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August 09, 2021

Return to the Cinema Chamber

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We are continuing to live in a time where the pandemic has affected almost everything we do. After almost a year, movie theaters have reopened, if not completely, here in the U.S. What I offer here are some observations and reflections on cinema going in Denver in general, and my own stepping out of the house for the big screen experience.

Not all of the theaters in metro Denver have reopened. Landmark's small triplex, the Chez Artiste is still closed. There's a sign with a statement about waiting for new films to show there. In the meantime, the Esquire Theater has reopened which indicates some kind of resolution after Landmark failed to pay the rent for several months. Even though some good films have played at the Esquire and the Mayan, I probably will not be at either place because the seating is not always comfortable, the sight lines can sometimes be lousy, and there is no reserved seating. Which brings me to . . .

A brand new theater opened in Denver in 2021! The new AMC theater with the ungainly name of 9+CO was under construction near the hospital where I go for most of my medical care. I was not even certain if the place would be completed with news of AMC's financial distress during the past year. But lo and behold, the ten screen multiplex was completed, opening in March. Even though I could have gone to a closer theater, I decided to check the place out in early April after my second Pfizer shot fully kicked in. Godzilla vs. Kong was my first theatrical film since February 2020. The biggest theater within the multiplex is Dolby Everything - sound system and projection. My seat was vibrating from the sound. Also comfy reclining seats that still allow enough space for people to walk by. Between the reserved seats and the theater's current occupancy rules, there is also space between audience members. Unlike some other AMC theaters which had the ambience of a warehouse, I like this place enough to have seen In the Heights and F9 in their Dolby Cinema. The only downside is that I wish more independent films got booked there, but Landmark has a way of demanding exclusivity within Denver city limits.

Denver's true independent theater, the non-profit Sie Film Center has been hosting private screenings for the past year, but otherwise exists as a virtual cinema. There are plans for having a live Denver Denver Film Festival this November, or possible a hybrid of theater and virtual screenings. It is one of the only theaters in town that still is equipped for 35mm movies. This was also where I saw my last film before all theaters closed, the black and white version of Parasite. If I am uncertain about seeing anything theatrically at the upcoming festival, it is a because it means a full theater with people one can only assume are healthy, and because one year I was sitting next to a woman who claimed her cough during Thelma was nothing to worry about - only to have me miss the second week of the festival and some films I would never see any other way.

Of three Alamo Drafthouse theaters, the one south of Denver, in Littleton, is still shuttered. I had not been at the Sloans Lake theater since November 2019. Since the financial reorganization, it seemed like the chain would be even more dependent of mainstream films at the expense of foreign and independent work. There seems to be a little bit of easing into more English language independent films. Part of why I like the Alamo is that they have reserved seats, the seats are reasonably comfortable, and for now there is Covid spacing for the audience. My recent return there was to see Annette. The bonus was that whomever does programming included in the pre-show - two trailers for Jacques Demy's famous musicals that influenced the Maels, a video I could not even find online of the Sparks performing their song, "Mickey Mouse", an overview of movies that included Sparks songs on the soundtrack, and three musical excerpts from films by Annette Los Carax. The Maels also did their own version of the Alamo Drafthouse "Don't talk, don't text" bumper.

I do have a practical reason for going to the theater. From what I read, studios have cut down on the online screening links that were offered last year. I am not sure what this will been during awards season, but I am making a point of seeing some of the more likely films from those studios that have previously not offered screeners. In some cases, seeing those films theatrically is significantly less expensive than a PVOD screening of $20.00. Sometime in November, absolutely by December, I will known what the Disney-Fox merger means regarding award screeners. At this point, I have been hitting theaters since April with greater frequency than I had in 2019, discounting in person screenings at the Denver Film Festival. That said, the two films that I still care more about seeing, and seeing on the big screen, are The Eternals (because Chloe Zhao) and No Time to Die, although that three hour running time is a bit daunting.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at August 9, 2021 07:52 AM