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Correction on the above timeline. The Ansley Mall Mini Cinema opened sometime in 1968. Ellis took out a sub-lease and changed the name to Film Forum in May of 1971. Weis took control of the Mini Cinema chain in the summer of 1974. I think the incident described above took place sometime shortly before that. I am pretty sure that the Ansley Mall location was long gone by 1978 when Weis closed up and left town.
Until Lenox started sticking theatres in its lobbies, this was the smallest place I ever saw a movie in. Of course, at 171 seats it would be a midsized moveover house in the megaplex of today. I do not know exactly when this place was built, but the Sandy Springs Mini Cinema was opened in December of 1968, so it was before that. With its small capacity, it did not play much mainstream first run product, but was what we would call an “art” house today. George Ellis took it over and renamed it the Film Forum in May 1971. His choice of product was so obscure that for weeks his newspaper ad was included in the section reserved for the 16 and 35MM softcore porno houses of the day.
My first visit was in October of 1971 for “Oh What A Lovely War.” (This film first played at the Peachtree Art at Peachtree and 14th, but by that time that neighborhood had become pretty rough. The Peachtree Art closed soon after and reopened in the summer of 1970 as the Weis Cinema with “Catch 22.”) Film Forum was not a good place to see a movie, but it usually played films that you would see offered no where else. There was a center aisle with two section seating. Although not very big, the screen was wall to wall which meant that it was located high enough to have the exit doors underneath. The theatre was located in a narrow storefront of a strip shopping center, despite its Ansley MALL name. The lobby was also very small and the whole place had a warehouse look to it. However, the audience to this theatre did not seem to mind and the place did great business for years.
In fact, the business was so good that it led to one of the more disgraceful episodes that I have ever witnessed in my days working in Atlanta area theatres, and that is really saying something. Apparently, the FF, despite being operated and managed by Ellis, still retained some type of connection to the Mini Cinema company. It could be that George was just a sub lessee. At any rate, the Mini Cinema chain was by this time in very poor shape and the absentee owners had placed the entire business in the hands of a hired gun who will remain nameless here. Since the FF was doing more business than all of the other Mini Cinemas combined and could supply some desperately needed cash, this guy, after a careful reading of the agreement, “reacquired” control of the Ansley Mall Mini Cinema, and did it in the dark of night.
The first George knew of this development was the next day when he showed up and found that his key no longer fit the locks. Mr. Mini Cinema soon found out that there was more to the success of the FF than just booking the right films. Since George knew most of his customers by sight if not by name, it did not take long for word of what had happened to get around. Needless to say, business dropped off to about 1% of normal, and before long George was back in control with a new ironclad lease agreement. This incident took place in about 1975, and was shortly before Weis acquired the Mini Cinema chain. Before much longer, and possibly because of the aquisition, the Ansley Mall location closed up. Ellis tried to keep his business going, and at different times operated the Capri (now Buckhead Roxy) and Fine Art (now Lefont Garden Hills) sometimes under the name of Cinema Gallery.
For a more upbeat and interesting story involving George Ellis and local theatres see:
In the late 60’s and early 70’s days of urban decay, a lot of places like this popped up all over Atlanta usually with the word “Art” added to the end. Houston Street Art, and Walton Street Art come to mind. I do not think that it was ever a real movie theatre. It was located in the block of Peachtree that runs from Baker to Ivy / Porter Place, and was part of a strip of storefronts that began with the Baptist Book Store and ended with the old St Francis Hotel. Or was it the Imperial? The entire block is gone now and John Portman’s 1 Atlantic Center sits on the site.
Thankfully I was never inside, but I did pass it everyday while riding the bus to and from Georgia State. It seemed to be one of those 16MM grind operations that advertised the first “showing” at 10AM and the last one starting at midnight. The sign over the door stated the admission as $5. Standard admission for regular movies in those days was about $2 tops. From its location, you could see the First Methodist Church almost across the street, a Catholic church behind it on Ivy, and the Episcopal church just north on Peachtree.
