Commentary

  • April 20, 2007

    When will retro be more in style?

    When it comes to classic movie theaters still standing, we certainly don’t have an embarrassment of riches. Sadly when I think of all the articles I edit about opening/closings, we have a disproportionate number of the latter. When it comes to the lucky survivors though, they often make it to the next chapter of their lives through the implementation of a mixed-use policy. A lot of old movie palaces exist today because they can offer live theatre and concerts as well as film. Where does that leave the great theaters built during the sound age that don’t have stages?

    Maybe it’s the fact that people can’t identify with the style(certainly a simpler departure from the deep themes of the theaters built before them) and maybe it’s the lack of usage possibilities, but the postwar single-screeners seem to have been rapidly depleting even more so than their predecessors. There obviously weren’t as many single screens built after the war, but still. With some of the most key examples of the 60’s and 70’s like the Indian Hills Theater, Cine Capri or the UA Cinema 150 already gone, one wonders if any will be around in another ten years.

    With the closing of the Mann National last night, Los Angeles might still have plenty of great theaters to rest on but an irreplaceable treasure has been lost. The special time-warped feeling anyone with a pulse would get from walking in there is something even the most thoughtfully produced theater today could not replicate.

  • April 13, 2007

    Another LRS in Los Angeles

    LOS ANGELES, CA — It’s not everyday you get to walk into one of downtown Los Angeles' movie palaces. Even rarer is it that you actually see a film there. With this year’s 21st annual Last Remaining Seats film series from the Los Angeles Conservancy, you’ll get both. Throw in some live entertainment and a chance to also see a film in two other grand settings and you have one event you can’t miss.

    They’ll be another great lineup of theaters this year as usual. The first four evenings will visit the always popular Orpheum and Los Angeles Theatres. Then for the first time ever, the series will go to Hollywood’s John Anson Ford Amphitheatre. The location was never a movie theater, but a screen will be brought in for a special outdoor evening. Closing out the event, the series will visit the majestic Alex Theatre in Glendale.

    Much thought went into creating the perfect evening each week this year so it’s more than just the movie. From a fashion show to live music to even a possible visit from one of the classic film’s stars, it will definitely be an unforgettable year for Last Remaining Seats. Vintage trailers and shorts will also precede some films.

  • April 6, 2007

    A little slice of Paradise

    I thought it was about time I get out of Los Angeles and see another city’s movie palaces upfront. I don’t get out of town too much these days so I had to make the most of my trip to New York last weekend. Scheduling came together perfectly though and I happened to be going into the Bronx Monday morning, a perfect time to stop by the newly renovated Paradise Theater.

    The Paradise is one of the five Loew’s Wonder Theaters, grandiose palaces all built in 1929-1930 to serve as the chain’s New York flagship theaters. With the exception of the still shuttered Kings, the other three had been operating in some capacity for a while. Many believed the Paradise’s end could come tragically with so little life coming out of it for years. Then, in 2005, an aggressive renovation restored the treasure to its former glory.

    With the Grand Concourse not being the entertainment hub of the Bronx it once was, it certainly has its hurdles. Once a perfect central location, the tight, traffic-consumed Bronx streets make it not the easiest place to visit nowadays. Throw on the fact that many outside the boroughs don’t even view the Bronx as a nightlife destination, instead thinking of New York City as only Manhattan, and you see what the theatre is up against.

    Despite this and other factors, the Paradise has been slowly gaining ground. What at first was a spotty schedule of events now with new management is a constantly progressing lineup of shows, concerts and sporting events. And they’re not stopping there. They aim to make the Paradise on par with Radio City and with newly added luxuries like skyboxes and a full-service restaurant, an even more glamorous entertainment destination.

    CT: The theatre was closed down for a while. Why now has it come back into action?

    PAR: Only 2 years ago did we finally get the million of dollars in investments to restore the theatre to how it looked in 1929. It now looks better than it ever did.

    CT: How has the public reaction been so far? Attendance?

    PAR: People are really enjoying it. The Bronx Borough President has even stopped by. The latest concert sold out immediately and more are being booked all the time. We have more coming in the next few months than we had all of the first year. I can’t tell you how many people have come in and told me about their first dates they had here and stuff. When Beyonce shot her latest video on this stage, she couldn’t believe that this amazing theater was here. So many have discovered it only now.

  • March 30, 2007

    The age of the aficionado

    I held out on buying a DVD player for the first five years of its existence. After all those years of investing in VHS, it was really annoying having to replace all that material. Like a fool, I thought, “how could it be that much better?”

