleveland Park strip. Consumers of Hollywood product at the Uptown are the principal source of the problem. The quality of the product, and the sort of people who like to consume it, are not going to improve appreciably in our lifetime. Close the theater, preserve the architecture, and convert it to some use compatible with a civilized neighborhood.

Posted by: Cleveland Parker | October 31, 2006 2:12 PM

Save the Uptown!! I really hope that my city does not lose all of its charm and orginality. The first movie that I saw by myself, I saw at that theatre.

Posted by: Gabrielle | October 31, 2006 2:12 PM

I love the Uptown. When I get there I race up to the balcony to get a good seat. I've been there for the Harry Potter movies, Lord of the Rings, and March of the Penguins.

But then I also go to the first show of the day there on a weekend because I never go to movies in the evening for all the reasons already listed by others.

Posted by: Rockville | October 31, 2006 2:31 PM

I think Cleveland Parker offers the best solution: keep the physical structure and convert it to some other use.

But then how do we avoid yet another CVS moving in? The same way we preserved the Avalon, and entities like Politics & Prose, and Brookville market -- by shopping there.

Don't whine about CVS stores moving in when you shop there. If we avoided the corporate behemoths and frequented the mom-and-pop stores, there'd be a lot more around. But then again, I suppose I'm talking to the crowd of people who feel morally superior shopping at a multi-billion dollar entity like Whole Foods as opposed to a multi-billion dollar entity like Safeway -- organic agri-business vs. agri-business. Either way, the small family farm is still getting f*cked.

Posted by: b.s. detector | October 31, 2006 3:46 PM

watching movies on DVD is just nothing like seeing them in the threatre. I took advantage of the AFI showing the Indiana Jones movies-my favorite movies growing up-and was just in awe of seeing them on the big screen for the first time. (There really is nothing like Raiders of the Lost Ark in all of its big screen glory) So I try and catch movies in the threatre, because watching on the couch just isn't the same.

Though I will be the first to admit that ticket prices and concessions are outrageously overpriced. I lived in Wisconsin for a time, and night movies were $5.25 and a large popcorn and two medium cokes set you back a grand total of....$5.00 Yes, $5.00. In 2005.

Posted by: Chevy Chase | October 31, 2006 3:54 PM

Can The Uptown Theatre be declared a historical landmark? Might be the most effective way to save this theatre.

I can remember when the original Star Wars played at The Uptown for a full year when it came out in 1977. It's still the best place to see a movie in the DC area.

Posted by: Anonymous | October 31, 2006 4:05 PM

Dear God don't let what happened to the Bethesda Theatre on Wisconsin Ave. happen to The Uptown. The Bethesda Theatre is a complete eye sore now as some moron developer caved to local pressure to save the theatre's facade when building a tall condo building. Now the Bethesda Theatre facade looks like a boarded up crack house.

Posted by: Anonymous | October 31, 2006 4:09 PM

Cleaveland Parker,

Can you explain why you want to maintain the Uptown's physical structure? Sure, it's vaguely art deco, but it's a really boring rendition of the genre. I could think of about a thousand better, more inviting, and more fitting designs for the space.

Posted by: KK | October 31, 2006 4:09 PM

I think Cleveland Parker offers the best solution: keep the physical structure and convert it to some other use.

Physical structure????? It is a brick shed with a tiny lobby. The Fox or the Ziegfeld it ain't. Its saving grace is the huge screen. If it closes as a theatre then raze it and put something useful there.

Alternatively it could be used as a concert venue. Death metal on Wednesdays, Go-Go on Thursdays and all-night raves on weekends.

That should have the locals choking on their muesli.

Posted by: TonyR | October 31, 2006 4:11 PM

Cleveland Parker--what's with the description of Cleveland Park as a "civilized neighborhood"? As compared to what?

Sure, Cleveland Park is about as close to whitebread suburbia as you can get in the district (there's even a strip-mall vibe along the eastern side of Connecticut Ave), but, jeez...get over yourself already!

Posted by: Anonymous | October 31, 2006 4:24 PM

"Heinous Janus, the Cerberus, the Foundry, or even the Paris."

Hear, hear! Those places were theaters of last resort.

None however were as vile as the Biograph.

Remember that this is the joint that showed porn during the day well into the 90's. I lived within blocks of it and never ever went in for fear of encountering .. well think about what might be on the seats and armrests. Good riddance to a blight.

The Key, however: now THAT was a movie theater. I still hope that one day somebody sweeps out all those jewelry dealers from the Georgetowner and reopens it with the Key's format.

It's too bad the Loews doesn't do this with one of its plexes on K Street. I like those theaters.

