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Landmark's Ken Cinema to close its doors March 22

Divine intervention may be required

In happier times.
In happier times.

Has it really been 6 years since I stepped in and helped to save the Ken Cinema from the wrecking ball? On Sunday, March 22, Landmark Theatres will officially pull the plug on the Ken citing, "the changing theatrical landscape and challenges to independent exhibition (as) the major contributing factors." To be fair, lackluster bookings and a refusal to spruce up the joint were contributing factors in the venue's decline. This time, alas, there may be no reprieve.

I have reached out to Reading Cinemas and the Digital Gym to see if we can't find a worthy heritor to the single-screen showplace, one that's capable of keeping the doors open and operating in the black for decades to come. Join me in a moment of prayer: Blessed are You, O Mr. Hitchcock, Ruler of the cinematic universe who has sanctified us with this humble neighborhood popcorn temple. May the name Ethan van Thillo be written in heaven as well as on the lease. And leave the booking to Moisés Esparza. Together, they turned a cozy space like the Digital Gym into destination cinema. Imagine what they could do to transform the Ken!

I'll have much more to say next week. Keep everything crossed!

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In happier times.
In happier times.

Has it really been 6 years since I stepped in and helped to save the Ken Cinema from the wrecking ball? On Sunday, March 22, Landmark Theatres will officially pull the plug on the Ken citing, "the changing theatrical landscape and challenges to independent exhibition (as) the major contributing factors." To be fair, lackluster bookings and a refusal to spruce up the joint were contributing factors in the venue's decline. This time, alas, there may be no reprieve.

I have reached out to Reading Cinemas and the Digital Gym to see if we can't find a worthy heritor to the single-screen showplace, one that's capable of keeping the doors open and operating in the black for decades to come. Join me in a moment of prayer: Blessed are You, O Mr. Hitchcock, Ruler of the cinematic universe who has sanctified us with this humble neighborhood popcorn temple. May the name Ethan van Thillo be written in heaven as well as on the lease. And leave the booking to Moisés Esparza. Together, they turned a cozy space like the Digital Gym into destination cinema. Imagine what they could do to transform the Ken!

I'll have much more to say next week. Keep everything crossed!

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Comments
57

Maybe Laemmle can take over ? I dunno, maybe there is a chance of it still being saved, I mean stranger things have happened.

Feb. 24, 2020

Maybe they aren't closing the doors at all. Maybe its just some strange/creative marketing ploy. lol.

Feb. 24, 2020

Oh that's too bad! Looks like a great place. Hopefully someone will save it!

-Miramar

Feb. 24, 2020

What are we supposed to do -- just hunker down in front of our not-big-enough TVs and watch movies alone on Netflix? Something is better than nothing at all and Digital Gym has interesting (enough) movies, but it's hardly a "cozy space" and "destination cinema." Call me shallow -- its neighborhood leaves a lot to be desired: lacks easy parking; area sidewalk is broken and hazardous; night-lighting is dim and the property itself seems rundown. If you are suggesting that Digital Gym management/ownership could take over the Ken in situ, that definitely would be worth praying for.

Feb. 24, 2020

Not a big fan of Digital Gym. Does not feel like a cinema at all. The theater is comically small, and I get the vibe I'm in a college auditorium no bueno. I'm just glad La Paloma is still in operation. Maybe the owner of La Paloma can take over, but I guess the chances of that happening are slim to none.

Feb. 24, 2020

200% agree about Digital Gym. Poor interior. Too small. The AC hits one hard in some spots. It's more like what they refer in Spanish as a "cineteca" where they have obscure films for specialized audiences. I could put up with some of that if the city of San Diego's parking laws were not so draconian. I can't always go on a Sunday. ARE YOU LISTENING, Beth and Miguel???

Feb. 29, 2020

Something tells me neither of them regularly visit this blog.

March 2, 2020

Yup.

March 6, 2020

I need to give the La Paloma another chance. I've been there four times in the 20 years I've lived in San Diego and each time was a disaster. I still shake my fist at the thought of that Sunday matinee presentation of "Big Wednesday" in Glaucoma-Rama.

