Angelika Film Center

18 W. Houston Street,
New York, NY 10012

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Angelika Film Center

Viewing: Photo | Street View

Originally built in 1894 as a cable power building for the New York Cable Car Company, it was designed in a Beaux Arts style by noted architects McKim, Mead & White.

The Angelika Film Center opened in 1989, this New York theater is famous for helping to make independent films the vibrant part of the film industry they have become in recent years. Many of the best independent films of the past decade debuted at the Angelika during one of the many film festivals held at the theater.

As sometimes happens in the pricey real estate environment of New York City, the Angelika’s screens are located underground. Audiences enter on the ground level to a large and welcoming cafe, and then take escalators down to the theater level. Occupying the entire first floor, the cafe, a unique feature of the Angelika, is perhaps the most critical part of what has made the Angelika a success. Between festivals, it serves as an impromtu salon for tomorrow’s filmmakers. During festivals, it hosts scores of film industry types.

Architecturally, however, the theater is unremarkable and its screens draw constant complaints about their tiny size, poor sound, uncomfortable seats, and lack of sound proofing. It’s quite possible to hear the rumble of a subway train during a screening, as the Angelika is not far from a major subway station.

But as long as it serves up the very best of independent and foreign films, the Angelika’s audience will continue to embrace the theater.

Contributed by Belinda

Recent comments (view all 106 comments)

dermycar
dermycar on March 11, 2014 at 10:20 pm

@zoetmb – You’re free to think that it is “patently ridiculous”, but hearing the subway is an infamous part of the Angelika experience, like it or not. There’s not many underground theaters left in the city, and being ride next to a major subway intersection has its good and bads. As previously stated, we have done well to compensate with the sound by more sound-proofing and enhancing the sound design to compensate for the loudness. Obviously, you will still be able to see it, but it shouldn’t interfere with the theatrical experience.

There is hope that all of the screens will be expanded.

CinemaDude
CinemaDude on March 12, 2014 at 3:56 am

dermycar, I appreciate that you understand the frustration of the patrons who posted above. And I am glad that management is indeed doing something to address these issues. The lack of adequate sound abatement between theatres was always a problem that never should have existed in the first place — the cinema designer and owners cut corners that shouldn’t have been cut. The fact that the new abatement does reduce the room-to-room sound infiltration is proof that it could have been done all along. Subway rumble is harder to deal with, but it seems like finally efforts are being made.

I had gone there many, MANY times years ago, drawn by titles that one couldn’t see anywhere else, but each time saying, “Never again!” and each time that resolve would get stronger and stronger until the Angelica was scratched off my list. In particular, the placement of the screens was much to high to be comfortable — bring a neck brace. Then there were the seats….enough said. And as others have noted and it meshes with my recollection, the interiors were needlessly dark and foreboding. It just wasn’t a pleasant experience…back then. And I emphasize I have NOT been there in years, but not because their offerings were not enticing.

You got the real impression that corners were cut in just too many places. Thing is, most of these issues could have, SHOULD have, been fixed years ago…a little at a time so as not to break the bank, but a resolve should have been there to eliminate these obvious problems. I mean, this stuff isn’t rocket science — the SMPTE has all kinds of standards for correct placement of the screen with relationship to the room dimensions; it’s not a mystery how to sound-proof a room so you won’t hear the movie next door. As for the seats — all you really need is for someone to sit in a few seats from the cinema seat manufacturers' samples to know if a seat is comfortable or not and which will improve the torture contraptions you got people sitting in at present. And given that the Angelica was never an operation on the verge of financial ruin, the fact that decades went by without making necessary improvements tells me that the company was resting on its laurels and milking the operation. Seems they just chose not to spend money if they didn’t absolutely have to. And that’s a shame because what they had accomplished with unique and many times brilliant programming, was marred by the fact that it is just such a nasty place to watch a movie….sorry, I take it back….WAS.

I really hope that dermycar is correct and that the new local management sees fit to upgrade some of these easily addressed problems. Hell, at the prices they charge at the “snack” bar/restaurant for a single quiche would be enough to buy a new screen (just kidding).

