Saturday, September 5, 2009

Celebrating times past

When my wife, a friend and I went to see Ang Lee's Taking Woodstock last night, I didn't realize how many ways it would be a flashback to the days of yore.

That thematic element was obviously present in the movie, but I didn't know until I descended on the single-screen Westwood Crest theater in Westwood how much of a throwback experience that would be as well.

Moments before our friend arrived, I snapped this shot on my blackberry. The quality isn't great, but it gives you some idea what this theater is about. It has a full marquee, which includes both the movie title and a recreation of the poster art. It's got plenty of neon and flashing light bulbs lining the various architectural features. What's more, it's got a beautiful spire launching up into the night above.

But just wait until you get inside.

This is the art I'd really like to show you -- but even if I could find it online, I'd hold it back out of respect to the owner of the theater. It's worth the price of admission just to see the walls inside this lovely reminder of how moviegoing used to be. And lord knows, owners of any single-screen theaters still out there need your $11 like you wouldn't believe.

Simply put, the inside of this theater contains one of the most beautiful -- and beautifully luminescent -- cityscape murals I've ever seen. It wraps around the back and both side walls, and it's chockablock with Hollywood landmarks: famous buildings, the Hollywood hills, miniature recreations of quintessential boulevards, and plenty of those famous dueling searchlights that used to herald great events in old Hollywood.

Something like this could be really cheesy, but the Westwood Crest is just the opposite. The art is an amazing feat in a number of ways. Not only does it have clear layers and dimension, actually creating a vivid 3-D effect, but the paint glows ever so faintly while the movie plays. So even if you decide what you're watching is a turkey, you could spend those 100 minutes just losing yourself in the fine details of the interior design.

It's no secret that the single-screen theater has fallen on hard times. Westwood, the area near UCLA, is known for its historic single-screen theaters, which used to be some of the crown jewels for watching films in Hollywood's early days. Two of them have recently closed, and if the 25 or so people scattered throughout the available seats last night, for the 7:30 show just six days into this film's run, are any indication, the Westwood Crest might not be far behind.

In talking with my friend, I was relieved to learn that the Westwood Crest is not indeed living on borrowed time, at least not as of now. He knows the owner, and assured me that the owner's got most of his eggs in other baskets. Even though he's losing money on the Crest, he keeps it going out of a sheer love of cinema. That's what all small-theater owners need -- an ability to absorb losses without blinking an eye. It's the only way some of these old theaters will stay afloat in today's world, where my friend informs me that any theater with fewer than four screens is bound to be a financial loser.

Me, I vow to see as many films as I can here, to support this man as much as I can, even if he doesn't need my $11 to put food on the table for his family. It's not a far drive from my house, and even if the movie stinks, I'll always value the opportunity to soak in more of the lovingly detailed walls that take me back to the Hollywood of yore.

Oh, and did I mention the simulated stars on the ceiling, which twinkle and reflect the movie stars on the screen below?

Taking Woodstock was not all I hoped it would be, but it did achieve certain moments of transcendence, moments that made me indulge in a strong wistfulness for times I never experienced.

I'm pretty sure I have the Westwood Crest to thank for putting me in that mindset.

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