March 2, 2020

Sure the projection and sound can be sub-par, and the seats can be very uncomfortable, but man does it have character. I love that you can hear the train going by while the film is playing, the fact that the sometimes the box office person, concession stand clerk, and projectionist is the the same person, also every now and then the owner will bring his dog to the theater, also the architecture of the building. It has small town, cozy, mom and pop vibe. Unlike the bland corporate theaters coughs (AMC Regal), which I HATE! Yes I know the Ken is technically a corporate theater, but it does not feel like one at all.

March 3, 2020

Oh yeah their popcorn ain't bad ether. Also no obnoxious pre-show "entertainment" before the film. Just a blank screen with music. Whats not to love.

March 3, 2020

I'll pay another visit in the near future.

March 3, 2020

The Digital Gym's programming makes it destination cinema. Do I wish it was bigger and less cliquish? Of course! Does it disturb me to no end that they'll occasionally slip in DVDs? What do you think? That's why I'm hoping beyond hope that the organization can figure out a way to work with the owners of the Ken to transform it into the DCP Gym. In the 20 years that I've been living in San Diego, no one has done more to advance cinema in this town than Ethan van Thillo. I love SDAFF, but Ethan built a theatre from scratch. I'm not counting Landmark out just yet. I'll have a chance to make my case to them on Thursday, but it doesn't look good. If they choose to part ways with the space, the Digital Gym taking control of the Ken would be the greatest gift a San Diego film lover could ask for. I just don't want to drive over the 15 and find a Dress Barn where the Ken once stood.

Feb. 24, 2020

Ethan, Beth, and to a lesser degree, Miguel, are all part of that "cliquish." That's the problem. The screen is too small. I love your idea. It would be something like the old CineFamily location up in L.A. before the harrassment scandal. I went up there in 2014 to see the restored 4K print of William Friedkin's unappreciated classic, "Sorcerer." The image was great and the venue was packed.

Feb. 29, 2020

I never understood why they went with the name "Sorcerer" when it wasn't about sorcery. Bad choice.

March 12, 2020

Or another CBD shop, like the rainbow Technicolor building in North Park on University.

March 12, 2020

I am not against the Digital Gym taking over the Ken at all. Not one bit. I just don't like the current building on El Cajon Blvd. If they take over and it still has the same old Ken vibe. Ill be ecstatic. Oh yeah and still running the midnight moves every Saturday won't hurt.

Feb. 24, 2020

*movies.

Feb. 24, 2020

Well here's hoping Landmark will come to their senses. Good luck Scott!!!

Feb. 24, 2020

Scott, you use mysterious acronyms like LA Times' movie critic Justin Chang casually drops names of obscure Thai moviemakers. What does "DCP" stand for? Ditto "SDAFF?" (Actually, I'm not really sure what "DVD" stands for either, but I know what it is.) Tell us more about Ethan van Thillo too. Finally, when you go to that Thursday meeting, be charming and nice, no matter what.

Feb. 24, 2020

DCP = Digital Cinema Package. The hard drive equivalent to 35mm.
SDAFF = San Diego Asian Film Festival. Or do you say PacArts? Ethan is a community leader and the founder of SDL... The San Diego Latino Film Festival.

Feb. 24, 2020

Community leader??? Does he hold a elected office or is he a "community organizer"???

March 6, 2020

I don't know if there closing because it's not making enough money. But maybe they can go back to the time where they showed a different double bill every day, and one movie that plays for one week every now and then, just like they did in the 90s. That might make them more money. Or show more week of film classics.

Feb. 24, 2020

Too costly. Honestly, they should do an occasional 35mm series. People turn out in droves for what they can no longer get.

Feb. 24, 2020

Hell Yeah!!!

Feb. 24, 2020

Yeah like with Blade Runner, Back to the Future, The Shining, Terminator.

Feb. 24, 2020

Rialto Pictures is re releasing The Conversation in 35mm. What I would give to see that.

