The newly affixed Angelika Film Center sign is visible from the 15. It’s the tour guides who are nowhere in sight. A padlock and cyclone fence bar an entryway sealed tighter than Xanadu during Charlie Kane’s final days. A quick call finds my contact(s) bivouacked in a makeshift cement bunker just opposite the construction site that the folks at Carmel Mountain Plaza are nice enough to provide as temporary accommodations.
It takes more than one handler to usher Marks through the pleasantly reverberating hull of a theater in mid-renovation. A team of sherpa sisters, there to guide me through the potentially treacherous rubble, is spearheaded by none other than Reading Cinema’s fearless California Division Manager, Jennifer Deering. As if the hardest working person in San Diego theater management isn’t enough, the chain imports another two of its finest. From New York comes Creative Media Manager Kate Bost, whose impassioned knowledge of ballyhoo reveals a kindred soul. Rounding out the trio is Texas’ answer to cinephilia and old friend, Regional Publicity Director Jo Ellen Brantferger.
The last few walkthroughs of forlorn auditoriums such as this seemed to always occur just days before a wrecking ball made good on the landlord’s threat that the property had become too valuable to house mere movie theaters. But what I witness this sticky summer evening has nothing to do with bereavement. The tone is uniquely upbeat, unquestionably celebratory.
Jennifer loves the smell of popcorn in the morning. Never have I seen her this consumed with anticipation. Her arms and mouth move at such a rate the need of a calming hand on shoulder is in order. Were she able to execute a cartwheel, a trail of palm and footprints down the hall would no doubt be left in the dust. She isn’t alone. If I knew for a fact the chain had the insurance needed to cover damages incurred by such a stunt, I’d be double-back flip-flopping right alongside her.
Before one of the dozen new wall-to-wall screens is stretched — please retain the side-to-side masking — and all of the insanely comfortable recliner seats bolted down and plugged in, it’s plain to see this space is not destined to be one’s average San Diego County multiplex. There will be food. Gourmet food. As if popcorn and JuJu’s aren’t enough, the menu will include craft beers and “bites curated by veteran Food Network” executives. But don’t for a second mistake the Angelika for a restaurant that shows movies. Food, not servers, is allowed in the theater. And audience-interruptus be damned: there will be no turning on cellphones to place food and drink orders midway through the picture.
One pet-hate: reserved seating. Despite the occasional Roadshow attraction, movies have always been a strictly first-come, first-serve affair. Kate understands and appreciates my natural reluctance. Her research on the subject informs me that most patrons, once accustomed to picking their seats, view the policy as a perk. Jennifer knowingly adds, “Going at off hours like you do is not likely to affect where you sit.”
A coffee house, restaurant, three-tiered chandelier, and all other amenities combined mean nothing to a guy like me unless the programming, too, answers to a higher calling. Blockbusters will no doubt continue to pay the rent, while venturesome booking of independent, foreign, and specialty fare (that means classic films on DCP!) is bound to shake a few purists from the trees.
Yasujiro Ozu fans take note: with construction well underway, the trio assure me the end of summer will mark its grand opening.