Angelika Film Center On the surface, Soho’s Angelika Film Center’s great location, phenomenal programming, delectable café and the weight of a national theater alliance to throw behind riskier fare make it seem like the perfect art house cinema. Unfortunately, the auditoriums in this Manhattan mainstay are too close to the earth’s core to allow for a decent screening. Tucked away dangerously close to the nearby subway stop, you’ll have to wait for a transit strike if you want to watch a film uninterrupted.
When you walk up to the box office of the Angelika, it doesn’t take long for the building to enchant you. Perched on a massive corner at Houston and Mercer streets, the hand changed “Now Playing” sign evokes a simpler time in cinema, wholly analog in nature. An eave over the box office has art deco inspired lettering emblazoned on it, with stairs leading up into the ticketing vestibule; it is like walking up a tongue into a mouth, a warm place to rest.
The entire first floor boast’s one of Lower Manhattan’s most capacious cafés. Rarely overcrowded, it is a great place to sit and get some work done, chow down on a pastry and suck back a cup o’ joe. Adding to the fun, it is unquestionably a cinema cafe, with posters and postcards littering the tables and walls. It never stoops to the level of a lobby. The movement to add legitimate café space into theaters is ingenious, this is a haven for cinéfiles and maker’s alike.
But one can only tarry upstairs for so long. After all, this is a theater as well, and you probably paid to see a show. Once your ticket is snuffed out by the usher, the descent into New York’s bowels begins via escalator; stairs for adventure seekers. Don’t bother silencing your mobile, there’s no service where you’re going. Okay, this is an exaggeration. The auditoriums are probably a story and a half, maybe two stories, below street level. Other theaters go much lower, but none have to compete with the MTA as the Angelika does.
Looking past the subterranean handicap, the auditoriums themselves are subpar. The screens are small and too high up, the projectors too far away. The rooms are long and narrow, trying to fit more seats “vertically”, but the picture quality must suffer as a tradeoff. When you can’t hear the train coming by every twenty minutes, you can hear films in the auditoriums next door if stuff is getting blow’d up in them.
Now, I will say that the Angelika is in the business of doing the impossible, that being bringing independent cinema of the world to the masses. It is a very tough business and they do an incredible job of programming for an increasingly diverse audience. The Angelika always has provocative new work showing. At time of writing, I can tell you I want to see everything they have showing right now. In a way, they have cornered the market on independent fare. They’re not the only art house in the city, but they are one of the busiest; the breadth of their offerings is remarkable.
So you have a choice to make: see groundbreaking new work from an international library in a subpar environment or don’t. Personally, I will always go with the former. Sometimes, what you crave is only at the Angelika, and you should absolutely go see it. We have been spoiled in recent years. AMC in particular, as mentioned in a previous article, has made a very strong push to entice audiences with impeccable aural and visual experiences. Believe it or not, this is a relatively young movement. Before we cared so much about screening quality we would just go to the movies, and get lost in the world of film, however broken or degraded our surrounding may be. If it is great cinema you seek, then the Angelika is perfect, maybe even magical.
STAND CLEAR THE CLOSING DOOR!!! (naw, I kid)