Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Highland Theatre

An independently run neighborhood theatre is a beautiful thing. I have only been lucky enough to live within a five minute walk of a movie theatre for approximately five years of my life. Four of those were between the years of 1984-88, when the Blossom Hill Twin Theatre, a second run dollar theatre, located in a strip mall up the street from the house I grew up in, operated. I spent many a summer afternoon lazing about there to the point I cannot begin to comprehend how many times I saw Revenge of the Nerds II during it's (rather) long run in 1987, though it must of approached the upper teens. The other time was about five years ago when my apartment was a few blocks away from the Los Feliz 3, a theatre that has much in common with the Highland Theatre. I also lived a good, but totally doable, twenty minutes from the Vista Theatre for the last three and a half years before moving to Eagle Rock in March. What’s great about both the Highland and the Los Feliz is that due to their independence and the whims of the clientele, they are not as beholden to the release patterns of the corporate chains. I remember, for example, Lars and the Real Girl, a film I didn’t personally care for, played the Los Feliz for about six weeks, way longer than any other cinema in town.

Highland Park is one of the oldest neighborhoods in all of Los Angeles, and is just southeast of Eagle Rock. The Highland Theatre is located smack dab in the middle of the neighborhood's thoroughfare street, Figueroa. Highland Park is full of interesting businesses such as Galco's, an old grocery store dedicated to the curio of bottled soda pop, the North Figueroa Animal Hospital, the affordable and friendly veterinarian where we take our beloved Cocker Spaniel Lucky to, the first Forever 21 store and most recently, the erection of Chicken Boy, a statue that once adorned an old local fast food chain situated a block away from the theatre. With cheap rent and house prices, the predominately Latino area may be going through something of a seachange as cafes and pubs aimed at appealing to a new, more artsy, and tattooed urbanite crowd (see how I didn't use the word "hipster") have been popping up. Currently though, the theatre's programming, pretty much all mainstream blockbusters/crowd pleasers seem directed at the more traditional Highland Park resident.

Built in 1924 and designed by Lewis A. Smith, the same person who designed the Vista Theatre, the Highland was once a one screen theatre with a balcony. At some point, I'm guessing the mid 60's or early 70's, it was split into three theatres, a fashionable trend at the time and a fate which also befell the Los Feliz 3, but to the Highland's credit, their division makes more logical sense than the Feliz's strange redesign. The balcony is currently unused in conjunction with any of the theatres, it's roped off and seemingly used for concession containers storage.

Somewhere in the 70's it was briefly a porno theatre, but when the residents protested, it reverted back to it's pre XXX bookings.

I caught a matinee of Orphan on Sunday, and there was a line getting inside of families going to see G.I. Joe. The first thing that will strike you when you get to the ticket booth is their low prices, only $4 for matinees, and a mere $6 for evening shows. And that’s not all on the discount front, they feature all day admission of a mere $3 every Tuesday and Wednesday. Hey for that price I might even catch G.I. Joe!

I was in theatre 1, the furthest theatre to the left of the entrance. Thanks to the suspicious glances I was getting from the cashier I didn't get to peek inside either of the other two auditoriums, but judging from the location (smack dab in the middle of the lobby), the extra width of the doors, and the popularity of the movie playing in it (Joe), Theatre 2 is probably the largest auditorium, most certainly comprised of what was once the the middle section of the original single screen layout. By that basis, theatre 3, which was playing the long in release Bruno is probably either equal to or smaller than theatre 1.

My theatre was decent enough, both it's screen size and number of seats are comparable to a mid-level theatre at the Grove. But while that theatre has the latest accouterments, the Highland theatre is, like it's historical building and discount pricing, a relic. There's no stadium seating to be found here nor a state of the art stereo surround system (though the sound was fine). The only modern convenience you'll find is a cup holder. The layout is tunnel like, which ultimately means that for the optimum viewing experience, you probably don't want to sit any further back than the mid-point.

Like many theatres that were split into smaller auditoriums, there were times the sound of the other film's big action scenes bled into our theatre. But for the most part, it wasn't an issue and only occurred during the most quiet of moments.

When the previews began, I was the sole member of the audience, but slowly people started trickling in, even after about fifteen minutes into the actual film, in total there were about twenty people at the showing. It's a neighborhood theatre, which people trend to treat like their home, coming in at the last (or past the last) minute and yes, there was some talking, though thankfully it wasn't ever too disruptive. I don't think I'd see a film that requires a premium amount of attention here, but it worked just dandy for the escapades of a murderous Russian (or was she Estonian?!? spoiler!) orphan girl.

Besides, arty introspective type movies don't really play here, it's a theatre aimed at families and teenagers, of which both where in heavy supply for a Sunday matinee. The Highland Theatre knows it's clientele, it's an independently ran neighborhood theatre.

And that's a beautiful thing, my friends.

For more on the Highland Theatre here's it's Cinema Treasures page.

Heck, they'll even spot your movie's title a definite article when they feel you need one.


hane said...

"the erection of chicken boy" - heh

Octopus Grigori said...

Great post. Let me know the next time you are thinking of heading over there -- I'd love to check it out.

I kind of want to see it.

Colonel Mortimer said...

Hane--heh heh, totally unintentional

Octopus--yes, I would definitely like to go there when something interesting is playing in theatre 2, the larger auditorium.

I pretty much loved Basterds with some minor nits picked, but I am a fan of Tarantino's work in general, so mileage may vary.

Though Amy who's more unbiased like it too for what's it worth

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