North Springs was the last of the big second run suburban theatres built by Eastern Federal. Like the earlier Cherokee, Toco Hills, Belvedere, and Miracle it had a very large auditorium, and a small everything else. It seated about 875 in three sections with two off center aisles and two more along the walls. The lobby was small compared to the size of the theatre but the box-office, managers office, projection booth, and janitors closet were the smallest I ever saw anywhere. There was no concession storeroom at all. Supplies were kept behind the screen with a chicken wire wall “securing” either end.
The theatre opened during Christmas of 1968 and I believe the first feature was Coogans Bluff. It usually changed movies every week showing whatever was on the “drive in break” that week. The first movie I saw there was Angel In My Pocket in March of 1969. I worked there from November 1971 until the spring of 1973. I was fortunate enough to work for an excellent manager, Mr. Neal Dolvin. Although the company was run so much on the cheap that it was not a good place to learn the manager trade, I did learn from Neal many lessons on hiring and managing a staff which I put to use later on.
In the office was a notebook with all of the theatres bookings listed, and only three or four times a year would a movie play for two weeks and never any longer. That changed on February 9, 1972 when Lady and the Tramp opened direct from its reissue first run at the Fox Theatre. It played for three weeks and did capacity business on weekend afternoons. On April 12, 1972 French Connection opened the day after it won its Academy Awards, and played to huge crowds for its six week run. Following that was a two week filler booking of MASH which was notable only for the incredibly poor condition of its print. This was a city wide booking, and every theatre in town was cursed with a print that had more yellow and green scratches that it did film emulsion.
The next day, June 6, 1972, Oh Calcutta opened for a three day run. This episode taught me a lot about how some theatre companies treat their employees as well as more than I ever wanted to know about the morality of public officials. The Fulton County Solicitor was up for re-election that year and despite the fact that Atlanta and Fulton County was littered with 35MM soft core houses and 16MM hardcore houses at the time, he realized an opportunity for free publicity when he saw it. On June 7, he “led raids” as the AJC so quaintly put it, on the three EFC theatres in Fulton County, the Ben Hill, Baronet, and North Springs. Off to jail went three managers, three projectionists, and the city manager. As the doorman, I did not have to make the trip, but stayed behind to answer the phone and explain to the hundreds of patrons who had purchased advance tickets for that nights showing why they were getting their money back.
EFC’s part in this shameful episode was to bail its employees out, and send them back to work that very night to run prints of MASH that just so happened to arrive almost before the paddy wagons had left the premises. This confirmed to me that EFC at least suspected what was going to happen and had a contingency plan in place. In the end, the EFC attorney pled everyone guilty, thus giving 7 good men criminal records, and paid their fines. I am willing to bet that they would have had a different strategy had the solicitor locked up the owners and bookers instead of employees who were just trying to make a living.
After this fiasco the theatre went back to its usual booking pattern only with a few more wide break first run movies mixed in. Among these were The Burglars, Cancel My Reservation, Rage, Shamus, Class of 44, Last American Hero, Last of Shelia, and the last two Planet of the Apes episodes. A look at these titles will tell you why they were wide breaks, i.e, get your money back quick before word of mouth kills the business.
EFC left town about 1978, but I was not around then, having fallen out of favor with the owners as all long term employees seemed to do in those days. Raymond can tell that part of the story as they were gone before I realized it. I did wander into the place shortly after that, and the independent owner was nice enough to invite me in and show me the booth. They had removed one projector and installed a tower. Later, a new owner twinned the auditorium and converted the place into a $ drafthouse. It stayed that way for many years. Around 2002 I was by there and a work crew was gutting the insides and turning it into a Hispanic themed nightclub. The owner let me in to look around and even offered me the old lamphouses which were still sitting in the booth. Had they been the old Simplex projectors I would have grabbed them. The carbon lamphouses from my time, where I had learned how to heat up a sandwich a la Alfredo in Cinema Paradiso, were long gone.
