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An arc light, or arc lamp, is a source of illumination created when electricity flows between two carbon electrodes. Use of arc lamps dwindled in the 20th century, edged out by incandescents, but for a long time they were a common light source for movie projectors. Mostly this little detail is just a fun fact—something interesting to bring up at parties. But this week, it’s a reminder that the history of cinema is long, even when our memories are short—and that the news of ArcLight Cinema shutting down can bring back a flood of recollections, even for people who may not know the theater chain’s namesake.
The bloodletting started on Monday, when Decurion Corporation announced that it would not be reopening the ArcLight Cinemas and Pacific Theatres locations it had to close during Covid-19. “This was not the outcome anyone wanted, but despite a huge effort that exhausted all potential options,” Decurion said in a statement, “the company does not have a viable way forward.” It was a huge blow, especially considering theaters in California, where the chains operate some 300 screens, were just starting to reopen. It was also a gut-punch to Los Angeles filmgoers who had spent their lives going to the ArcLight location in Hollywood, home to the legendary Cinerama Dome, a landmark on the Sunset Strip since the 1960s.
As the news spread, reactions quickly followed. The Old Guard director Gina Prince-Bythewood tweeted, “This is so painful. The ArcLight was my go-to … A true movie-going experience.” Lulu Wang, director of The Farewell, reminisced about meeting Quentin Tarantino in the lobby. Star Wars: The Last Jedi director Rian Johnson lamented “this sucks,” while Moonlight helmer Barry Jenkins just tweeted a very apt “FUCK.” Film Twitter was distraught.
Once the shock wore off, many people started looking for answers. Some suggested a movie magnate—a Christopher Nolan or the like—could swoop in to save the ArcLight. Others, noting that the so-called Paramount Consent Decrees no longer prevent studios from owning theaters, suggested the Cinerama could be a crown jewel for a streamer like Amazon, Apple, or Netflix. There’s just one problem with Netflix taking over the multiplex: It just bought Grauman’s Egyptian Theatre, another iconic Los Angeles theater that also happens to be about a mile from the company’s Hollywood home base. (Amazon and Apple, meanwhile, would definitely have the cash, but neither has shown interest in physical locations the way Netflix has.)
It is possible a longtime movie mogul with deep pockets could come in and save the legendary geodesic dome, and everyone is speculating about who could pull it off. Many suggested Quentin Tarantino. When he bought the New Beverly Cinema in 2010, he said, “As long as I’m alive, and as long as I’m rich, the New Beverly will be there,” so he seemed like the kind of guy who could do it. Nolan, a staunch defender of large format movie projection, also seemed like a good bet. But so far, no word has come that either of them is interested. Eventually, someone started a Change.org petition stating that “we the people (cinephiles) are calling on Amazon, Walt Disney Studios, Apple, Netflix, or someone else to save the Dome.” As of this writing, nearly 10,000 people have signed.
But there’s one snag: ArcLight doesn’t own the Cinerama Dome either. Technically, Decurion has been leasing the space, and according to Deadline what’s “technically happening is that Decurion has handed the keys back to the landlords on all their ArcLight and Pacific properties. That doesn’t mean the chain is bankrupt—rather, it is part of thick lease negotiation.” In other words, it might be a bluff, in which case there’s a chance the theater will survive if Decurion can come to a new agreement with its landlords. It might be a longshot, but it’s a light in the dark.
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