From what you are saying, dermycar, hopefully this will give the place a more welcoming and enjoyable move-going experience. If it can, then people really should flock to it because of the programming.

And once last thing, I must say I am very impressed that they are keeping their 35mm projection equipment in place and the ability to show actual film on occasion. Film prints of great movies we cherish — the output of over a century of filmmaking, where they have been preserved, will become like rare museum artifacts and future generations will have very few places where the will actually be able to see film being projected on a movie screen. A great era has gone by, people; sadly, I don’t think many actually realize the monumental c-change that represents.

markp
markp on March 12, 2014 at 10:13 pm

Cinemadude, I agree with you about theatres that are keeping their 35mm equipment. The theatre in NJ where I am house projectionist, the Count Basie in Red Bank just installed a Christie Digital projector, but we kept our 2 simplex xl with 2000' reels. I still say film will make a comeback, much like vinyl is doing these days.

zoetmb
zoetmb on March 18, 2014 at 8:43 pm

@dermycar: You’re really in denial if you think that any aspect of hearing the subway in a movie theatre is a positive. And IMO, most basement theaters were always sub-par because they tended to have very low ceilings. It’s practically criminal that the former basement Crown Twin on the upper east side has been designated “The Beekman”.

@markp: Nope, film won’t make a comeback because there won’t be film stock to print it on and the studios and film depots are not going to inventory any prints once the conversion to digital is complete. If we’re lucky, they’ll donate their libraries to museums and colleges who will hopefully store them properly and preserve them.

Fuji stock has been sold to Frame 24 and when their inventory is gone, it’s gone. Some of it is already short dated. Agfa has only one print stock left. Kodak still has numerous motion picture stocks, but they never made money on negative stock, only print stock and some studios have already stopped making film prints. The rest will stop this year. Having been in bankruptcy, Kodak is not going to keep producing these products. Kodak’s policy even before bankruptcy was that when orders become so small that they can’t make consistent batches, they drop the stock. In 35mm still photography, Kodak Alaris (which took over still film) only sells 10 emulsions (4 black and white, 4 pro color and 2 amateur color). I suspect the two amateur stocks will disappear soon.

Having said that, I think any decent movie theatre should keep at least one set of 35mm projectors because they can’t get any money for them anyway. No reason not to keep them in the booth “just in case” a film print comes along. Certainly, every art house should keep 35mm up and running as well as every museum and every university that has film courses of any type.

As for vinyl, it’s all hype. Yes, sales have doubled in the last year or two, but that’s from a very small base. Vinyl sales are still less than 2% of the recorded music market, which itself is less than half of its 1999 peak. As far as the music industry is concerned, vinyl sales are a rounding error. That’s why for catalog titles, the labels don’t produce the vinyl themselves – they license it out to labels like Sundazed.

AlAlvarez
AlAlvarez on March 18, 2014 at 9:28 pm

zoetmb, your angry rant at the March of Time is appropriate in spirit but ignorant in theme.

Dermycar’s customer service is as rare and refreshing as any theatre manager could ever offer. I think you should celebrate that which we can preserve. Human decency. He didn’t build it, book it or sound proof it.

The Angelika Center was a noisy basement cinema the day it opened to rave reviews and a huge success for over twenty four years.

Your denial of dermycar’s efforts is the main reason classic theatres close.

zoetmb
zoetmb on April 21, 2014 at 11:39 am

@AlAlvarez: No idea what you’re talking about. I didn’t say a word about Dermycar’s customer service. I simply said that you can’t turn a negative like hearing the subway in a movie theatre into a positive. And my remarks about the fact that 35mm film presentation will NOT make a comeback were addressed to MarkP, not to Dermycar.

I’ve never said that I think the Angelica should close. Quite the opposite, as it tends to play better movies than the horrible chains do. I just resent being fed b.s.

And I’ll admit to being very anal-compulsive when it comes to movie theatre presentation quality: it drives me up the wall if I find anything wrong. It’s like finding a bug in my food in a restaurant.

There are two opposite trends that are hurting movie theaters:

a. one can get remarkable quality watching a movie at home on a home theatre system, either HD streaming or Blu-ray, generally at a much lower cost than going out to a movie.

b. there are an increasing number of people willing to experience a movie on a smart phone or tablet.