Beautiful setting. I took some pictures of this site during my visit in 2000. If this link works you can see them. http://www.driveintheater.com/drivlist.htm
The local theatre is called The Dome. It has a website that contains information on the drive in. http://dometheater.tripod.com/index.html
Raymond: If you would like a copy of this article let me know and I will send it. Also a picture of the Ben Hill Twin in its current role. My contact info is at the bottom of my final Stonemont post.
The plaza is still there. The site of the old theatre is now the Nation of Islam masque or the church that sits next ot it. Or maybe they divided the space from the old theatre. I only saw this place once and do not really remember where exactly it was in that small shopping center.
Typical cheapo Eastern Federal build of the type they threw up in the early 70’s with nothing like the character of the Cherokee, Toco, Belvedere generation.
According to the AJC article, the shopping center opened in 1954, but makes no mention if the theatre opened at the same time. Since the theatre was right in the middle of the center it probably did. The article also states that… “(t)he only Miss Georgia to ever become Miss America, Neva Jane Langley, helped open it up, along with actress and pin-up girl Anita Eckberg.”
I never attended either of these places, but do remember when both came into existance. I think that Raymond is right about the Roswell Village being the Jerry Lewis. If my memory is correct, not a sure thing these days, Septum took over the old JL at the same time as the Buford Hwy JL. They then built the Brannon Square later on. Or, it may have been vice versa, but I am pretty sure the Brannon appeared in the Septum ads after they were already established.
I have actually attended this theatre. April 4, 1971. A Sunday I believe. The feature was a double bill of A Fistfull of Dollars at 3PM and For a Few Dollars More at 5PM. Admission, $1. This was a very old location even then, and was located in “downtown” Roswell, GA. It had a little two line marquee sticking out over the sidewalk, and a very small lobby. The inside was unremarkable, and typical of the appearance of theatres built in the 1950’s. The projection light was among the dimmest I have ever seen, and flickered out on more than one occasion. I am sure there was a problem of some sort with the feed motor for the carbons because the picture would gradually get dimmer until it would suddenly brighten up, relatively speaking of course. I imagine that the operator was having to hand crank the carbons and sometimes didn’t get to it until they had burned too big of a gap.
I considered this place a real dump compared to the first run theatres of the day, or even the Sandy Springs Mini Cinema for that matter. I only went to it because I wanted to see the movies. Today of course I would love to see anything in such a venue. It all depends on your perspective.
At this time the Roswell Theatre was mostly known for showing soft core adult movies. “Tobacco Roody” was a movie I remember seeing advertised for what seemed like weeks on end. It also seemed to close occasionally, or at least stop advertising in the Atlanta paper. When I went it was in the process of trying the neighborhood family theatre route, possibly under different ownership. In those days, Roswell was much more of a small town than the close in suburb of Atlanta that it is today. That trip to the theatre on the town square on a lazy Sunday afternoon really gave it a small town feel, almost like I was going to the Royal in Archer City, Texas, home of The Last Picture Show.
I do not think that I have been to that part of Roswell since that day 35 years ago. The main 5 lane drag through town is a block to the east, I think, and I am sure the theatre is long gone although the building that housed it may still be in use. I doubt if I could find it now.
Todays AJC reports that the entire Belmont Hills Shopping Center is to be torn down and replaced by a condo / commercial / Wal-Mart development. While the theatre has been closed for years, the structure has remained. Now, it will soon be joining a long list of fine (and not so fine) movie theatres in the landfills of Atlanta.
