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Thursday, July 12, 2007

Thing 49: The Uptown

You haven't been to the Uptown? You don't know how much fun the movies can be.

The Uptown is located a block from the Cleveland Park metro, on Connecticut Avenue, in that really fun and walkable neighborhood that's home to Spices, Dino, the 4Ps and Palena. So many memories on that two block strip of Connecticut -- of stopping in at Subway with a weird volunteer who cracked terrible jokes on a campaign I worked for, or of going on one heck of an awkward date to Spices, wishing the whole time I was celebrating the cinco de mayo with guacamole at GFD's house. There was the party GFL threw at her dad's house, when he used to live up there, back when we were in college and Cleveland Park seemed so far away and alien from our Foggy Bottom comfort zone. There was the time I was running across Connecticut Avenue with a huge cardboard box, between GFL's big blue van and the post office, dodging traffic. I was leaving for England in a month, and the box was full of all my nonessential items I was shipping ahead by slow boat. And then the heavy awkwardness of the box caused it to fly from my arms, into traffic, and all GFL and I could do was laugh, doubled over, on the median at the absurdity of it all.

And then there is the Uptown.

I first went to the Uptown on another ill-fated date, to see the revival of The Exorcist before going to the actual Exorcist steps in Georgetown and straining to make conversation with a beautiful boy who was dumb as a brick. We sat in the balcony, and I didn't know how to sit next to him, and we cheered when parts of DC were on the screen.

I watched the second Lord of the Rings movie there with one of my college roommates, when I had just finished reading the second book and we were both so excited to see it on the big screen.

There was the time I saw Pearl Harbor there, and Senator Lieberman and his wife Hadassa were sitting two rows ahead of me. This was about six months after the 2000 election, when I was still new to the 'celebrity' sightings of DC politicians, and somehow sitting two rows behind the person who was nearly the Vice President was so exciting. Better than the movie, frankly.

I have seen Harry Potter 3 and 4 there, waiting in the November cold to get in the theater after enchiladas from Alero, taking surreptitious slugs out of a fifth of Knob Creek bourbon, trying to keep warm.

And I was there again last night, on opening day of the fifth Harry Potter movie (which is so good). We waited in the hot and heavy July air, braving the occasional coolness of raindrops after work in the hopes of getting good seats, sucking on homemade toffee and comparing Harry Potter 7 theories. (I know it is far fetched, but I just really think Neville is The Chosen One. Nerd alert!).

The Uptown is special. Opened in 1936, it is one of the few single screen theaters that still show newly released films. It is designed in the art deco style as what was once called a 'movie palace." It is the only theater I know of with an honest to God balcony. It has its drawbacks -- the concessions stands are small, the bathrooms not equipped for a full house, and judging by last night, not the greatest of air conditioning systems. But overall, going to the Uptown is an experience, treating a movie as something special. It feels different than going to a multiplex.

But really, we go for the screen. The single screen at the Uptown, forty feet tall and seventy feet wide, hulking and curved, is widely thought of as the best screen in the DC metro area. The screen is so big and wide, it fills up your entire eyeballs. There's nothing else to see but the action on the screen. You fall into the action, all peripheral distractions gone, and only brought back suddenly when the action on screen elicits a hardy laugh from the audience, or cheers and applause. The pleasure of seeing a movie with 800 other people -- what is at heart a solitary pleasure is transformed into a community experience. Everyone cheers at the end when the hero saves the day, even though the celluloid hero can't hear you. You do it because all 800 of you are rooting for him, together.

And so I ate homemade toffee and 'butter topping' topped popcorn in the dark at the Uptown, diving deeply into the magic at Hogwart's, crying for Harry's solitude and laughing along with his friends, and along with the 800 others in the room.

5 comments:

DC Sarah said...

Wasn't the 5th incredible??? I think it is my fave so far. I have waaaaay too many theories about 7 and I can't believe we're going to find out everything in a week!

I love the Uptown. I saw 300 on it a few months ago. If ever a movie was made to see on a huge screen.......

dc365 said...

You love Harry Potter too? That does it, we need to hang out. Maybe coffee before or lunch after the market this weekend? Email me privately at fgalleto (at) gmail (dot) com.

bozoette said...

I grew up here in the DC area, and the Uptown has always been my favorite movie palace. After it was renovated (probably 15 years ago) I saw the remastered, uncut version of Spartacus there. Fabulous! And of course, I plan to see Harry Potter there as well.

dc365 said...

I love that this movie theater -- really just the vehicle for seeing a movie -- can be so intertwined with people's memories of a specific time or experience. We don't just remember the movie, we remember that we saw it at the Uptown, and that becomes a part of the experience. Any others out there want to share?

Red said...

Great post!
I've taken my 12 year old there for some of the more important films. I'm concerned about the lines for this Harry Potter though.

Nice to know others feel as I do about this theater.