I felt ill when the news broke May 11 that my go-to cinema, Landmark Theatres’ flagship Westside location on Pico Boulevard, was shutting down at the end of the month. I have been going to this complex religiously — call it my house of movie worship — ever since its founding 15 years ago. For at least the past decade, my partner and I would have date night there nearly every Saturday night after enjoying dinner downstairs from the theater at the now defunct Westside Tavern. It was a weekly ritual I always looked forward to, until the COVID pandemic kept us from going these past two years.
There is just so much I cherished about the theater. You could always catch the latest and greatest first run indie and foreign films there. The Landmark chain of cinemas was the first national art circuit in our country. The people who worked at the Pico location at the site of the former Westside Pavilion — from those who sold you the popcorn to the cheerful ushers who would walk to the front of the screen before a movie played to say, “Hope you enjoy the show” — were incredibly welcoming.
My very favorite aspect of the Landmark was how homey and neighborly it felt. We’d invariably run into friends in the lobby of the 12-plex and chitchat before or after watching films, whether the same or different.
The Landmark Pico was also hugely popular with the Hollywood crowd, often hosting industry screenings and Q&As. So many people in the business are bemoaning its loss and expressing their grief on social media. Indie producer Ted Hope tweeted, “This is truly tragic!” Indeed, it truly is.
I reached out to get a reaction from Steve Gilula, who co-founded the Landmark chain in 1974 and headed the circuit until 1998 before moving to indie film powerhouse Searchlight Pictures two years later.
“It may be the end of a long, glorious era of theatrical indie film,” says Gilula, who along with Nancy Utley left Searchlight last year, more than two decades and five best picture Oscars — for “Nomadland,” “The Shape of Water,” “12 Years a Slave,” “Birdman” and “Slumdog Millionaire” — later.
“Without the flagships of the Landmark and the ArcLight, it’s not clear that anyone will step up and have the cultural impact of those two theaters,” Gilula tells me, noting that not only is it a big blow to adult audiences in L.A. but “it is a tragic loss for new talent and new filmmakers” for whom art-house theaters often provide a platform for discovery.
“Films like ‘Moonlight’ and ‘Parasite’ needed those theaters to breathe and develop word-of-mouth — or ‘Beasts of the Southern Wild’ from an unknown filmmaker [Benh Zeitlin],” he says. “Now where can you go to discover movies?” Landmark Theatres president Kevin Holloway released a statement last week saying, “For months, we’ve worked to extend our tenancy of the Landmark Pico but have been unable to reach terms.” He went on to say, “We’re exploring opportunities to expand our Los Angeles footprint, which we hope to be able to share more on soon.”
Guess who will be first in line to buy a ticket?