They can not run reel to reel (W/70mm DTS) because they only have 1 70mm dts reader, by the way 70 mm Mag does not have sound back up…no opical sound on 70 mm…
posted by movieman007 on Mar 27, 2006 at 8:08pm
Sorry for the omission. I left out the “35MM.” I meant to say 70MM does not have optical backup the way 35MM mag does. I am surprised that there is only one DTS reader. Those things are not foolproof, at least in their 35MM versions, and it is not unusual for them to “fault” back to standard non digital Dolby, especially if you are running a print with a lot of splices and / or missing footage. Even though there are evidently a lot of splices in Lawrence, this would only cause a momentary silence while the disc tries to realign itself with the time code. I wonder why they never tried the Dolby Digital format on 70MM. Or did they? I have never seen a Dolby Digital system “fault” from missing footage or anything else. And with the actual DD soundtrack printed on the film there is no worry about damage to the DTS discs, or if the discs will arrive with the film.
As far as the film being printed out of sync, it is strange that Columbia would allow such a thing to remain in release. It could not have gone unnoticed until now as they must have received a lot of complaints from theatre companies about it. I realize that there are a lot of purists commenting on this site, but judging from the descriptions here, the problem must be at least noticible to even the most casual movie goer. If nothing else, you would think that they would have warned anyone interested in booking the print about the problem.
Although I have never run it, I have seen the DTS version of this film twice, with a different print each time. (I believe these were struck for the 40th aniversary a few years back.) There were no out of sync problems with those prints. I do not know how many were struck, but I would hate to think that this is the best one remaining.
Just a quick comment on the out of sync problem. This 70MM DTS print does not have an optical backup like the mag prints did. Therefore, if the DTS reader should go out there is no back up sound source. To guard against this, 70MM DTS is usually run with two DTS readers, mounted one on top of the other. The primary reader would be the top one and the back up reader the bottom one. The delay between reader and film gate would be synchronized for the top reader. If the top reader should suffer a momentary fault the back up bottom reader should engage. If the delay for the bottom reader is set the same as the top one, the distance between the two “exciter” lamps in the readers might be enough to throw off the sync enough to notice. The condition of the discs, and any splices using opaque tape, might have been enough to cause a fault in the reader. Or it could be a faulty reader or any one of a number of other things.
As far as the film break, all I can say is that it is only one screen, one projector, and one platter. What else does the projectionist (sorry Vito) have to do except watch it? If it was a brain wrap, he did not even have to be watching the platter. The change in the sound if the feed platter stops and causes a pull wrap or if it takes off and causes a speed wrap is something that is impossible to miss if you are within hearing distance and paying attention.
As someone who has been so stupid as to have actually stepped on a 70MM print and caused it to break, I will be the first to say that something like this can happen to anyone. At least when I did it it was because I was so paranoid that I kept walking between the viewport, the projector and the platter looking for something to go wrong that I forgot to look where I was walking. I keep the melted frame that jammed in the gate mounted on my desk. (It is Omar at the oasis.) In fact, I am looking at it now. A constant reminder to try to avoid doing anything dumb by being so obsessed over detail that I forget what is going on elsewhere. Such as keeping track of where the film path between the projector and platter is.
As I said in my post on my CE3K viewing, I think the management of the Ziegfeld does a good job. The manager does not “run” the booth the same way they do the “floor.” Having once been a manager, I realize that allowing someone from the audience into the booth was a big judgement call that those of you present should be glad they had the nerve to make. Many managers would have just played it safe, refused the offer, and refunded the house secure in the knowledge that fixing a film problem was outside of their job description. The theatre management textbook can not do it all. Sometimes common sense and the ability to think on your feet can make up for a lot, as it evidently did in this case.
35 years after deciding that it would be an entertaining thing to do, I can finally check “seeing a movie at the Ziegfeld” off of life’s to do list. Specifically, the 1 PM showing of CE3K yesterday. I was not disappointed. The experience was just what I expected after reading all of the posts here. Namely, a friendly, professional staff which greeted each person individually, a clean facility, big screen, booming sound, lax effort from the projection booth, and a professional manager (Nicki, I believe she said her name was) who did not mind taking a few moments to talk with an out of owner.
