The Sunset Five

posted Dec 5, 2011, 11:18 AM by Terrence Moss   [ updated Jan 4, 2012, 7:29 PM ]

Nikki Finke's Deadline Hollywood reported that another LA staple will become the latest victim of the current leasing wars between landlords and tenants.

Laemmle's Sunset Five, a 20-year occupant of the corner of Sunset Boulevard at Crescent Heights and home to many independent films, documentaries and small festivals, will close its doors at the end of November. Robert Redford's Sundance Cinemas, which also has venues in San Francisco, Houston and Madison (WI), will take over the space in late spring 2012 after a renovation.

The Sunset Five is one of those places in LA that I ride by regularly but didn't patron all that much. However, I have always liked that it is there. It was one of those LA symbols that drew me back here after two moves out of town (to NY in early 2006 and to Masschusetts in late 2007).

I saw "The Trip" at the Sunset Five in 2003 with my friend Jesse. This was the year before I came out and it was the first gay-themed movie I had seen in an actual theatre instead of hidden away in my bedroom watching it on Netflix.

Just as recently as a couple weeks ago, I had seen the wonderful film "Weekend" at the Sunset Five.

It's the fifth such theatre that I've lost in the ten years I've been in LA as a lot of filmgoers have been swayed by the fancy, upscale entertainment complexes such as the Arclight, the Grove and the Century City Mall (which went through its own renovation a few years ago) that offer a moviegoing EXPERIENCE with crisp sound, pristine picture quality and comfort that rivals that of your living room. However, I prefer the old school moviegoing experience of popcorn, candy, Cherry Coke, sticky floors, creaky seats and the smell of years of patronage. If I want the comforts of home, I'll stay home in comfort.

According to Deadline, distributors have been pressured to get films into places like the Arclight, leaving places like the Sunset Five -- previously one of a few options for many an independent filmmaker and small distributor -- in the lurch.

Have those grassroots filmmakers lost yet another venue? Is the similarly old school AMC7 in Santa Monica (where I saw "The King's Speech" in February) next?

I don't know what Redford's Sundance Cinemas will do to the space aesthetically, what movies will be screened there, and what opportunities it will hold for those grassroots filmmakers, but it won't be the same. It won't have the same meaning for me. I will ride by it on the bus and remember that's where the Sunset Five used to be. When friends visit, I'll tell them about its contribution to my coming out process.

Indie producer and distributor Sony Pictures Classics had all their movies eventually go through the Sunset Five. SPC's Tom Bernard suggested that "a face lift on the theatre may attract new audiences and make it a place to be."

What does it say about movies and the so-called moviegoing experience if gloss, flash, chicness and upscalitude is what it takes to attract audiences? I imagine that a lot of people would rather pay moderate prices for great movies than ridiculous prices for an EXPERIENCE.

That said, I'd better start checking out that old school Vista Theatre in Silver Lake before someone decides to make it a place to be.