Arclight Cinemas’ final curtain call

Photo of Maya Thompson

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I know how it feels to miss the movies, but I never expected to mourn them. Denial has settled into my chest with a dreamlike fuzziness, heavy as lead. I keep waiting for some post-credit scene — something that baits return or, at least, unsettles the dread of permanence. The closure of the Arclight Cinemas theater chain has unmoored me, but my crackling outrage has subsided and left in its place a crater, an empty cavity. I want to steady myself, but I am not in my home and I do not know what to hold onto.

It feels impossible to say something profound, or even worthwhile, because the importance of these theaters is overwhelming, obvious to me. I’m not sure what shape this writing will take — an ode, a diatribe, a eulogy? — but as I write and rewrite this piece, playing invisible ivories and hoping to strike the right chord, I return to a line from “Emma”: “If I loved you less, I would be able to talk about it more.” (I saw the 2020 version in theaters with my nana and my aunt — it was the last movie I saw before lockdown and the last movie I would ever see in an Arclight.)

My Arclight was in the Sherman Oaks Galleria, past the Cheesecake Factory and up the winding Escherian escalators. The tickets were expensive, the seats were assigned and you had to be on time — the last of these commandments was particularly difficult for me. But they were consecrated theaters, devoted to the integrity of cinema. Good movies rose to their best in an Arclight.

Even if you saw a bad movie, you left the theater with a vivid memory. When “Pitch Perfect 3” premiered, my friend Bea and I made a split-second decision to catch a late-night screening. The timing was tight: To me, snacks are indispensable, but we’d miss too much if we stopped at the concession stand. Instead, we raided my fridge, quickly bundling popcorn and La Croix inside fuzzy blankets and stuffing the contraband into two large totes.

I don’t remember much of what we watched — just that “Pitch Perfect 3” demeaned the frenzy that Bea and I went through to see it. My kaleidoscopic memory flutters between worry that we wouldn’t be let in and the waterfall of relief when we were. I think about the bemused Arclight usher who sized up our fuzzy socks and teeming totes and mercifully let us in even though we were 10 minutes late. The Arclight experience transcends the projection you’ve paid to see — these are the theaters that taught me how to go to the movies.

My best friend Sam and I have gone to the movies together for more than a decade. As we got older, we developed a routine, right down to our snack orders: I always got Buncha Crunch and a Coke, while Sam ate fistfuls of melting Dibs during the trailers. Whether they were midnight showings or matinees, we always had good luck at the Arclight. Everybody in the San Fernando Valley understood the Arclight as a special, consecrated spot. There was no better place to watch Greta Gerwig’s “Little Women” on Christmas Day or catch a showing of “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” in the titular town. 

Illustration of Arclight Cineramadome in Hollywood

Armaan Mumtaz/Senior Staff

When the infamous Variety article revealed the theaters’ closure, Sam and I messaged each other within minutes. The walls of my Berkeley apartment prickled with unhomeliness, and I yearned to go back to my bereft city. What is left of the Galleria when you carve out its heart? What is left of Los Angeles without the Cinerama Dome? 

The Fates’ scissors have cut short the Arclight’s life, and the wound still stings. There’s a part of me that foolishly hopes for a sort of Tarantino ex machina — where some well-known, wealthy cinephile swoops in and saves my beloved movie theaters.

It’s been weeks since the news broke, and I’m unsure how to piece myself back together. My memories of the Arclight are laminated by youth, and I store them in a precious jar. Though the glass is intact, it is now sealed with an airtight lid and I can feel my own resolve shatter from the devastating truth that I can never make new, adult memories in that special space. Heavy with nostalgia, it will always rest on the childhood shelf of my memories.

Contact Maya Thompson at [email protected].