    Five years ago, I finally caved in and got one. My bank account hasn’t been the same since. I didn’t just replace those favorites I had on video, I went all out. Like so many people I’ve seen, I became obsessed with cultivating the ultimate DVD collection. I had to possess key examples of every era, of every genre. I wanted to people to come into my apartment, spot it and say, “wow, that guy knows movies!”

    My intentions weren’t purely egotistical though, I swear. What really got me with DVDs was the presentation. I’d always appreciated it when videos would have extra content. When I sunk my teeth into my first special edition DVD, I was in heaven. It’s these bonus features that made me look at DVDs not just in terms of the main film but as more of an encyclopedia on the subject. In this sense, I truly felt like I was building a library.

  • March 23, 2007

    Man, I sure love ArcLight

    I’ve been harboring this little secret ever since writing for this site. Part of me thinks I might me labeled a heretic for even suggesting such a thing. Despite my love for the grand movie palaces of yesterday, my favorite place to see a film may just be ArcLight Cinemas.

    For those not in the Hollywood area, let me bring you up to speed. ArcLight Cinemas is a luxury multiplex built five years ago in back of the historic Cinerama Dome on Sunset Boulevard. As opposed to other standard theaters thrown up today, ArcLight was created to incorporate many ideas that cater to a passionate audience.

    For a couple extra dollars on weekends and virtually the same price as competing theaters during the week, you get reserved seating, no commercials, an introduction to the film by a member of the staff and an almost absurd amount of legroom and armrest space. They also at least attempt to typically show only the more desirable pictures in the marketplace, both small and big.

  • March 16, 2007

    Where are they now? – Carthay Circle Theatre

    It’s so hard for me to look at this picture and not think about all those great memories I’ve had in that building. Walking down from Wilshire on those sunny days to bask in its hollow steel interior. Taking that orange bus over to revel in its magnificent architecture. One almost wonders what’s the holdup in getting a trendy restaurant to open up next store so you can hit two birds with the same stone. It makes sense. An urban slice of paradise? For sure.

    Wait a second. I’ve never walked inside this building for pleasure. In fact, I don’t have a single positive memory of this place. In truth, no sadder sight exists on all the streets of Los Angeles. That ugly box-like monstrosity you see right there was built right over the ruins of arguably the city’s greatest showplace of all, the Carthay Circle Theatre.

    It’s hard to grasp the extent of this theatre’s popularity with so many others stealing the spotlight in town. Maybe if the theaters still standing in Westwood, Hollywood, and Downtown didn’t exist, more attention would be given to this particular one. It didn’t take long for me to hear about it though. Ask anyone that’s been around Los Angeles longer than forty years what the greatest theater loss was and the answer undoubtedly turns to this. You have to understand that the Carthay Circle had significantly more world premieres than even Grauman’s Chinese. With the light atop beaming for miles, it cast quite a shadow in a town with more than one movie palace.

    “The world’s greatest films were shown here before (being) released to other theaters,” longtime Carthay Circle neighborhood resident Elizabeth Polim said. “After a film had a long session at Carthay other theatres then were given an opportunity to show these films. Films selected for Cathay were (shown there for) the first time.”

  • March 2, 2007

    A Change of Seasons

    Every fall, we can breathe a little easier because we know those award-contending films are coming. Some may let us down and others may come out of nowhere to surprise us, but we know somehow amongst the variety we’ll find some gems. Each summer, it’s time to dish out the popcorn because those big-budget franchise pics come to our doorsteps. Surely the majority of the sequels will be forgettable but you never know about those smaller films counter-released at the same time.

    The film release schedule gets rather predictable over the years. While a great film would probably do well if released anytime of the year, the studios can’t help but go for a little extra by picking a choice date. On another note, they also can’t resist unloading a dud when no one will notice.

    I was thinking yesterday though, “how does moviegoing change season to season?” Outside of the obvious(more children during summers and holidays), what do we come to expect from theaters at different times of the year?

    Going to the movies can often be an escape, from the weather or even the holidays. Maybe a free day off in the middle of the week causes you to go to your local theater and enjoy a film with no one else around.

  • February 23, 2007

    Digital Cinema and You

    Pretty soon, the theater landscape as we know it will be changing dramatically. Gone will be those pesky cigarette burns and color shifting in between reels. Even if you see a film a month after it came out, you’ll still be looking at a pristine print. But what price will we be paying for this new revolution? How will digital cinema change the layout of what we know as a movie theater?

    New cinemas are already trying to attract people looking for all types of entertainment. 18 screens just isn’t enough anymore. Now, you have to have a cafe, a bowling alley, as well as be in close proximity to restaurants. Digital cinema will take that one step further.

