Commentary

  • 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?

  • February 2, 2007

    The Sleeping Giant of Hollywood

    To many, the Hollywood classic movie theater scene appears like a great success story. Renovations aside, the Chinese and to a much lesser extent the Egyptian still have reminders of their opulent heyday. The El Capitan has successfully converted itself into a showplace for all things Disney. Even the Cinerama Dome is showing actual Cinerama films on occasion.

    But one major treasure has remained intact and the future is not so clear. So long it has sat in limbo, rarely open to the public. We’d all like to see it restored to its former glory and have it available to us in some form, but with it already bruised from a triplexing years ago and so little word from its owners over time, who knows what the future holds?

    Of course, I am talking about the Warner Hollywood (aka Warner Cinerama, Hollywood Pacific, etc). I’d love to tell you plans are in the works for it to reopen as a live theatre like its popular neighbor down the block the Pantages. Sadly the time hasn’t come yet. After numerous phone calls to different people at Pacific Theatres, I disappointingly wasn’t able to find out much. No plans to take it down. No plans for a new tenant.

    I even tried the Shubert Organization to see how legit their interest is in moving into the theater. As many of you remember, a few years back, there was talk of Shubert picking up the Warner as a showcase for their touring productions since the demolition of thier Century City locale. As this would probably be the best fit of all, the chatter gave many hope that the stars were finally aligning. Nothing became of it though and I’ve yet to hear back from them on any future proposals.

    I guess we can be glad the former wasn’t true but it looks like for now, we’ll just have to stay in a holding pattern. In a matter of time though, an ultimate decision seems inevitable. The revival of Hollywood Boulevard is quickly gaining momentum. With Highland and Vine as the two cornerstones, the area in between is block by block being gobbled up and cleaned up. Once they reach that spot in the middle where the Warner stands, how will the shadow of gentrification cast itself over the property?

  • January 26, 2007

    Oscar Time!

    With the Academy releasing nominations this week, it’s hard to think about the actual awards without thinking about the PR circus its become. What at first comes off as a display of recognition for some great work has mutated into just another way for those rich studios to take your money.

    How often are your favorite films, perfomances, etc. up for the top honors? So much is left behind because of course, all these voters seem to have short term memory loss and nothing pre-October is seriously considered. Yeah, they’ll be the one dark horse that sneaks in out of nowhere like this years “Little Miss Sunshine” but the Fargos, Seasbiscuits and Cinderella Men don’t get much ink after those initial “and the surprise of the year nomination went to…” articles.

    Increasingly all this seems to be fueled by marketing. Basically, the Oscars have become the foundation for boosting that dark wintery season where people just don’t go out to the movies much. The big movies for the younger crowd have to be released in the summer cause kids have to go to school. It’s up to us older people to go out and keep the box office alive by watching these prestige films. Show me an intellectual film in June and I just wouldn’t appreciate it. I sure wouldn’t tell my friends about it.

    Since studios spend so much money making new films, they’re absolutely terrified of not making that money back. So why even take a chance. Instead, just like the plots are formulaic, the release schedules are as well. At this time of the year, we’re supposed to be in serious mode. And if we’re in the mood for something light, well let’s just remind you how much you want to be in serious mode by talking and talking about this great movie that’s up for all the awards.

  • January 19, 2007

    The other Broadway

    When it comes to neighborhoods with potential, downtown Los Angeles is about as rich as it gets. In it houses the largest collection of pre-war movie theaters still standing anywhere. While cities like New York and San Francisco have all but done away with their treasures, their Los Angeles counterparts are still in existence, albeit most in a shuttered state.

    In this case, the area’s decline actually helped preserve the history. Instead of the land cost rising so enormously that supporting a theater seemed like bad business, the historic core of Los Angeles has yet to fully recover from its urban plight of the latter half of the last century. For that reason, keeping the theaters up for film shoots, special events or even storage is as practical a use as any these days.

    However, a revival has been slowly gaining speed. With the western business corridor of downtown already in the midst of its renaissance, eyes are starting to turn towards the entertainment center, Broadway. Numerous theaters are making a steady income, but one classic has yet to be revitalized, one of the earliest palaces still standing in its ranks, the Million Dollar Theater.

    This is the palace Sid Grauman built before the Chinese or even the Egyptian. Its opening on Broadway in 1918 ushered in a new age of extravagance in L.A. theaters. Since closing for movies, it’s had new life as a church but that even stopped years ago. Since, it’s one of the last large theaters intact on Broadway that’s still not operational for performances.

    Hearing conflicting rumors swirling around the past few years regarding its return, I figured it was about time I went straight to the source. I got on the phone with the Million Dollar’s owner, the Yellin Company, and they put me in touch with its current tenant Robert Voskanian. I’d heard that he had planned to reopen it again after some renovations but I wasn’t quite sure which stage they were in or the extent of their plans: