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The Circle closes

Posted by Wesley Morris  August 26, 2008 03:21 PM

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It was inevitable, I suppose, that the Circle Cinemas in Cleveland Circle would be put out of its misery. The theater never seemed not to be on its last leg. But the remarkable thing was how no one employee there seemed to mind or notice. The incongruity always broke my heart: The nicest, most efficient men and women worked at one of the worst places to watch a movie. Most of the houses at the Cleveland were like airless caves colored in sea foam, and the movie was the literal light at the end of a tunnel.

I remember a lot of what I watched there -- "Eurotrip" a few years ago, "Fred Claus" last winter, "Frontière(s)" this spring -- half because what I saw was indelible in its way (the two other people at my Saturday afternoon showing of "Frontière(s)" and I left feeling like survivors of something powerfully awful), half because the theater kept insinuating itself.

Not only did the chairs squeak, they put you absurdly low to the ground; or at least that's how it seemed. The sound of shoes unsticking themselves from the floor always made me want to see who was headed across the row and up the aisle. And if we're being honest, the average Cleveland Circle client came in two flavors: college kid and crazy. Which, of course, raises a serious concern regarding homeless moviegoers. As far as I could tell, bustling attendance was never the theater's strong suit. But the clientele seemed loyal, even if only as a consequence of proximity. "Superbad" was always playing across the screen. Now where will the kids go to watch its not-so-secret sequel, "Pineapple Express"? Where, when something ends as bananas yet banal as "300," will they stand to contemplate the bananality of it all? Certainly not that expanse of windows that overlooks Brookline. Not anymore.

On several late afternoons, I've stood there on the second level, just before that long, long ramp brings you back to the lobby, and squinted out of one of those windows, past the blinding sun, to contemplate the meaning of whatever it was I just saw. The last time I was there I turned around and notice the upstairs lobby and how the sunlight managed to liberate it from that dumpy place in my brain. The last time I saw it looked like a palace.

(The excellent photo is by Joe Laskowski.)

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34 comments so far...
  1. I completely agree. I've refused to go there for the last 10 years because it was such a disappointing place to watch a movie (small screens in particular). It seems insane that the owners never spent a dime updating the place into a real movie theater since the location should be a knockout. Reading their press release in the paper today was laughable, lamenting the fact that the location was no longer viable. It's not the location, pal. It's your crappy theater! I hope they can sell it to another chain or even an independent (see Kendall) that can do something with it since as much as I like Fenway, it'd be nice to have another option that was easier to get to.

    Posted by sean in west roxbury August 26, 08 05:47 PM
  1. Wesley, I wrote to you years ago with regard to your rambling, self-obsessed misinterpretation of The Last King of Scotland. It was the first time I had ever taken the time to write to anyone at a newspaper or any other publication for that matter. Surprisingly, you responded and we exchanged a couple e-mails. I was entertained.

    This is only the second time I've been inspired enough to actually write. Simply, I have no idea what you're trying to say in your piece with regard to Cleveland Circle. This is not an instance of your words or interpretations being "above the heads" of the lowly masses. Like Dan Shaughnessy of the Globe's sports section, you seem not to have taken a basic English class in college and certainly not to have excelled in an advanced class in creative writing. Further, your self-obsessed and unjustifiably flippant tone overwhelms what little substance there is in your piece to the point where you literally articulate nothing.

    Your writing is like the nonsensical journal entry of a 14-year-old girl. Please don't take offense and merely improve. And please, if you could, forward this e-mail to Dan Shaughnessy as it is directed as much to him as it is to you. The fact that his amateurish and bland opinion pieces are published on a regular basis sums up the failing state of print media in nutshell.

    Donald Draper

    Posted by Ian August 26, 08 06:08 PM
  1. I remember kids (certainly not me not ever) throwing popcorn from the balcony. I remember Gigi and someone calling out, when the puppet master was kissing her arm "just like eating corn on the cob." Ah--such glorious irreverance! I remember sneaking lipstick on and washing it off in the bathroom, before and after the movies. Ah well. Progress will out, won't it!