Don't ever again mention the Key in the same paragraph as the Biograph.

Posted by: Georgetowner | October 31, 2006 4:55 PM

b.s. detector --

You've got the scale wrong on your Safeway/Whole Foods comparison. It's worse than you think: The market value of Safeway is $13.1 billion, and Whole Foods is $9 billion.

Maybe Whole Foods can drop a market into the Uptown to sell organic mueslix to the Cleveland Parkers? (Thanks, TonyR)

Posted by: KK | October 31, 2006 5:00 PM

if the uptown were threatened with closing, as you all seem to suggest is imminent, i'll be the first in line to protest and help save the place as a movie palace. i love the theater, it is the best place to see a film in this town. i may be reached at yahoo.com, am willing to help anyone trying to save and maintain the place.

Posted by: wpost36 | October 31, 2006 5:04 PM

The Uptown must be saved. It is the hub of the entertainment and dining in Cleveland Park. I have seen movies there since the early 60s when I was a child -- those movies had intermissions and programs, like Lawrence of Arabia and Cleopatra. Cinerama -- those were the good old days. (Well, except for segregation and discrimination.) I have a 65-inch screen, and if more movie theatres go to screens not all that much bigger than what I have in my home, why should I go out?

Posted by: RL | October 31, 2006 5:10 PM

RL, wpost36 (and other die hards) --

How often do you go to the Uptown? Once a week? Once a month? Every three months? Do you see every movie they show there?

Posted by: KK | October 31, 2006 5:17 PM

Georgetowner, your ignorance and morality is both astonomical and sickening.

The Biograph showed porn because it lost money on the art house stuff. So it was a means to an end.

But let's not lionize the Key too quickly. Who canforget how they showed 'House of Wax' and then 'Rocky Horror' for years, both drawing some interesting and rowdy crowds.

The Biograph was a true gem, showing far better and far more interesting fare than the Key, which was, after all, opened as a cheap knock-off of the Biograph

Posted by: b.s. detector | October 31, 2006 5:17 PM

If the Uptown is all that is keeping Cleveland Park together, then I'm REALLY happy I moved out of there.

Does the Uptown have a certain nostalgic charm to it? I suppose so, but the bottom line is that the movies they show there are crap. But when you go in after paying $10 for a ticket, only to sit in seat with springs coming out of it, sipping on a soda andmunching on popcorn that cost another $15, the whole experience tends to be a crappy one.

What's the loss? Make a point and go to Shirlington, the Avalon, E Street, and the AFI and see quality movies.

Posted by: Glover Park | October 31, 2006 5:22 PM

Being able to walk to a movie theater is one of the core elements of living in an urban setting. In my Tenley-Friendship neighborhood, I have seen 2 local theaters close, and now 4000 Wisc will be the third (with just Mazza Gallery left).

Having to get in a car, and drive to G'town or Bethesda, undercuts a primary reason for living in a city over the suburbs -- being able to walk to stuff. Yes, the theaters weren't perfect -- but they were local, and so added to the quality of life. Too bad it is too late to locate a new theater at the old Sears (now Best Buy) or Hechinger's (now CVS) sites.

Posted by: Urban Filmgoer | October 31, 2006 5:24 PM

Interesting discussion. A couple of thoughts:

1) Banding together to save the Uptown feels a bit like rallying to save GM. A badly run dinosaur. Stay or go, people who care most about great film will still find a way to get their fix -- most often it wasn't at the Uptown anyway.

2) More disturbing is the number of comments making the point, "I'd rather stay home." Sorry, but home video, no matter the quality can't replicate the experience of seeing a movie in a crowded theater with -yes!- strangers and feeling that electric connection when you all laugh or cry at the same things. It is an essential part of civil society. If crowds are rude, the answer isn't to close the theaters but to make better crowds. Bring back the lost art of ushering.

3) Check out some of the really out-of-the-way theaters in town (and I mean DC): the 99 seat theater at the Goethe Institut on 7th Street; The National Gallery -East Wing; the Washington DCJCC; the Library of Congress Pickford Theater; National Geographic; all great places to see films the Uptown wasn't going to show anyway.

3)

Posted by: filmguy | October 31, 2006 7:34 PM

"If crowds are rude, the answer isn't to close the theaters but to make better crowds. Bring back the lost art of ushering."

Hey, I remember the ushers...flashbacks entering gray matter...orderly movie patrons...people having respect for others...ushers keeping peace. Unfortunately, in this day and age, some people has a little too much attitude to show respect to an usher and anyone else who is there to enjoy the movie. Ushers would need bullet-proof vests. But that's probably another chat.