Feb. 24, 2020

*wouldn't

Feb. 24, 2020

DCP - Digital Cinema Package DVD - Digital Video Disk. SDAFF - San Diego Asian Film Festival.

Feb. 24, 2020

Of course Landmark wants to ditch The Ken - the area has become all restaurants or crap like the pet food/baby store that replaced the foreign film wing of Kensington Video, which was the only simpatico business to The Ken on the street for years. It is sad and sick that Adams Avenue lost a landmark bookstore - which is still sitting empty, by the way - and will be losing a key film theater shortly unless the magic happens....and San Diego seems to be all out of that.

WE NEED A DECENT ARTHOUSE INSIDE SAN DIEGO.

Feb. 27, 2020

Paul Serwitz is a good man, one who's not eager to be rid of the Ken. Trust me on this. If I really thought he wanted to ditch the Ken the call would have lasted 5 minutes, not 45 minutes. Our hearts and minds are in synch. I now know what it's going to take to get it done, I just have to figure out a way to get it done. It won't be easy, but it ain't dead yet!

Feb. 27, 2020

Got any connections to George Lucas? He's richer than God. I'd like to see "THX 1138" again. That would be the perfect spot. And "American Graffiti" too.

Feb. 27, 2020

THX was recently screened in the last year and a half.

March 6, 2020

Exactly. San Diego should cencentrate more on fixing your sidewalks in Kensington than opening another snooty bistro with patio. Yeah, no video store, no bookstore, and now soon, no theater. Very sad.

Feb. 29, 2020

I spent the weekend boning up on my sleight of hand. Now if only I can make this problem disappear.

March 1, 2020

All you need is a deus ex machina! It's worked before many times. Irwin Jacobs saved the SD Symphony. It would cost far less to save the Ken.

March 1, 2020

Judging by their behavior in other cities, Landmark are as much of a property holdings/speculation venture as a theater chain. Any benevolent billionaires reading this care to give FilmGeeks or Digital Gym or one of the festivals or perhaps a museum a few tens of millions to keep this place showing movies and expand the bathrooms? Maybe it's time for Amazon and Netflix to 'vertically integrate' and expand their subscription services into meatspace, like a Whole Foods for the soul- here's the perfect opportunity!

Whatever. Who needs movies when you can have Disney Content slathered on your eyeballs like so much butter flavored spread from a stale $22 AMC megapretzel. Plus there's always.... the beach?! shudder

Feb. 28, 2020

We disagree on two points, UnYeti. How is it a property holdings/speculation venture when Landmark doesn't own the property? They lease the space. Second, the FilmGeeks are the ones responsible for all the DVD projection at the Gym. That kind of brand-cheapening behavior is fine for a bar, not a movie theatre.

March 1, 2020

I think such a company (whose current owner is in part a real estate mogul) would consider leases particularly burdensome and it would perhaps be a factor in not making further investments in the building/business, but I am just ignorantly & cynically speculating whilst knowing zilch about business and real estate.

In defense of FilmGeeks there aren't a lot of options here in terms of frequent repatory & retrospective exhibitions. Personally enjoy being able to see these things on a big screen with an audience in spite of inferior visuals. Digital Gym could do better to mark these more clearly as a 'special event' and disclose the projection format in the listing - have been to similar non-profit venues & festivals in other more film-friendly places that still occasionally resorted to DVD/BluRay as well but did make a clear disclosure.

At any rate, saw your follow-up article and appreciate your activism on behalf of the movies. Heres hoping a bright future for the Ken.

March 6, 2020

While at MoPA, I was asked by management to show DVDs in order to save on the extravagant cost of shipping 35mm prints. "I'll make you a deal," I said to my boss. "I'll show DVDs in the theatre if you hang color Xeroxes in the galleries." "It's not the same," said the director with a roll of the eye. You're damn right it's not the same. 

Go back and look at some of the columns I wrote before the Digital Gym could afford DCP. I prayed that the day would come and when it did, they're still showing effing home video. That was also a time when the venue had a strict policy of avoiding retrospective bookings. Big screen? There are homes in La Jolla with bigger screens. Why would anyone in their right mind pay to watch a DVD? Give me an incentive to leave the house.