While never one of my all time favorites, CE3K is a big, class, production. Yesterday took me back to a time you could go to a movie and even if the movie was not exceptional, enjoy a theatre with some class and individuality, a big screen, and a good presentation (well, can’t have everything). In short going to a movie was “an event.” Appearance wise, the auditorium looked just as it does in the fine two page layout devoted to it in the Cinema Treasures book. I see what people are talking about when the size of the screen is the subject. To their credit, most megaplexes built today do try to pack as large a screen as possible into their small auditoriums, but projection wise, you do not get the same look as you do when using a screen that is large in its own right, and not just in relation to its auditorium size. While in relation to the house the Ziegfeld screen may look small, especially on a flat movie, but I am sure it beats anything in a multiplex. I sat on row “O” and enjoyed the nearly forgotten experience of having to track the action back and forth across the screen. This is something I can not do in a megaplex because when I sit close enough to do that the focus is way off.
Another thing that I noticed was the small size of the lobby. Back in the old days of exclusive runs and roadshows and sellouts, I do not know what they did with the crowd waiting for the next show. I assume that they used the plaza between the theatre and the back of the building facing 6th Avenue, but it was cold and windy yesterday, and this is Spring. I would hate to be the manager who had to tell hundreds of patrons for Cabaret or Barry Lyndon, or Star Is Born, that they would have to wait outside in the New York winter. Layout wise, the lobby and auditorium are almost an exact copy of the old Rialto here in Atlanta, although the seating area is larger and the lobby smaller. I did enjoy seeing the seating chart with the Ziegfeld logo at the bottom posted on the wall leading to the auditorium. Specifically, the very distinctive and in my opinion, attractive trademark Walter Reade Organization logo script.
Although not technically part of this site, I would also like to say what a great place New York is to visit. From the four MTA bus drivers, to the Ziegfeld staff, the Times Square Visitor Center staff, the NYPD officers, and the floor staff of the AMC Empire, everyone I met was not only helpful, but polite and friendly while being so. Even the concierge at the condos now occupying part of the old Taft Hotel building was more than happy to spare me a few minutes to talk about the old hotel and Roxy Theatre. The Delta employees at LGA were good natured, even when dealing with some grumpy passengers when our flight back to Atlanta was cancelled. I have visited New York about a dozen times since my first visit in 1984, and have always thought that it did not deserve its “in your face” reputation especially when putting up with tourists. Since Rudy’s quality of life campaign took hold, I have never had even the slightest unpleasant experience in the Big Apple, and I always use the MTA to get around which means I have at least casual contact with many people.
In fact, the only unpleasant experience of the day was dealing with the usual panhandling on the train from the Atlanta airport back home. I guess the reason New York, or at least the Manhattan part of it, is so nice is that all of the undesirables have been shipped to Atlanta where they inhabit the transit system and downtown, and are a protected species.
As for Clearview, I wish you good business at the Ziegfeld, but should you hit another bump in the booking road I hope you will consider putting something like this festival on the schedule again.
Speaking of sharing old stories, I could crash this site with entries about uncaring or inept managers and or projectionists that I have worked for and with over the years, and I am sure Vito could do the same. I could also submit many examples of people who took pride in their profession and gave the extra effort to put on a good show or provide a clean and well maintained venue to see it in. Fortunately, I learned my lobby, managing, and later on my projectionist trades from people who fall into the latter category. I think anyone who works at a special place like the Ziegfeld do too.
These days, when anything less than 12 screens is considered too small to bother with, it is not much different than working at the ball park or the local fast food eatery. Projection wise, it is sometimes all you can do to get all of the films built up on Thursday night. As for presentation, forget it. In these days of push button, or even worse, timer starts, no curtains, and light and sound cues handled by automation, all people expect is to see and hear the movie. (Remember when we used to fade out the non sync music before starting the show?) I think the downhill slide started in the mid 70’s when theatre companies started carving up these once fine theatres into shoeboxes with their postage stamp screens. If the public had complained then things might have been different. Instead, with their complete lack of taste, they continued coming, and in record numbers. Why should a theatre company worry about being a class act when they were too busy counting their take?