Because of that and also all the competition for leisure time (and even the fact that’s there’s less “dating” and more “hooking up”), movie theaters have to provide a differentiating experience. That’s why you see theaters providing either enhanced sound and projection (RPX, ETX, LieMax, Dolby Atmos) or taking out 2/3 of the seats and putting in lounge chairs or having waiter service serving food/drinks at the seats. In almost any business, you differentiate (in a positive way) or die.

How does the Angelica differentiate? It’s on the edge of a hip neighborhood and it tends to play better films than the chains. It attracts a hipper crowd. Maybe it has better snacks. But the theaters themselves aren’t very good. So it doesn’t differentiate enough. And the Sunshine is down the street and the Film Forum is within walking distance.

Movie theaters close for two reasons:

One: People don’t go. The fact is that the theatrical business has been in decline since 1946. In 1946, 60% of the U.S. population averaged a movie a week. There were 82 to 90 million weekly admissions when the U.S. population was only 142 million.

In 2013, there were fewer than 26 million weekly admissions with a population of 315 million, with about 8% of the population seeing a movie a week. (Frankly, I’m surprised it was that high). How many movies did you see in a theatre in the last 12 months compared to 10-15 years ago? (Although in 1995, it was only slightly better with 9.16% of the population seeing a movie a week.)

Two: It’s a lousy business (theaters only get 5-10% of the ticket price in the opening weeks and these days, for most films there are only opening weeks). And it doesn’t work at all in places like NYC where real-estate is expensive. That’s why there’s no longer a single movie theatre on Broadway between 20th street and 66th street where there used to be one after another. Movie theaters are concession stands that happen to show movies because all the profits are in the popcorn. And they take up a lot of space, are therefore expensive to heat and cool, are only in use part of the day and have slow turnover.

Especially in NYC where real-estate is very valuable, movie theaters will continue to close. There have been rumors for several years now that the Cinema 1-2-3 and the Regal-UA Union Square are next on the chopping block. There are only 27 regular movie theaters left in Manhattan (201 screens) and 32 in the four outer boroughs (239 screens). My bet is that 30% of Manhattan theaters disappear in the next 10 years. And frankly, I’m not sure that it will matter all that much because all the chains play exactly the same movies anyway and the studios only really care about the big junky popcorn movies that can make a ton of money opening weekend, like the upcoming Godzilla.

Furthermore, movie theaters are getting hurt because of the short windows before movies hit home video in some form. Many art films (exactly the kinds of films the Angelica plays) stream day-and-date with the theatrical run. That spells death for the movie theatre. The movie theatre owners should NEVER have permitted this. They should refuse to play any movie that has a window shorter than X. The theatrical window used to be a year. Now it’s weeks for the big commercial films and sometimes 0 for the independent films. IMO, the studios are committing suicide, but they don’t care because the execs are only interested in the next quarter and their bonus/stock plan at the end of the year. None of them expect to be in their positions for very long.

The only way movie theaters survive is if we return to what we had before the consent decree: the studios have to own the theaters. That way the theaters themselves don’t have to make money. It will be interesting to see what the Chinese-based Dallan Wanda Group does with AMC-Loews in the long term.

Edward Havens
Edward Havens on April 21, 2014 at 4:24 pm

After reading these long screeds, I must paraphrase Ygriette from Game of Thrones:

You know nothing, Zoetmb.

Or, more specifically, your suppositions seem to be based on trains of thought about the exhibition business that were extinct thirty years ago. Having been in the exhibition business for nearly thirty years now, I see your points and laugh at how off-base they are from the realities I deal with on a daily basis.

Case in point: if all the chains are playing exactly the same movies anyway and the studios only really care about the big junky popcorn movies that can make a ton of money opening weekend, like the upcoming Godzilla, it’s because that is what their customer base wants. If theatres are rushing to add dine-in options and bars and comfy leather recliner chairs, it’s because that is what their customer base wants.

And for the record, one of the companies you mention has seen their per-screen attendance rise over the past couple years while having a net loss of screens and locations by making the in theatre experience the best possible, instead of propping up their numbers with spalshy acquisitions.