    You know those events you read about with the opera performances and live concerts being projected in movie theaters. Well, there’s going to be a lot more of that. Digital projectors have been around for years but what’s really going to turn things upside down is digital distribution. Once a variety of features is just a click away, a lot more screens will be used to show programming outside of standard films. Will the idea of a theater maintain its luster or will cinemas just become collections of big rooms with lots of seats where you find product available elsewhere?

  • February 16, 2007

    S.O.S. – SAVE OUR SENATOR! (Interview with Tom Kiefaber)

    BALTIMORE, MD — There are very few theaters in the country today that still have that universal appeal and are operating at the peak of their strengths. So many have fallen by the wayside and are either gone or just a shell of their former selves. For those in Baltimore though, moviegoing has always been a little more special because they’ve had the Senator Theatre.

    Recently, though this seemingly perfect marriage of venue and community has been in danger. The Senator could close next week and go on the auction block due to recent turmoil with the bank. For those that have ever had the pleasure of taking part in a Senator experience or for anyone that wants to preserve one of the last remaining neighborhood movie palaces in this country, they need your help desperately.

    If you can help, please go to the Senator website and donate via paypal. Pass the message along to any theater enthusiast you know, too! If the proper funds cannot be raised by Wednesday February 21st at 1:30PM, the Senator as we know it can become a thing of the past. Over 60% of the goal has been met at the time of this article’s publishing so please help the Senator cross the finish line still standing.

    Alarmed by the news when I first heard about this issue last week, I wanted to get the facts. Never having the pleasure of visiting the Senator myself, I was pretty much in the dark about its history. However, within minutes of talking to the legendary theater’s owner, Tom Kiefaber, I felt right at home as if I’d been watching movies there all my life.

    CT: Tell me a little bit about the history of the theater and how it’s been since you’ve personally been working there?

    TK: My Grandfather started out in the theater business almost 100 years ago. After creating Durkee Enterprises, he at one time controlled 40 of Baltimore’s 175 movie theaters. Now, there are just 3.

    The Senator was built in 1939, the golden year of the Golden Age of Hollywood. Despite its status as the big theater for Baltimore, it started out as one of neighborhood movie houses in the chain. Originally, it had 1150 seats but that has gone down to 900. It’s lasted so long because it was such a well-designed suburban movie house.

    I grew up in the Senator. With all the theaters in the family chain, I went to this one the most just cause it was near my house. I was the most popular kid on Saturday mornings cause my friends and I would go see movies in the different theaters all day!

    Around 1977, everything changed. When “Star Wars” came along, no one had every seen a picture with that high level of technological innovation. With this film as a benchmark, I immediately got more involved with the business and made it my goal to raise the bar even higher for the Senator’s already stellar technical standards.

    Since then, we’ve made a name for ourselves by having an extremely high standard for presentation. Besides that, we also go the extra mile by having one less showing of a film per day so people can hang around after the show and we can fully clean the auditorium following each program.

    CT: While looking over your site, I noticed credit cards can’t be used to buy tickets. With more and more theaters teaming up with online ticketing services, how do you get away with only accepting cash?

    TK: We have plans to make the theater economically stable. Until that happens though, we can’t carry out a lot of ideas that would bring the theater more up to date. We want a computerized system for ticketing along with many other advances.

    For example, we want to retrofit the theater so it can be used for more concerts. We already had 15 major ones but to attract other strong acts, we need to install new sound equipment. We have a lot of plans but until we can make an investment, we can’t get the benefit. It takes money to make money!

  • February 9, 2007

    Long Nights with Movie Trailers

    In his book of comedy, “Seinlanguage”, Jerry Seinfeld mused about the joy of driving to the movie theater. He said that the excitement of what the movie could be exceeded the movie itself. I don’t exactly remember how this concept fit into his routine, but I do recall that idea hitting home with me personally. Especially when I’m on the way to one of those films I’ve been anxiously awaiting for months, the prelude to the moment of consummation is definitely superior, most of the time.

    With movies though, there’s one extra forum for anticipation, the trailer. Call it a cruel joke or a slice of heaven. To me, there’s nothing better than those few minutes of bliss. At that point, it’s a clean slate. Anything can happen. Minus whatever you might have heard or read on the internet, these few scenes could be your only connection before it hits theaters.

    Of course in most cases, the product never lives up to the previews. What you see are the best jokes or even worse, scenes with information key to the story’s plot that you probably wouldn’t have wanted to know beforehand. One director, Robert Zemeckis, actually encourages providing crucial plot details in trailers because he believes that people want to know the whole story beforehand or they won’t pay to see it. Bob, I love your movies but come on. Why do you do this to me?