Last week the Landmark Sunshine Theater closed for good. For those of you who don’t live in New York, it was an independent movie theater on the Lower East Side that opened in the mid 1990s, though the theater itself dated back to the 1920s. It closed for all the usual reasons: a new, higher rent; a changing neighborhood; changing habits of moviegoers. Apparently the owners wanted to renovate to serve dinner and booze with their films, like other, newer theaters, but the community board wouldn’t approve their liquor license.
I associate the Sunshine with my twenties, when I was new to New York and saw a lot of movies there. It was one of the newer multiplexes, with a huge theater on the lower level that always seemed to be packed. I loved how, after a movie on that lower level, you would exit right onto the sidewalk into the New York night and, if the movie was good, you would find yourself looking at the city from a slightly different angle. You could go to a bar nearby and hash it out with your companion, or, if you were alone—and it was a theater that was friendly to solo viewers—you could walk uptown or take the F train home and mellow in the movie-residue.
The last film I saw there was In Between, which I reviewed on this blog. It played in the big basement theater and there were only about a dozen people in the audience on a Wednesday afternoon. I don’t mind a small audience, but I knew the theater was about to close, so it felt a little depressing. I couldn’t help thinking of a time the last time I had seen it packed: summer of 2012, for a biopic about Bob Marley. I know the year because I was pregnant with my first baby, and he kicked a lot during the film, and I thought to myself that I wouldn’t be able to go to the movies much in the fall.
Since having kids, I’ve gone to the Sunshine only about once a year. I saw two Jim Jarmusch films there, post-baby: Only Lovers Left Alive and Paterson, and those films felt especially appropriate to that theater, because they’re about people living outside of time. The Sunshine always felt like a bit of a throwback to the 1990s, and for me it’s been a way to revisit my early years in New York City. I’m grateful it lasted as long as it did, even as I wish it could have held on for another decade.