AlAlvarez
AlAlvarez on April 21, 2014 at 6:42 pm

Zoetmb is off the mark. Most Manhattan theatres are threatened by property values, not quality presentation, film choice, nor attendance. The Cinema 1-2-3 will eventually go as it is prime real estate. The Regal Union Square is going nowhere anytime soon as it is one the highest grossing in the city and has small ground level footprint.

Theatre owners did everything possible to delay DVD windows but the market forces made this unsustainable. Who cares about the window when audiences lose interest after two weeks anyway. Less theatres will help the remaining ones survive, and eventually every neighborhood will have one single multiplex serving it.

The mega chains are not so concerned about profits in NYC as long as the theatre is a cash cow that can produce quick revenue that can be invested elsewhere before the studio share is even due.

zoetmb
zoetmb on April 30, 2014 at 11:09 am

You say I’m off the mark and yet you agree with my specific comments:

Alvarez: You say that Manhattan theaters are threatened by property values and that’s EXACTLY what I said when I commented that “Especially in NYC where real-estate is very valuable, movie theaters will continue to close. ”

However I completely disagree with you when you say the mega-chains are not concerned about profits in NYC. I’m sure their shareholders would love to hear that. NYC used to be the place where they made all their money; NYC was the place where new technology premiered first, NYC (and Hollywood) is where all the premieres were held. No more. Dolby premiered Atmos in the area in a theatre in New Jersey! (OK, a few premieres are still held at the Ziegfeld).

Havens: When you say it’s what their base wants, there’s nothing that proves that. Since movie attendance is down, the case could be made that it’s just the opposite. Furthermore, even if you’re correct, that’s the “McDonald’s” approach to business. It might sometimes be profitable, but it sucks in every other respect.

You wrote: “If theatres are rushing to add dine-in options and bars and comfy leather recliner chairs, it’s because that is what their customer base wants.”

EXACTLY. That’s the point I made when I wrote that theaters must differentiate. Some theaters are differentiating by doing that, others by offering higher quality presentation (RPX/ETX/Atmos/IMAX) options. How does the Angelica differentiate other than playing some independent films? That was the point of my argument.

You wrote: “eventually every neighborhood will have one single multiplex serving it.”

Thereby proving my point that we’re losing theaters across the board for a variety of reasons.
And impossible anyway, since every neighborhood doesn’t have one single multiplex now. We will probably wind up with just one or two multiplexes per borough outside of Manhattan and perhaps five in Manhattan. Several more theaters closed recently: The Jackson Triplex, the BIG Cinemas on E59th St. and the Brandon Twin in Forest Hills. We’re now down to 26 theaters in Manhattan (199 screens) and 29 theaters in the four outer boroughs (232 screens).

Edward Havens
Edward Havens on April 30, 2014 at 3:40 pm

Sorry, Zoetmb, but there is proof that’s what the base wants. It’s called “grosses.”

Also, your base assessment that “attendance is down” is as wrong-headed as most of your other judgements. 2013 attendance might have been down 1.4% versus 2012 attendance, but it was also up 4.7% over 2011 and flat against 2010. And movie attendance in the first four months of 2014 is up 7% over the first four months of 2013. Sure, it’s down from recent highs in 2002 and 2003, but what was happening in the world in 2002 and 2003 that might want people to escape from reality for a few hours more often than before, or since, that isn’t happening now? We’re not talking about Netflix or VOD here.

And the Angelika still does pretty damn good, business-wise, without an IMAX-like presentation, or stadium seating, or dine-in options. The only think that differentiates the Angelika from the Sunshine or the Film Forum or any other arthouse theatre is its vibe. The Angelika doesn’t FEEL like any other theatre in Manhattan, even if it shares a similar spirit to the Lincoln Plaza Cinemas.

As for the other theatres that recently closed, ask yourself this: there are only a few reasons why a theatre closes. One, because the owners of the building decided not to renew the lease. Two, because the operators of the theatre decided it was no longer financially viable to operate a cinema in that location. Which one do you think was the case in respect to the Jackson Triplex, the 59th St. Cinema or the Brandon Twin? Or the 64th & Second? Or my old neighborhood theatre, the East 85th?

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