This goes for the film companies too. Just one example. Hardly a week goes by that I do not get a print with at least one reel beginning or ending in a fade in or out. You would think someone in the industry would see the value in printing easy to see frame lines in such a spot, but they rarely do. (Just as I mentioned in the post about the train tunnel sequence.) Do they really think some “projectionist” with 10 prints to build up is going to go to the trouble to use a meter to find the frame line? Fat chance. Most of them just run down to the first image where they can make out the line and make the cut there, or go the other way and cut it after the 2 in the leader thus adding 2 seconds of black, silent film to the show. As for the way the Ziegfeld handled the Zhivago intermission, I am sure that it was due to the tight show schedule. Given that situation, I think that was OK. At least they did not cut off the intermission tag and entr'acte and go straight from the train fade out to the tunnel sequence.
As for the Ziegfeld itself, if anyone from Clearview reads this I want to thank you for running this series instead of just letting the house sit dark until Ice Age 2. In the early 70’s I worked for Walter Reade in Atlanta, and one of my managers was a company man from New Jersey. He told me that the first two things the home office checked each morning was first, how did the Ziegfeld do?, and second, how did the rest of the circuit do? I wish there was a theatre like it still standing in Atlanta so I could work there. I have always wanted to see some of the old classics at The Ziegfeld and you have given me the chance. I was going to come up for West Side Story, but was snowed out. Hopefully I will have better luck this Wednesday when I come up for CE3K and Alien.
Regarding the intermission: Just be happy you got that much. Over the years I have run Zhivago as either a manager or projectionist several times, and seen it in theatres numerous others. Most of the time the prints were missing the intermission tag as well as the entr'acte. To make matters worse, the second half starts with that train tunnel sequence which begins with almost a minute of black film with only the sound of the train. Foolishly, no thought to put frame lines on this part (or the overture or entr'acte for that matter) which meant that to be sure that it was in frame you had to run several hundred feet through a counter. That is more feet of film than there are projectionists who will take the trouble to do such a thing these days. Most projectionists, and I don’t only mean “doorman projectionists” just ran the film down to the first pin prick of light and made their cut there.
Other than the roadshow engagement in 1965, I have only seen Zhivago run completely and correctly twice, both 70MM presentations at the Fox Theatre in Atlanta. The one time I ran it there, the opening tunnel footage was missing. During my reel to reel days I remember two occasions where the famous “Astro Dater” intermission strip was used in place of the missing intermission tag. Also, one manager hated to run intermissions because they made him stay later, so he only had them when there was a crowd. On the other shows he would instruct the operator to make the changeover just before the intermission tag hit the screen. One manager even had the black tunnel footage cut off because he did not like people coming out complaining about the light being out. It is not only the Burger Kings of the world who have trouble getting good help.
This location opened on 10/22/71. The attractions were “Anderson Tapes,” “Klute,” and “Hellstrom Chronicle.” I never saw a movie here, but I did know someone who worked during the expansion, and he said it was pure misery. As you can see from the picture, they added two auditoriums upstairs, over the lobby. The first thing they had to do was cut holes in the roof for the support columns and from then until the project was finished it was a constant battle to mop up the water that poured in every time it rained. I was under the impression that this ended up as a 7, and in addition to the two new upstairs theatres, they also split two of the existing theatres although there were only six marquees out front.
For its first six years the Old National ran intermediate break and occasional wide break first runs. After 1977 when almost all movies opened wide, it was mostly first run. The only real competition came from the Greenbriar, Westgate and Ben Hill which were in another zone several miles to the north.
