“Movie Houses of Worship” is a regular feature spotlighting our favorite movie theaters around the world, those that are like temples of cinema catering to the most religious-like film geeks. This week, FSR’s Allison Loring chose one of her favorite theaters in Los Angeles. If you’d like to suggest or submit a place you regularly worship at the altar of cinema, please email our weekend editor.
Location: 1328 Montana Avenue, Santa Monica, CA
Opened: Originally opened in 1939 as a 24-hour theater for aircraft workers, but closed in 2003 after Robert Redford’s Sundance Cinemas project (which was going to take over ownership of the theater) fell through because General Cinemas (which was being sold to AMC) went bankrupt. The Aero is now officially known as the “Max Palevsky Aero Theater” thanks to Palevsky’s funding for the American Cinematheque’s refurbishment of the theater which re-opened in January 2005.
No. of Screens: 1
Current First-Run Titles: Prisoners
Repertory Programming: The Aero always has special series going on – this month includes “Classics from the Cohen Film Collection” starting with Intolerance,“Satyajit Ray Restored” screening a slew of the filmmaker’s films including Charulata, The Music Room, The Big City, The Expedition, The Goddess, The Hero, The Coward, The Holy Man, The Adventures of Goopy and Bagha, and The Elephant God, and “Pure and Impure: The Films of Pier Paolo Pasolini” showing Accattone, Mamma Roma, The Decameron, Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom, and The Gospel According to St. Matthew.
Special Events: Jon Favreau is a regular at the Aero (since it is his neighborhood theater) and almost always premieres his movies at the Aero before they are shown anywhere else. Favreau can also routinely be found in the audience of any of the Aero’s signature marathons or throwback screenings.
Why I Worship Here: Going to the movies nowadays can be a chaotic experience of flashing screens, lobbies packed with promotional standees, interactive marketing displays, and concession stands full of more and more options with each visit. Sure – going to a dine-in theater or your standard chain can be fun, but sometimes I just want to see a movie and not feel like I have gone through a hurricane to get there. The Aero provides just that experience – a throwback movie theater experience with all the charm and appreciation you would want from a neighborhood theater funded and run by fellow film fans.
The staff at the Aero simply love movies and the ticket takers are usually volunteers (fellow FSRer Kate Erbland and I have both done it!) who donate their time because they want to be a part of the Aero community, and ripping a few tickets is an easy task for a free show. The Aero does get recent releaes (and often screens them for members before they are out), but the theater specializes in bringing films like Gone with the Wind, Flashdance, or a Friday the 13th marathon back to the big screen. The Aero is all about the experience of not only enjoying a film, but also learning more about it whether through a special retrospective series, bringing an old classic back to the big screen, or a post-screening Q&A with the filmmakers.
Recent Screenings of Note: While this was not a recent screening, it is my favorite screening – when the Aero hosted a Back to the Future marathon, giving me the chance to see one of my favorite film series on the big screen. The event featured audience members dressing up as their favorite characters and not one, but two Deloreans parked in front of the theater. Getting to compare the first movie’s Delorean to the more tricked out “futuristic” version was unforgettable and this immersive experience is what keeps me happily coming back to the Aero again and again.
Devotion to the Concessions: The Aero’s old school theater throw-back vibe extends to the concessions as well which are your basic fare of popcorn, candy, and soda, but at prices you really cannot beat when compared to the name-brand chains. But be sure to bring cash if you want to indulge – no credit cards here!
Last Word: If you are an LA resident or happen to be in town on a visit, I encourage you to check out the Aero for a unique and unforgettable movie-going experience. The screening calendar is always full of films you cannot find on the big screen anywhere else and it’s tucked away location on Montana Street feels like a neighborhood theater only you and your other movie loving friends know about.
Plus the theater was featured in Donnie Darko - it’s famous in its own right!