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Thursday, July 24, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 54.0° F  A Few Clouds
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Westgate Cinemas fades to black
The decades-old movie house finally closes its doors

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The first movie I ever saw in Madison was at Westgate Cinemas - Torch Song Trilogy, with Harvey Fierstein festooned in drag, barking orders at everyone. This was February 1989, and I'd just arrived in town, partly to write about movies, and I was curious to see where I'd be spending a good deal of my time. Well, curiosity killed the cat. Westgate was one of those '60s movie houses; you've seen one, you've seen the mall. But the sound and picture quality weren't that bad, and the place grew on me over the years, as the movie memories started piling up. I'll always remember it as the place where I saw Mulholland Drive and Brokeback Mountain. And Once, which I went to twice. More recently, I caught a late-in-the-run screening of Towelhead. No one else was there, just me and one of the best movies of the year.

Marcus has finally pulled the plug on what is now called Westgate Art Cinemas, the programming having been largely devoted to independent film over the last several years. I say "finally" because it isn't like we haven't seen the signs. Ever since Sundance Cinemas came to town, with their top-of-the-line movie-going "experience," Westgate has been scrambling to retain its footing. Classic movies, cult movies, Bollywood movies, Hollywood movies in Spanish, stand-up comedians - they tried everything over there except handing out free dishes. (Hey, it worked during the Great Depression.) And although you had to admire their willingness to think outside the box, you also had to wonder how long they could hang on. Sundance brings a lot of clout to the table when negotiating with film companies. And after a year and a half of operation, that curving lobby still smells brand-new.

Westgate perhaps never smelled brand-new, even when it was brand-new, but there was a slight funkiness I'd grown to appreciate. I'll miss walking by the beauty college and the martial-arts school, the line of people at the DMV, the mall walkers who always seemed like they were in such a hurry. I wanted to tell them to slow down, take in a movie, but I never did. Anyway, it was a nice run, Westgate. Thanks for the memories, and will the last person to leave please turn off the projectors?

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