All movie theaters are not created equal. New York in particular features a plethora of different movie houses, each with its own particular vibe, from Film Forum to the IFC Center. Of course, these idiosyncratic theaters tend to be New York-specific—most people spend years going to AMC after AMC, eating infinite quantities of overpriced stale popcorn. Experience has taught us that most good movies come in smaller packages, with long lines of ironic-mustachioed college students scattered somewhere along Houston Street. Finding a good movie in New York is never a problem, but try venturing on the other side of the Hudson.
There is perhaps one exception: Landmark theatres, a group of 55 theaters scattered around the United States. The Landmark Theatre group bridges the gap between the commercial AMC and the arthouse—it is currently the largest chain of movie theaters in the United States dedicated to exhibiting and marketing independent film.
The Sunshine, New York’s Landmark, is located on the Lower East Side and is so popular that the lines for its movies—almost always the top-rated films of the hour—stretch past the block. The Sunshine has proven to be one of the highest-grossing Landmark Theatres in the US.
Landmark theaters often have trouble competing with cinemas that exclusively play blockbusters—unless it’s Oscar season, Landmark theaters will rarely play films advertised on television.
Regardless of this difficulty, the company survives through the steadfast loyalty of its clientele, which largely consist of two stereotypes: middle-aged intellectuals and college-aged hipsters (the latter may complain of the lack of vegan popcorn and promptly be scoffed at).
In cities around the United States, and especially outside of New York, the local Landmark tends to be the most popular place to see independent films, often because it is the only place to do so. The Landmark is nothing if not idiosyncratic—each city’s particular cinema is decked in Art Deco décor, sells Magnolia Picture DVDs, and offers not only popcorn (with real butter) but vegan cookies. And, of course, there is the staff.
Most movie theaters are known to have a notoriously high turnover rate—these jobs tend to be easy to get, since employees quit and are hired left and right. Not so with Landmark, however.
Employees tend to be college-educated, intelligent film geeks who stay with the company for years … and years … and years. Applications to the job are usually laughed at and promptly discarded (mentioning “Avatar” in an entrance interview is not recommended). Most employees have been with the company for at least four or five years. And yes, often the employees tend to be of the skinny-panted variety.
This gives the Landmark a very peculiar vibe. The chain is as well-known for the hipster snark of its employees as for the supreme quality of its films. The kid ripping your tickets might be simultaneously reading Flannery O’Connor. The cinemaphile in the box office is most likely just as educated (and elitist) as the student moviegoer.
Julia Alekseyeva’s biweekly series Subculture and Cinephilia examines hipster culture’s influence on the acceptance of current films and the film industry.