A Public Breakup With Village East Cinema

I want to start by stating for the record that I might be the world’s biggest, most stubborn proponent of seeing movies in movie theaters.

I’m currently on track to watch over 300 movies this year alone, and almost all of these viewings occurred in a theater (explanation for that almost: I of course miss a few, and thus must catch up at home). The reasons I’m such a stickler for an increasingly archaic mode of consumption are multi-fold. In descending order of importance:

  1. Most directors intend for their movies to be experienced in theaters, thus we should all try to oblige
  2. Engaging with movies, an art form intended for the masses, is different when done in a public setting — bodies in a shared space is an integral component
  3. The more work that someone puts into watching a movie — such as the toil involved with traveling somewhere for it — the more they’ll look to get out of it
  4. Audiences should give themselves over to movies as much as possible, increasing their vulnerable susceptibility to its transformative, escapist magic. Being able to pause the movie whenever affords the viewer too much control, hindering the desired ceding of the self
  5. A dark theater with a big screen and surround sound simply inspire more focus than the comfort of a couch or — god forbid — a bed (this is why I’m so opposed to these newfangled luxury theaters with full-recliner seats; movies aren’t supposed to put you to sleep! Sit up! Pay attention! Engage! Ipic Theaters, banes of my existence, literally handing out pillows and blankets is an affront to all decency, as are their prices: $32 for a single ticket (which admittedly comes with one free bag of popcorn and waiter service to order more concessions), unless you sit in the first two rows, which cost $20. The new Landmark Theaters split the difference well: the leather recliners offer homestyle comfort, while their mere 45 degree recline maintains a sufficiently-present posture. Plus, tickets are “only” $18.50 in New York City, not much more than the $16.29 charged by the AMC up the road. Then again, the latter is on Moviepass. Speaking of which):
  6. Going to theaters has never been cheaper thanks to MoviePass, a subscription service that’s $10 per month for unlimited movies!

Yes, annoyingly-distracting fellow attendees will always be an issue, but they’re not as widespread as claimed, especially if you have the guts to tell them to knock it off. And I know home systems have improved, but nothing compares to the magnitude of an actual theater, regardless of their potentially suboptimal presentation.

And now that I’ve hopefully proven my theatergoing bonafides, allow me to make this declaration: I will no longer patronize City Cinemas’ Village East Cinema in New York City.

It’s been one of the worst theaters in the Big Apple for years: minuscule screens, dim images, flat sound, worn-down seat cushions, terrible sight-lines due to nonexistent rakes, and overwhelming uncleanliness. Besides the acceptable legroom, the only thing the entire theater has going for it is the centerpiece auditorium, which contains remnants of its historical origins as one of the many Yiddish theatres — the rest now gone — that once dominated Second Avenue:

It doesn’t look this pretty in real life

I don’t mind its dirty ornateness, but even the way that this once giant space was transformed into an oddly configured movie theater leaves much to be desired, especially since all the aforementioned issues plague this lone bright spot as well.

I was willing to put up with all of this…until a rat literally ran over my feet during a movie.

Let me repeat that:


Quitting Village East won’t come without a cost for me: It’s one of the few theaters that actually plays exclusive engagements that are rarely booked elsewhere. Retiring from frequenting it will force me to watch some quality movies at, gulp, home. There won’t be many; most of these unique runs boast too limited of appeal even for this niche-file. Nevertheless, depriving any movie from being seen in a theater is still a crime.

It also wouldn’t take that much to prevent! Yes, Village East is located literally underground, so it’s tougher to combat rats when encroaching on their terrain. But maybe cleaning up once in a while would help; no one picks up trash in between screenings! Plus, City Cinemas’ equally subterranean Angelika Film Center, located basically around the corner, is rodent-free (at least to the casual eye).

Yet even the Angelika, a downtown flagship of the art house scene, needs some improvements. A full luxury overhaul isn’t necessary nor called for, but bigger screens, better sound, and more audience-friendly seats would definitely go a long way (I don’t buy that it’s not financially feasible to renovate theaters without going the gourmet route. Even if it is, Landmark provides an advisable way forward, where the movie, and not the trendy experience, is still the main attraction). Small screens may not beset City Cinemas’ other locations in the city, but the same negative factors listed above still apply to them as well.

Lest you think I’m scorched-earthing an entire chain, City Cinemas also operates one of my favorite theaters in NYC: the Paris, which is now the only old-fashioned and thus classic single-screen movie theater still showing new movies in any of the five burroughs. If the company put the same amount of  love and attention into all of its theaters in New York — particularly Village East, the most in need of upgrades — then maybe I’ll visit this legendary venue once again. But for now, Village East will not be receiving my money in 2018.

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