    Posted by Linda August 26, 08 07:31 PM
  1. Yeah, I kept going back, partly because it was never crowded. But I gave up on it this summer not after seeing a rat run down the aisle in the middle of the movie, but when I complained 4 times that Indiana Jones was completely out of focus and nobody seemed to care. I'll miss the convenience and sparse attendance but I have to admit that every time I saw a movie there, I wondered why they were still open.

    Posted by Rich August 26, 08 08:58 PM
  1. I remember the cinema well as a teen in the 1980s. It was a bit of a shock to return after nearly 20 years away from Boston to find that hardly a thing had changed about the place (a bit like the aging green line trolley cars that snake past it). The convenience of the place, and a bit of nostalgia, drew me to its screens when I moved back to Brookline. But what a disaster! Last year, I endured the first 20 minutes of a film with the cinema lights still on (someone forgot to flick the switch when the feature started). The thin crowds should have been a positive. But the sad lack of other moviegoers just gave the place a gloomy and even seedy air at times. I gave up when -- like the last poster -- I saw a mouse or a rat scamper across the aisle. That was too much. But I hope someone can revive the place. There is something very retro and in a way rare about the cinema -- and the location is excellent. It was simply one of the worst run cinemas around.

    Posted by Jason August 26, 08 10:25 PM
  1. What is happening to the building?

    Posted by MJ August 27, 08 01:11 AM
  1. As a kid, growing up in Brookline just two blocks away, I remember the old Cleveland Circle Theater before it was renovated into the current, Showcase Cinema in 1965. Dwarfing its neighbor, Howard Johnson’s, it was a large, orange-brown, brick building with each letter spelled out individually across the rooftop (C - I - R -C - L - E). The manager was an old crusty fellow who scared many a kid from letting a friend sneak in through the exit tunnels along the sides of the stage.

    Every main feature was preceded by "Short Subjects". Kid’s tickets were 35 cents and for major presentations, like Swiss Family Robinson, tickets were 50 cents. There was a balcony and it was almost, always closed except for major movies.

    When the theatre re-opened in 1965, it was state of the art. An old fashioned Hollywood premier-style gala took place with floodlights beamed in the night sky and Debbie Reynolds, herself, in attendance. I'm wondering if the movie was The Flying Nun. I was there, myself, as a spectator and I remember the radiance and sparkle of Ms. Reynolds as she stepped out of her limousine. It was the first, and possibly the only, time I've seen a movie star in person.

    The last movie I saw there was Jaws, in June of 1978, before moving to the west coast. I'm saddened to hear of the theater's closing. It is truly, the last vestige of Cleveland Circle as we knew it from the past. I'll always have fond memories of the place.

    Posted by Shawn August 27, 08 01:27 AM
  1. The end of an least we still have Mary Ann's to keep Cleveland Circle classy. And I only hope The Ground Round is still serving the best half-cooked steak I ever tasted. I saw "National Lampoon's Senior Trip" at this place and was disappointed that it got snubbed at Oscar time. Sitting in the seats in some of those theaters was like getting in and out of a low-hanging hammock. An old, weather-beaten, dilapitaded hammock. Farewell old friend.

    Posted by Jasonian Device August 27, 08 01:38 AM
  1. I lived three blocks away by the res for twenty years and it really was a terrible theater especially the small ones in the back with the angled seating but I used to go there all the time if a film was playing in the big screens, especially when we got hit with a major snowstorm and the car was buried. Perfect. Of course I would often wonder what I was thinking--now I live in LA with fantastic theaters everywhere you turn and I really wonder what I was thinking but from "Silence of the Lambs to "Husband and Wives" and beyond it holds great memories

    Posted by ken c August 27, 08 04:40 AM
  1. Another example of owners who are either too obsolete to change or too cheap for reinvestment.. The place is a gold mind. Location is great and its function as an alternative theatre to the larger ones is fantastic, wise and monetarily feasable.

    Posted by Jass August 27, 08 07:53 AM
  1. We must have seen the same rat...or one of his/her close relatives. I guess foreclosure not only affects us. Pity

    Posted by Stephen August 27, 08 08:12 AM
  1. Always went here for convenience mostly, on those rare times I wanted to see a big-screen flick that would never play at the Coolidge. My fondest memory was watching Sweeney Todd while mice ran up and down the rows of chairs, nibbling at popcorn. It may have been disgusting, but it actually brought the horrors of 19th century London very much to life...

