Theatre Review: Angelika Film Center, New York City

Since our re-launch a few months ago, we at FilmJerk have dedicated ourselves to focusing more on the smaller, less-advertised independent and foreign films. One aspect of the movie-going experience less often explored is the setting of the screening itself. So, from time to time, we will take a look at some of the places we enjoy going to see movies, or theatres new to us that we are discovering for the first time. Our first movie theatre review takes us to one of our favorite places to see a movie, the Angelika Film Center in New York City.

In the 1980s, seemingly hundreds of small, independent distribution companies popped up when the home video market exploded. Some companies are fondly remembered by cineasts as helping to usher in a new world of independent and foreign cinema to America, such as Cinecom, Hemdale Pictures, Island Pictures, Skouras Pictures and the Samuel Goldwyn Company, who also for many years owned Landmark Theatres. Some, like Vestron Pictures, tried to parlay their success in home video in to more vertically-integrated company that included theatrical releases, giving us the immortal Dirty Dancing and little else before over-spending their way to bankruptcy. Some, like my beloved Troma Films and Cannon Films, were in business long before home video took off, and were able to use the home video explosion to take bigger chances making bigger budgeted exploitation films.


Angelika Films is not well remembered today, although you may have heard of some of the films they had a hand in distributing, including Martin Bell’s seminal documentary “Streetwise,” Shôhei Imamura’s powerful “Black Rain” and David Jones’ 1993 telling of Franz Kafka’s “The Trial” featuring Kyle MacLachlan, Jason Robards and Anthony Hopkins. If you know Angelika Films at all, it’s most likely because you have lived in one of the urban areas that featured their enduring legacy, the Angelika Film Center.

In New York City, the Angelika Film Center and Cafe has been legendary and synonymous with best film in non-Hollywood cinema since its doors opened in 1989. For several years, a program called “At the Angelika” was shown on the IFC Channel, highlighting the best of non-Hollywood movies, filmed in its iconic cafe lobby (until IFC opened its own theatre down the block and changing the name of the show to “At the IFC Center”). Readers of John Pierson’s excellent “Spike, Mike, Slackers, & Dykes” or fans of Kevin Smith will know the Angelika at the place Smith and friend Vincent Pereira saw Richard Linklater’s “Slacker” in 1991, which fueled Smith in to making his own first feature “Clerks,” which would have what Smith called a “disastrous first public screening” of at the 1993 Independent Film Feature Market, which was held at the Angelika. During my own first visit to New York City in 1998, I made it a point to see a movie at the Angelika (and to grab then-casual online friend Joe Carnahan some materials related to his first release “Blood Guts Bullets and Octane,” which had just premiered at the Angelika). And when I ended up moving to New York City three years later, I took the young lady who became my wife on our first or second date to the Angelika, either to see “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” or “Ghost World.”


So recently, while killing some time after seeing “Hamilton” on Broadway and before our flight to Paris, my wife and I trekked down to Houston and Mercer to see “The Beguiled,” the latest from Sofia Coppola, which we had missed when it came out in late June due to Mrs. H’s bar studies. This would not be the first time we had seen a Coppola movie at the Angelika, having seen her brother Roman’s movie “CQ” there on its opening night in 2003, where the attendees included Wes Anderson, who would go on to work with Roman Coppola on the screenplays for “The Darjeeling Limited” and “Moonrise Kingdom.” Ms. Coppola’s new movie was an interesting exercise in modern gothic mood, but the theatre itself is a reminder of how something repurposed can be wondrous while acknowledging (or even appreciating) its faults.


One enters the Angelika from the southwest corner of Houston and Mercer, up a small flight of stairs. After buying your tickets, from the box office or several automated kiosks, one enters the large lobby, which houses a cafe filled with many fine coffees and teas, as well as bottled sodas including “Mexican” Coke and several selections of Boylan sodas, quiches and macarons, in addition to traditional movie popcorn. (A secondary concession stand is open downstairs on nights and weekends.) Descend from the main lobby down a long escalator to the six screens housed underground, occupying spaces that one housed four 32-foot winding wheels carried cables that pulled streetcars around lower Manhattan in the late 1800s and early 1900s (before the mass acceptance and expansion of the subway system) have been converted in to movie houses of sizes from roughly 150 to 275 seats. Most of the times I’ve been to the Angelika, I’ve ended up seeing a movie in Theatre 1, which is where we ended up seeing “The Beguiled.”


Because of the location of the auditoriums, conversion to stadium seating is simply impossible, so each house has the slightly sloped floor that were de rigueur for cinemas for the first hundred years of moviegoing. The rooms are rather small, and the seating areas are separated by an aisle down the center of the room, which I have never been much of a fan of. My favorite place to sit in a theatre is usually two-thirds of the way back in the center, which is simply not possible here. Although there were less than 30 people in the theatre, we decided to sit in the third row from the front of the screen, off-center to the right, because we too have tired of the plebeians of all ages who can no longer exist without their blasted handheld electronic devices for two hours. (And why anyone would fuck around on their electronic devices in a place they had to pay to get in to, when they could fuck around on their electronic devices in a myriad of other places they didn’t have to pay to get in to, I will never understand.)


All in all, whether you are a long-time resident or a first-time tourist, it behooves you to visit this independent movie theatre. With six screens and films from around the world, there’s a good chance you’ll find something that’s right up your alley.

Rating: A