The DG one of the rare places in town to book repertory titles. That's all the more reason they should project exclusively on DCP. Or don't older films deserve the royal treatment? Better to run one series a year on DCP and charge a little extra than champion "inferior visuals".

March 13, 2020

Allow me to put it another way: would you frequent a bar known for watering-down its drinks? Your honor, I rest my case.

March 13, 2020

Terrible news. So much city and personal history there. It should be declared a historical city landmark (no pun). I mostly go to the Classics week andhave seen big crowds, but I guess the regular fair isn't pulling people in. Don't know who to blame--streaming, Netflix, philistinism, or an overall inertia??? My first visit was with my maternal grandmother in November or December 1975 to see "2001." We took the bus because she didn't drive and I was too young.
circa 1980 I went to see something by myself, I somehow got into a conversation with a young lady at the Adams bus stop and she gave me an extra free pass that she had for a future screening. In the early 80's, I knew a fellow classmate from City College that worked there at the time and would let me in gratis. Early 80s I also went with friends to see "Clockwork Orange." Mid 80s I went to see Pasolini's "Salo" and a fist fight nearly broke out pior to the movie!!! In the late 90s I took my girlfriend at the time to a resissue of "Taxi Driver" (1996, I think). So many wonderful memories. And yes, I STILL have several of their old schedules!

Feb. 29, 2020

You saw SALO there? No $hit! For that reason alone the place merits landmark status! I feel your pain, Sal. I'm doing my best to come up with an antidote.

March 1, 2020

LOL

Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to get back to my Human Centipede trilogy.

March 6, 2020

Hold onto your seats, folks! I just put the lessee in touch with the lessor. I have it on good authority that no matter whose name is on the lease, the Ken will remain in operation as a single screen theatre. More on Wednesday.

March 2, 2020

GREAT NEWS!

March 3, 2020

Scott Marks for President!!!

(Well, at least until I receive my copy of "Hot Rods to Hell"...)

March 4, 2020

President?! I can hear Trump now chanting, "Jews will not replace us!"

March 4, 2020

Is his son-in-law not a real person, Scott???

March 6, 2020

Dear Mr. Marks,

I have just finished watching the double feature of "Gun Crazy" and "Hot Rods to Hell."

I especially enjoyed John Dall's slimy trim as juxtaposed against Peggy Cummins' barbaric bunniness. This first feature reminded me of Miles Davis' electric period as it resisted the easy thrills I found myself urging it to in order to forge a path that was more rudimentary, ritualistic and turbulent in its search for new possibilities of expression within a tiring format.

And the second? Well, I truly admired how, similar to that other gilded chamberpot, "Der Blaue Enge," Dana Andrew's masterfully crafted portrayal of a semi-paralyzed self-hating square (Judgement) is almost cancelled out by a half-feral hotcake (Oh Mercy Mercy Me!) with an additional unifying figure, perhaps, in the form of the motel owner who just wants to take the money and run before he commits murder via shovel. I worried for the film when the she-cat was rudely disinvited to the third act showdown but this is compensated by the plight of... of... Oh Poor Poor Tina! The cruelty of it all! (Runs from the room, sobbing.)

I just thought you might want to know.

March 7, 2020

It when Duke & Ernie are wolf-whistling in the car next to the Phillips and Tom looks over his shoulder to make sure it's Tina they're ogling and not him. And I won't even need the po-lease again!

March 12, 2020

It's certainly time for a Jewish President. I voted for Bloomberg in the primary. If you can run NYC, running the country just might be easier. And nobody could have bribed him.

March 12, 2020

Look what a lack of foreskin did for Bernie.

March 12, 2020

Is that on Wikileaks???

March 6, 2020
This comment was removed by the site staff for violation of the usage agreement.
March 7, 2020

It looks like all movie theaters may be the next to close down.

March 18, 2020

There's always the South Bay Drive-In. I believe that's the last theatre still operating.

March 18, 2020

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