Closing Attraction

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By Hank Stuever
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 11, 2008

Everything's closing. Aren't you sick of everything closing? Aren't you sick of the stories about everything closing? It could be its own full-time beat at the paper now, the wistfully poetic last-call report from doomed roadhouses, dive bars, record stores, drag queen cabarets, indie-rock art galleries, Yenching Palace, A.V. Ristorante Italiano, the Childe Harold and that polka place in Jessup. Everything's closing and CVS is opening.

I say: The Dupont 5 movie theater is shutting down on Sunday.

You say: Good!

Well, now, hold on there. Was the Dupont 5 that bad?

You say: Yes! It was! Don't write anything sad! Are you nuts?

Then we'll merely submit that some of us liked it. Maybe we liked it more as a feeling than an actual place -- that little thrill of taking in a small-budget, critic-friendly movie that you stop and see, at the last minute, on your walk home from work through Dupont Circle. ("One, please," you'd tell the unhappy person in the small box office at 1350 19th St. NW.)

It was sorta New York. They built it that way, the original owners, in 1987, after shuttering the bigger Dupont Theater that once faced Connecticut Avenue on the other side of the building. (The old theater had 360 seats and one screen and was built in 1948 -- and closed in 1986 after a marathon run of "Hannah and Her Sisters.") The owners wanted the new, smaller theater to feel like a page out of Tama Janowitz's New York: compromised on space, but big on ideas, and crawling with film majors. It was about Saturdays unspooling like film, a film about your make-believe life in the city. Fresh flowers and bookstores and funky movies.

Think back to being sardined into one of the Dupont 5's teensy auditoriums on a freezing Friday night, to see another new Woody Allen movie blow it yet again. Everyone would be exhausted from just trying to get into the theater alive, get tickets, get popcorn, get seats, which always creaked, which did nothing for the lumbar, and there was that wet, woolly smell of overcoats and scarves. Everyone in a Dupont 5 audience had coughs. Always the same dumb Fandango ads before the trailers, with the paper-bag puppets. The bathrooms always smelled, and 10 people were always waiting to get into them. Management swapped the men's room for the women's room a few years ago, which only made things worse.

It was like seeing a movie in a troopship. It required discipline. Even Moviefone couldn't improve life at the Dupont 5. How is it possible to regard all that with joy?

It just is.

And now the last of the central city's dumpy movie theaters is going dark, like others before it. Among the recently departed are the Outer Circle on Wisconsin Avenue (weekend matinees of period movies about royalty, always mobbed with old ladies), the Inner Circle on M Street (mysterious filmgoers playing hooky from work, to watch documentaries about torture), the Foundry (seven screens, down, down, down in that Georgetown office building basement) and the Janus 3. (The Heinous Janus, despised for the pillar in one auditorium that obstructed the view for people in three rows.) Gone, baby, gone.

Sentiment is not exactly in order for the Dupont miniplex, except for those of us with nostalgia-prone hearts way bigger than any of its five screens.


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© 2008 The Washington Post Company

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