The West End Cinema will close out its nearly five-year run as the redoubt of art house film in Washington this month with the cult and documentary classic, "Grey Gardens."
According to West End owner Josh Levin, it's purely serendipity that the last regularly scheduled feature for his theater will be "Gardens," the touchstone film of Albert Maysles, the giant of documentary filmmaking who died March 5. It will serve as more than a coincidental tribute to Maysles, though. The film is just the kind of stuff that made watching movies at the West End such a great experience.
The 1976 film about Edith Bouvier Beale, her daughter Edie and their ramshackle life in the East Hampton mansion that gives the movie its title opens on March 20 and runs through March 26, when Levin will end regular programming. Levin said he's planning some farewell programming and activities to run through March 31, when he'll close the doors for good.
When the West End opened in October 2010, it was a surprise to many in the cinephile community who had watched in recent years as small and medium-sized theaters (Union Station, Dupont Five, The Foundry, Visions, The Janus) had closed one by one and been replaced by stadium and luxury-oriented ones (AMC Loews Georgetown 14, Mazza Gallerie, Regal Gallery Place).
The West End's three-screen operation opened in a spot previously occupied by the long-shuttered Inner Circle. The last days of the Inner Circle were shabby ones. One of the last movies to screen there, David Cronenberg's "Spider," had a sickly, green-hued tone that seemed to match the theater's gasping last breaths.
Levin's shop, spiffed up and serving alcohol and tasty snacks, harked to the types of neighborhood theaters found in Paris. Those kind of places celebrate the quirky, keep a diverse rotation going and cater to people who love seeing movies the way they're intended to: in a dark room with strangers.
Speaking of Cronenberg and dark places, the filmmaker's latest, "Maps to the Stars," is playing at the West End through at least March 12. It's playing alongside Adam Carolla's "Road Hard," the Academy Award nominated "Timbuktu" and the Academy Award winning "Whiplash" and "The Theory of Everything."
On Tuesday, "Left Foot, Right Foot," part of the D.C. Festival de la Francophonie is playing at 7 p.m. and on Wednesday, "The Homestretch," part of the 2015 Human Rights Watch Film Festival, is playing at 7 p.m.
On Friday, two films that could be hard to locate just about anywhere else, "The Mind of Mark DeFriest" and "The Salvation" open. "DeFriest" is a documentary about the titular escape artist who was wrongly imprisoned and comes at a time of heightened concern about sentencing procedures.
"Salvation" is a Western about a former Danish soldier, Mads Mikkelsen, who runs into trouble in the Old West, and then decides to give some back in a way Clint Eastwood would be pretty impressed by. Call it a "Herring Western."
This kind of film programming is going to be hard to replace.
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