    Posted by A. Oakley August 27, 08 08:59 AM
  1. Before there were 1,200-watt seat shaker speakers and 30,000 watt theatre surround systems to make you phsyically feel the movie, there was the Circle theater's proximity to the D train that would rattle by causing everyone to feel the vibrations however out of sync with the movie's soundtrack. I went there often back in college, and I recall seeing at least Beyond Rangoon and Remains of the Day back in the early 90s... That and the Ground Round... A filthy little corner of the universe with dirty floors riddled with popcorn. Gawd Lovem!

    Posted by Andre August 27, 08 09:19 AM
  1. Well, I grew up in Boston and 25 years ago was the hey day of Circle Cinema-
    You had to drive around the parking lot a few times to find a parking spot. In high school, we would go to the Ground Round next door and walk over to Circle to see a movie. It was also easy to get to by train for kids. Heck, I had my first date there when I was 13. It certainly served its purpose in the 80's.

    With Stadium seating in Fenway and Downtown, I am not sure why anybody has gone there in the last decade. I think Chestnut Hill will be the next to fall. I do have nice memories of this outdate movie houses-

    Posted by Shawn August 27, 08 10:03 AM
  1. Until the Fenway and Boston Common theaters opened, other than the Chesnut Hill theater, on the whole, the theaters in Brookline and Boston where pretty poor. I used to hate how it seemed the Circle would get the films I wanted to see instead of Chesnut Hill, and even worse, when I decided instead of traveling I'd go to the Circle, the movie I wanted to see was on one of the small screens in the back.

    Thankfully for moviegoers the choices for theaters in Boston/Brookline these days is much better.

    Posted by bruce August 27, 08 10:23 AM
  1. About a year ago some friends and I opened the door to the ladies room and the biggest rat I've ever seen, about the size of a small cat, was sitting right in the middle of the room. We complained to the people working and they laughed, they thought it was the funniest thing ever. I'm surprised that theatre has lasted as long as it has. I hope they put another theatre in there that isn't totally disgusting!

    Posted by MrsMas August 27, 08 10:50 AM
  1. My favorite memory involving the circle...YEARS ago (1984?) I saw Purple Rain there on a date with a high school girl from another town. After the movie we took the make-out session to the park. We were rolling around in the grass oblivious to the world. Soon we heard this whirring noise. The noise kept getting louder and louder until it was almost deafening. Finally I opened my eyes to see the Goodyear blimp literally right on top of us! It was quite a shock to say the least.

    Posted by Dave August 27, 08 11:08 AM
  1. I haven't been there in years, since I moved out of that location, but the place has fond memories for me. I remember waiting in line to see a preview of "Full Metal Jacket". The buzz from the crowd as the credits rolled after "Blue Velvet". Seeing "Bull Durham" there on a date with the woman who became my wife. Seeing many midnight shows there...rolling out of the theater at 2:45 some mornings. Watching a movie on a Saturday afternoon, walking into another room there to watch the previews, and sitting through another movie. The place has a lot of nostalgia for me, probably not so for people who are younger. If you love movies, the movie and the place where you watched it become linked forever.

    Posted by orson August 27, 08 11:08 AM
  1. it was a crappy place to watch a movie 20 yrs ago. I can count the attendance with 2 hands. But what an inexpensive way to spend a summer afternoon when it's 90+ outside and your high school pals were manning the joint?

    Posted by noslen August 27, 08 11:08 AM
  1. I hope at least that another theater repons near there, maybe a brew and view like they have in Portland OR or an independent cinema like the Somerville theatre. Boston is so lacking in theaters, the various boston film fest generally are in Brookline, Cambridge and Somerville theaters but not in Boston since they are really just 2 mega theaters.

    Posted by sean August 27, 08 11:44 AM
  1. Not only was it an awful place to see a movie, getting out of the parking lot was a such a hassle. About a quarter mile drive with people trying to park on the non-existent shoulder.

    I hated that place. . .

    Posted by Benkei August 27, 08 12:03 PM
  1. Another theater I refuse to go to: Alewife cinemas (or whatever they're called).