While bigger is certainly better when talking about the screen size, assuming the proper light and focus are there of course, it is the ratio of the dimensions that are the key. Anyone who was lucky enough to make it to the Neon Movies in Dayton during their Cinerama days can attest to this. I doubt if the place held 300 seats, and the screen was no bigger than one you would see at some megaplex throwaway house. However, it was a ribbon screen, the curve was perfect, and the relation of height to width was exactly right. And, the projection booths, which were located in the back corners of the auditorium and in the lobby, were level with the center of the screen. I always sat on the fourth or fifth row and had as great a movie going experience as if I had sat at the equivalent seat at the Dome or Seattle, which I hope to do some day.
I never saw the Greenbriar as a single screen. I occasionally worked there as a projectionist starting in 1983 until about 1987. Even as a twin I could see how magnificent it must have been. As for the possibility of twinning by enclosing the mezzanine, it was probably too wide and shallow to be used as an auditorium. I have seen the balcony theatre Lefont put in the Plaza, and while much narrower it is still a pretty pathetic venue. Then there is the problem of the booth. Lefont used the original booth for the balcony theatre and had to add another one at the rear of the downstairs auditorium underneath the balcony. Since the balcony at the Greenbriar did not have an overhang, this would have meant sticking out into the seating area.
The old DeMille theatre in Times Square was tripled in a way that would have worked at the Greenbriar. They divided the balcony into a twin and left a gap between them for the booth to shoot the picture onto the downstairs screen. The balcony would have been large enough for a couple of 100 – 140 seat houses, but the booth would have had to have been expanded somehow. With the exception of the North Springs, it was the smallest one I ever worked in. It was probably OK when all they had was two reel to reel projectors, but when they put two platters in between them there was no possibility of putting anything else in there.
Given the right picture the Greenbriar was still doing well into the mid 80’s. I remember Friday the 13th 3D, (where the crowd literally broke down, or was pushed through, the front doors) Purple Rain, and one of the Star Trek movies doing heavy business there. I think that if the old Georgia Theatre Company had remained independent, instead of pimping themselves out to UA, they would probably have quaded the Greenbriar sideways just as they had done with the Cobb Center. I don’t think UA had any interest in any of the GTC locations except Lenox, and the 8’s at Shannon and Southlake, so Greenbriar was gone by the early 90’s. At least UA had the sense to move the boxoffice from the kiosk which was upstairs in the mall, down to the theatre entrance.
About 10 years ago I ran “Singing In The Rain” and if my memory is correct, it was one of those windowboxed prints mentioned above. That is, it was a 1:85 frame with the 1:33 image in the middle and black bars on each side. At this particular theatre the masking was moved manually by stagehands so we were able to bring it in to the 1:33 setting. Even if a theatre has only a flat / scope masking set up, the black bars were hardly noticable unless you were looking for them. Not the best solution perhaps, but when you remember that 99% of theatres have no 1:33 lenses, plates, or masking, or have anyone on staff that knows the difference, it is probably the best way to handle this situation.
All of this talk about the proper way to present a movie reminds me of a time (1973) years before my projectionist days. I was working as an usher at the ATLANTA, which was Walter Reade’s only theatre in Atlanta Ga. Two Reade bigshots, the directors of advertising / promotions and public relations were at the theatre preparing for the Atlanta premiere of “Man of La Mancha.” They were interrupted by a call from HQ in New Jersey because during the afternoon showing of “Sleuth” at the Ziegfeld, the picture had slipped out of focus. This had also happened the night before and both times a call had to be made to the booth to alert the projectionists to the problem.
At the time, the Reade organization was involved in a dispute with the projectionist local regarding the terms of the contract involving the Ziegfeld’s very expensive and cutting edge (for the time) automated equipment. Since “Sleuth” was a roadshow it seems that two projectionists had to be on duty at all times. Reade’s position was that since the booth was completely automated, one should suffice. And since it seemed obvious that even with two on duty no one was actually paying attention to the screen there was much wailing and gnashing of teeth in the office that day. (Of course I only got the management side of this story.)