Posted by: Anonymous | October 31, 2006 8:34 PM

"Ushers would need bullet-proof vests. But that's probably another chat."

Hmmm. Probably right. But what if we arm the ushers with tasers? At certain films that would be almost more entertaining.

Posted by: filmguy | October 31, 2006 9:28 PM

Sorry b.s. detector, I didn't know you were one of the sickos that escaped their bad marriages by going to the Biograph at lunch.

The Biograph showed nothing that anyone would ever want to see unless they were interested in self-stimulation, physically by day, intellectually by night.


BTW anybody notice that the first Biograph supporter was "A. Hardwick."

Well done!

Posted by: Georgetowner | November 1, 2006 12:58 AM

Does no one impugning the Uptown's movie-showing charms understand that the more humongous a movie screen is, the better? And that the bigger a crowd you are watching a movie with, the better it is?

The best moviegoing experience of my life (albeit far from the best movie I've watched) was seeing "Independence Day" at the Uptown on Independence Day itself. Over a thousand rowdy holiday patrons cheering for the film's rampant jingoism! It was fan-tastic!

There are films that are well-matched to intimate surroundings, and there are films that are way too big for any theater other than the Uptown. Watching spectaculars like "LOTR" and the Star Wars films at the Uptown simply excels the experience at any other theater.

Posted by: Lindemann | November 1, 2006 8:41 AM

Lindemann,

I think we understand the point you're making, but look at the movies you mentioned. Independence Day was in 1996, LOTR was 2001-03, and Star Wars was 1977-2005. You didn't mention a single movie this year that has the power to command a sufficient audience in a theatre the size of the Uptown.

There's a reason why they don't build these big theatres anymore, and it's the same reason why the Uptown will not be in business much longer. This land is much to valuable to sit idle as much of the time as it does.

Posted by: Kalorama Kat | November 1, 2006 9:33 AM

Georgetowner,
The fact that you posted at nearly one o'clock in the morning tells me that you're the one with the bad marriage. Either that or single.

However, your history of the Biograph has no relation to fact. There has never been anyone by the name of Hardwick associated with the Biogrpah.

Try knowing what you talk about for a change.

Posted by: Glover Park | November 1, 2006 9:49 AM

Glover Park, just because someone posts in the middle of the night doesn't mean that they're in a bad marriage or single. Maybe he/she was up feeding a newborn. Or maybe they work a night shift. People does work night shifts, in case you did know that. Or maybe they have insomnia, which is a serious problem for many. I'd rather be single than stuck living with a norrow-minded person like yourself.

Posted by: sm | November 1, 2006 10:23 AM

sm,

So, in other words, you condone Georgetowners attacks on me, to say nothing of his/her piety?

You don;t know the first thing about me, yet you pass judgement on me. Who is being narrow-minded now?

Posted by: Glover Park | November 1, 2006 10:25 AM

Georgetowner, Glover Park,

Two people who argue as you do about the Key and the Biograph are both losers, regardless of what time they're posting.

Posted by: Anonymous | November 1, 2006 10:40 AM

Not arguing. Just trying to provide facts and truth in a discussion.

But don't we feel superior for taking someone to task!

Posted by: interested observer | November 1, 2006 10:47 AM

The Uptown is always the theater of choice for epic movies whether classics like LAWRENCE OF ARABIA or this summer's SUPERMAN. Not even the biggest home system can compete with it. I spent every Christmas for three years running watching LOTR there. And I was one of the happy idiots cheering the end of INDEPENDENCE DAY. True, the Uptown is not the place for an art house film. It will be a sad day if this theater, so perfect for blockbuster movies, closes.

Posted by: Love BIG movies | November 1, 2006 11:29 AM

Interested Observer--

Is that how it feels? I'll have to take your word for it.

Posted by: Anonymous | November 1, 2006 11:45 AM

I don;t know. You tell me.

Posted by: interested observer | November 1, 2006 11:49 AM

interested observer, why don't go hang out at the mall for a while and let the adults chat. Oky-Dokey?

Posted by: sm | November 1, 2006 12:02 PM

Georgetowner,
First, anyone who liked the Key can't be all bad. Far from being a knock off of the Biograph, it was more like the Outer Circle in that it tened to show first run Indie films more than the Biograph. Second, you came in at the end of Biograph's run as "bs" pointed out (what's wrong with Rocky Horror bs?). Third, what's up about my name brother? Elucidate.

Posted by: A. Hardwick | November 1, 2006 12:40 PM

Georgetowner,
First, anyone who liked the Key can't be all bad. Far from being a knock off of the Biograph, it was more like the Outer Circle in that it tended to show first run Indie films more than the Biograph. Second, you came in at the end of Biograph's run as "bs" pointed out (what's wrong with Rocky Horror bs?). Third, what's up about my name brother? Elucidate.

