- Phife and Jarobi, rocking a show in Beats, Rhymes & Life. (publicity still)
The current offerings at Loews Shirlington, Arlington's beloved art house theater, include Woody Allen's high-class rom-com Midnight in Paris, the Gray Lady doc Page One: Inside the New York Times, and the amazingly well-done Beats, Rhymes & Life, which documents of the ups and downs of legendary Queens hip-hop quartet A Tribe Called Quest. BR&L tells the Tribe's story through interviews and is filled with the group's music.
So, the Tribe movie, unlike Midnight in Paris, makes the theater's speakers shake. At showings this week, Tribe's hits tested the limits of the sound system in Theater 1; as enjoyable as the movie was, it was like listening to a great song blaring through a busted car speaker. One movie-goer remarked of the low-quality sound, "Damn, glad we didn't see, like, Transformers 3 here."
I asked a few discerning hip-hop listeners if they'd experienced similar problems at other area theaters, but, by all accounts, the movie sounded great at the Magic Johnson Theater at the BLVD in Largo, Loews Georgetown, and downtown's Landmark E Street Cinema. It even sounded fine at Shirlington during opening weekend. So what gives? Did the Tribe doc blow a speaker at Shirlington? Did some enthusiastic person just crank up the volume in the theater, distorting the sound?
I called up Loews Shirlington and asked them why their speakers seemed so ill-equipped for blasting out the hip-hop hysteria. A woman who asked that she only be referenced as "a manager" wasn't aware of the issue, and said the theater has a state-of-the-art sound system, but conceded that Shirlington doesn't exactly get a ton of loud concert films and music docs that challenge its audio capabilities.
"We have Dolby digital sound," she told me. "We don't have digital projectors, but that shouldn't cause any problem in accomodating music."
"We're a little art house. The last [hip-hop movie] we had here was that Joaquin Phoenix documentary-- that came for a week, and then left. This one is here until next week, and then I don't know after that," she said.
"The patrons here are older, and not really of [the hip-hop] generation, so it doesn't really come up a lot."