    Worst. Theater. Ever

    Posted by PC August 27, 08 12:15 PM
  1. I can still remember taking my wife there when we were dating back in the mid-seventies, so it's kind of sad.

    Posted by Gary August 27, 08 12:15 PM
  1. Just an awful dirty place with small movie screens. Especially in the last 10 years when newer theatres made it completely outdated.

    It always seemed that there was a mob of hooligans intent on 'not' watching whatever was on screen as well as a miasma of sugarcoated yuck permeating the auditorium.

    It did have a great location, but that just made the place more pathetic.

    so useless, such a shame.

    Posted by Mike August 27, 08 12:16 PM
  1. OK, Circle does have many problems. But here are a coupld of things I do like:

    - Two LARGE screens, with good size auditoriums. Not many of these around any more. I bet a new owner will carve these up.

    - A phone number I can call and speak with a real person to find out which films are shown on the LARGE screens. As an aside, why do the cinema ads never clarify which films are shown on the LARGE screens?

    - A free parking lot.

    Posted by fairnsquare August 27, 08 12:20 PM
  1. Last movie I saw there was "Dumb and Dumber", at least my memory of the place will have been a good one.

    Posted by Dave August 27, 08 01:56 PM
  1. I stopped going there because the punks went there for the late show looking for trouble to start.I remember seeing a kid who worked there who rubbing his head after being hit in the head.Not good.There are better cinemas out there but I guess the Circle cinema ran its course.It was a decent location next to 3 T stops.
    Nobody liked the parking lot which was hilarious some night cause of the grumbling when people came in.Course it would've been more helpful if they got there a little earlier!
    Well whatever goes in there will be a vast improvement.

    Posted by sam August 27, 08 01:59 PM
  1. Sad but understandable. I worked there in the late 80's while I was in college and remember many fun times. Met great people and enjoyed the midnight shows, premiers, and art events there. Never mind that you had to scare the rats away and park on the other side of the baseball fields . . . It was a great theater in it's time!

    Posted by Jill August 27, 08 02:25 PM
  1. All in all, I am still going to miss it.

    Posted by Moses August 27, 08 03:08 PM
  1. it is only sad when you suspend reality for a few moments. i grew up in allston in the 80's, duran duran, V66, all of it and i was just a kid and Circle Cinema, THAT was THE Movie Theater!!! it was either that or cinema 57 right next to PURITY SUPREME, wow, so long ago. anybody who remembers any of this knows whut i'm talking about. i'm sad for the memories but at the same not sad because the last time i went there a few years ago, i couldn't believe that i was watching what amounted to a big screen television. ah, Godzilla 1985.

    Posted by Benny August 27, 08 04:08 PM
  1. Ahh.. I remember the 70's when the Circle Theater played the avante guard and noir films. The movies only the enlightnened, brainiacs, foreign fiends, cultists or geeks loved to talk about in the Cambridge coffee houses the following week.

    I remember when Mickey, the manager introducing William Freidkin fresh from his waterfront warehouse to talk about film making at it's bare bones essence.

    Goodbye old Circle Theater. Good bye Mickey.

    Thanks for the memories

    Posted by Cindy August 27, 08 04:09 PM
  1. By the time I stopped going to the CIrcle, I think half of my friends had flat screens TVS that were bigger than the smaller theaters in the back...yet I will always have a soft spot for the decrepit Circle if only for the french kisses I shared there back when I was thirteen

    Posted by Johnny G August 27, 08 11:27 PM
  1. I made a comment here two days ago, but the moderator never approved it. I don't understand why.

    TY RESPONDS: Because it's the end of the summer and a long weekend and only Wesley and I are the ones pushing the OK button for comments. And because I was at the beach with my kids. Sorry, Ron.

    Posted by Ron Newman August 28, 08 07:04 PM
  1. Aww.. I just returned to Boston after visiting from time to time.. and my best friend and I decided to go remenise on old times and go watch a movie.. Sadly after looking up theaters.. thats how we discovered that the Circle Cinema has been shut down...

    Back in the 90s the theater was still good..I cant recall any of the things people mention ever so negative about the place... I have fond memories...
    My first date was there...

    Aww the memories...

    Posted by Karina .D. September 26, 08 02:42 PM

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Ty Burr is a film critic with The Boston Globe.

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