Posted by: A. Hardwick | November 1, 2006 12:41 PM

Interested Observer,

Once you start posting, you're no longer an "observer." You're in the pit with the big dogs. Etc.

Posted by: Kalorama Kat | November 1, 2006 1:00 PM

I can't tell you how gratified I am that there are people like Kalorama Kat and sm here to educate me on proper blog decorum and the like.

You all are so enchanted with your perceptions that you are so much smarter, so much more refined, so much more intellectual than everyone else. Thank God people like you exist to show how worthless the rest of us are.

I'm going to go now. I have to call the Pope to see about makeing you all saints because you sure deserve it!

Posted by: Interested Participant/Observer | November 1, 2006 1:35 PM

Am I the only one taken with the irony that no one is talking about movies or the Uptown anymore?

Posted by: Interested Participant/Observer | November 1, 2006 1:36 PM

Interested Participant Observer--

"But don't we feel superior for taking someone to task!"

Posted by: Anonymous | November 1, 2006 1:49 PM

Interested Participant/Observer, did someone pick on you at recess again? You really need to tell the teacher!

Posted by: Saint #1 | November 1, 2006 1:54 PM

My, but the maturity is just overflowing today!

Posted by: Glover Park | November 1, 2006 2:04 PM

1am on Halloween night? Who the heck went to sleep any earlier?

A. Hardwick -- oops I really thought you were making a joke. One of the best-named characters in Debbie Does Dallas (which I saw on VHS in the context of a bachelor party, not 2pm on M Street) was the owner of the candle factory: Mr. Hardwick.

Sorry about that.

Anyhow, I suspect the Uptown will be saved, if it really is in jeopardy. Its fortunes rise and fall on the big spectaculars, and whether it books them -- I think it missed, for example, Titanic.

I recall being in lines that turned the corner uphill on Newark St. for flicks like Dances With Wolves & so forth. I don't know that that's happened in a while. When it does again, I bet the new owners will settle down.

Posted by: Georgetowner | November 1, 2006 3:21 PM

Being able to walk to a movie theater is one of the core elements of living in an urban setting. Having to get in a car, and drive to G'town or Bethesda, undercuts a primary reason for living in a city over the suburbs.

-----------------------------------

Agreed. Plus, I will miss the fun times we have trying to figure out exactly what movies are playing at 4000 based on the six letters that they display per film on that tiny sign. 4000 will be missed by me and my friends.

Posted by: ml | November 1, 2006 3:21 PM

Yeah and what IS wrong with Rocky Horror -- which, btw, was the final film shown at the Key.

I'd rather have a drunken rice-covered cross-dressing vampire running around Wisconsin Ave. at night than a wino staggering along M St. in the afternoon.

Posted by: Georgetowner | November 1, 2006 3:28 PM

Speaking on behalf of a couple of the other posters, I don;t think anything is wrong with Rocky Horror. I think the poster was simply making the point that, at varius times, both the Biograph and the Key attracted some savory clientele and that it was important to keep that in mind before casting stones at one theater versus the other.

I have to say that as I drove by the Uptown this morning I felt so strong pangs of impending loss. The theater hastruly seen better days. Fix up the joint and play better movies. Else tear it down, I say.

Posted by: Glover Park | November 1, 2006 3:59 PM

The Uptown needs to be deemed a historical landmark. It should not be lost and left to the pages of shoddy District history books.

Posted by: corbett | November 2, 2006 12:35 PM

The Uptown needs to be deemed a historical landmark. It should not be lost and left to the pages of shoddy District history books.

Posted by: corbett | November 2, 2006 12:35 PM

The discussion has come back to its earlier focus, the Uptown, but I can't help but notice that the Uptown's fate was merely a rumor mentioned in Mark's blog post. And yet, its *possible* demise has generated much more discussion that the actual closures of the Wisconsin Ave. Cinemas, or the theater in Maryland.

I have a soft spot for the Uptown and would hate to see it go, but I grew up in the Northern Virginia suburbs and continue to live there. Therefore, the Uptown was never a regular venue for me, but a place to see the once-a-year revival screening ("Blade Runner: The Director's Cut," "Rear Window") or occasional summer blockbuster. The last film I saw there was the Washington premiere of the final "Star Wars" movie. I waited in a line for hours, holding a pass for admittance; I actually took time off work to see the film at the Uptown. (The movie was awful, but the experience was memorable.)

