Location: Les cours Mont-Royal, 1455 rue Peel, downtown Montreal, Quebec.
Owner: Cineplex-Odeon.
Screens: 3
Opened: 1987
Architect's Web page, with pix, at http://www.mesbursmith.com/mp4.htm

Despite the name, "the Egyptian" in Montreal plays English-language films almost exclusively. It specializes in flicks that are just off the edge of the mainstream -- indie films starring big-name actors doing little projects for fun (think Dogma or Being John Malkovich) or imports that are expected to do well in the North American market (think Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon).

The theatres themselves are standard-issue medium-sized downtown cinemas with moderately comfortable seats, largeish screens and decent but unspectacular sound. The decoration within is a little unusual, but nothing really special all by itself. What distinguishes the Egyptian is how you get to its theatres.

The entrance to the cinema is on the lower floor of an office-building shopping mall, an escalator-ride down from street level, on the edge of a food court that's bustling during the day but usually deserted and closed by the time anyone would seriously be thinking about going to the movies. The public face of the Egyptian is small: two box offices on either side of a pair of double doors, with a fluorescent panel on one side serving as the marquee. Being as how it's in the basement, the ceiling is pretty low. The place isn't a secret or anything, but it's not flashy. Maybe there are a couple of people standing around waiting for their dates to arrive, but no matter what's playing, it always seems like a dead night at the movies.

But once you've bought your ticket, you're in for a treat. Pay the girl in the booth and step through the doors, already.

Once you're in, you're faced with an escalator, always headed up toward you, and a stairway down. They're long, and you can't see the end till you're ready to make your way down. Down you go... down... down past blue-pastel paint and vertical mirrors and little flashy bits of neon... down fifty feet as if it were an inch.

Step forward off the escalator and honest-to-Ra you're in the grand chamber of a pyramid. Huge pillars go way up to an enormous vaulted ceiling. Hieroglyphics are carved -- carved! -- into the walls and everything is painted with two-dimensional Nile-style figures, twisting around the pillars and soaring up to the indistinct heights.

Down here, it's crowded. This is where everyone was hiding. Ten minutes before you can get your popcorn, easy, and you'll have to shoulder your way past them all to get to the theatre where they're showing your film.

"I love this place," one of my best friends told me as we waited in line for our junk food altogether too many years ago, on the kind of evening that you both later wish you'd had the guts to call a date. "It's like getting to see a movie on a whole other planet."

Or it was, anyway. As part of a corporate restructuring, the Egyptian (and no fewer than five other pre-megaplex-era theatres in downtown Montreal) closed on Feb. 15, 2001.

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