As for this historic-landmark business, that's the path followed by folks in Falls Church, who tried to save the theater I worked at in high school. The State Theater closed in 1999, after a successful run as a 99-cent theater. The place was, I was told, making money hand over fist, but Cineplex Odeon had other plans for it. The place was closed. But civic-minded folks had it preserved as a historic landmark -- it was the first theater in Northern Virginia to have a balcony -- which meant the owners couldn't demolish the property.

The result: the building stayed shuttered and slowly fell apart. It became an eyesore, sitting empty for years. Plans to reopen it as a theater were rumored, but it eventually reopened as a music venue. The costs to restore the place were extravagant, but if you've ever been to see a concert at the State Theater, or watched a Monday Night Football game there, it's reassuring.

Although it took several years of community wrangling to reopen the place, I'm glad the theater wasn't given over the wrecking ball. Had it not been preserved as a landmark, I'm not sure it could've been saved. But declaring it a landmark didn't lead to quick results; instead, the theater became run down, a reminder of a once profitable business that no longer had a purpose to exist. I'd drive by it for years, and wonder what the point of the preservation was.

So I'm of two minds on the historic-landmark thing. The experience in Falls Church led to something good, but it took years to get there.

Posted by: Discman | November 2, 2006 5:09 PM

I can't resist sharing my favorite old movie house story: I worked as an usher at the MacArthur in 1979. The film "Soldier of Orange" was showing, and about two dozen folks were watching. A lost cab driver came in the lobby looking for a phone that his fare could use. The phone was in the office, which was in the rear of the theatre.

In walked Jimmy Stewart. And I took him to the office to call the people he was trying to visit for better directions. I wanted to just shout to the back of the heads of the moviegoers and say, "Ladies and Gentleman, Mr Jimmy Stewart." But I didn't, and the moviegoers never knew.

Posted by: Steve Moore | November 3, 2006 5:52 PM

Steve Moore--

You're making this up, aren't you? This is too unlikely to have really happened! Jimmy Stewart? Right in the old MacArthur? You should have gotten a picture or something! Wait 'til I tell my friends!

Posted by: Anonymous | November 5, 2006 6:50 AM

The judge who put coded messages in his Da Vinci Code plagiarism trial ruling has written another...

Posted by: Jon Mangum | November 12, 2006 11:50 AM

The judge who put coded messages in his Da Vinci Code plagiarism trial ruling has written another...

Posted by: Jon Mangum | November 12, 2006 11:51 AM

The Red Hot Chili Peppers are leading the way at this years MTV Europe music awards with four nominations...

Posted by: Hugh Mauro | November 12, 2006 5:41 PM

beastiality free vids elephant absolutely free beastiality The Red Hot Chili Peppers are leading the way at this years MTV Europe music awards with four nominations...

Posted by: Koby Barton | November 20, 2006 2:36 PM

stable horse sex horse sex with man Colombia's vice president is "baffled" by Kate Moss's success following cocaine allegations...

Posted by: Blaine Cox | November 20, 2006 8:21 PM

mother daughter son sex mothers teaching daughters porn Microsoft and Peter Jackson postpone the making of a film based on the Halo video game after backers pull out...

Posted by: Aaron Francois | November 21, 2006 2:26 AM

The judge who put coded messages in his Da Vinci Code plagiarism trial ruling has written another...

Posted by: Kent Pilcher | November 22, 2006 5:45 PM

The first stage of a £150m investment in regional museums is praised for boosting visitor numbers...

Posted by: Antonio Yoon | November 24, 2006 8:50 PM

Classical singer Russell Watson postpones his forthcoming UK tour after undergoing brain surgery...

Posted by: Ethen Aguayo | November 26, 2006 2:28 PM

The judge who put coded messages in his Da Vinci Code plagiarism trial ruling has written another...

Posted by: Seamus Mayfield | November 27, 2006 3:35 PM

London-born rapper Sway is to be honoured at the BET Hip-Hop awards in the US...

Posted by: Jerry Laws | November 29, 2006 9:44 AM

London-born rapper Sway is to be honoured at the BET Hip-Hop awards in the US...

Posted by: Jerry Laws | November 29, 2006 9:45 AM

Record company EMI sign a deal with the estate of crooner Dean Martin to use the singer's likeness...

Posted by: Adrian Nowak | November 29, 2006 5:14 PM

Record company EMI sign a deal with the estate of crooner Dean Martin to use the singer's likeness...

Posted by: Adrian Nowak | November 29, 2006 5:17 PM

The Rolling Stones cancel a gig in Hawaii and postpone other tour dates as Mick Jagger suffers throat troubles...

Posted by: Ari Franklin | November 30, 2006 12:01 PM

The comments to this entry are closed.

 
 

© 2010 The Washington Post Company