It is a sad commentary that the “push a button and forget it” style of booth operation so common today is even in the houses of the great Times Square that I so much wished to be a part of in those days. Even sadder is that most of the movie going public would not even notice the difference in a good presentation and a bad one unless the bad one was upside down. I am afraid that by the time I became a projectionist, showmanship was mostly a thing of the past and very seldom have I been able to enjoy the privilege of presenting a movie where film, masking, curtain, and light cues were coordinated.
For the record, this is how I did it, as learned from the professionals at “The ATLANTA, A Walter Reade Theatre”: When previews were shown first, we opened the show the usual way. Just before the overture the curtain would close and the curtain floods would go to bright. As the overture ended, the floods would dim out and the curtain would open on the film company logo. No white screen! If there was no preshow, the overture would start and then the house would go to half. Near the end of the overture the house would go out and the curtain floods would dim. Curtain open on the logo. There have been a few times when I have recreated the overture, intermission, and exit music using the CD player in the booth. “West Side Story”, missing its opening footage, and “Sound of Music” were the titles. It seems that on “Ben-Hur”, the lights went out and the curtain opened and then the audience sat there in the dark while the black film of the overture showed on the screen.
Not a very satisfactory way to set the mood or open the show. But, as others have pointed out, be thankful you at least have this. My beloved ATLANTA is now a parking lot. I was planning to fly to New York for “West Side Story” but the blizzard took care of that. Maybe it will return. I wish I had the chance to work with Vito. I will bet we could have kept “Sleuth” in focus! Hopefully I will make it up for “Lawrence” where I can enjoy it with some of my fellow Cinema Treasures posters who still appreciate a good presentation and movie when they see it.
Broadview was opened by Weis Theatres in the early 70’s. It was their fourth Atlanta location following the Capri (now Buckhead Roxy) and the Fine Art (now Garden HIlls) and the Weis Cinema (the former Peachtree Art since demolished.) It was located on top of the underground bowling alley in the junction of the “L” shaped Broadview Plaza, later known as Lindberg Plaza and now a huge pile of dirt waiting to be turned into a mega shopping and residential development. The theatre held 420 seats and outdid even the Lenox Square #2 with its long thin shape, terrible sound and tiny screen. Alone among the Weis properties in Atlanta, it was built from scratch as the previous three and the later Peachtree Battle, and Sandy Springs, Doraville,
and Candler Mini Cinemas were all pickups.
It was decorated in typical Weis fashion with lots of odd colors and funny shapes and bends in the design of the lobby. The concession stand was hard to find because it was located behind you as you entered the theatre from the box-office. This was remedied by placing a large floor to ceiling mirror on the wall opposite which you had to pass by on the way to the auditorium. It was amusing to watch some customers start to walk up to the mirror before realizing that what they were looking at was actually behind them.
I do not remember what the first movie to play here was but the first hit was “Red Sky At Morning” which ran for at least six months. Later, the reserved seat engagement of “Nicholas and Alexandra” had a long run here as
well. As usual, the success of the theatre led to the addition of another screen, but since the shape of the auditorium ruled out any prospect of twinning the second screen was built on the other side of the box-office
which gave the layout of the place a “T” shape. Broadview II was smaller, only about 300 seats, but was a much better place to see a movie in that is was almost square in shape.
By the late 70’s Weis had almost blind bid its way out of business and all of their Atlanta locations were either closed or sold off. George Lefont, who had earlier purchased the Peachtree Battle and turned it into the Silver
Screen (Atlanta’s first full time retrospective theatre), and who would later take over the Fine Art, made the Broadview II his second theatre. It was renamed the Screening Room, and played what is now known as “Art” movies. Two good examples which I saw there were “Brother Sun Sister Moon” and “Breaker Morant.” The Screening Room also included the old box office area from the Broadview I but not, I believe, the concession area. That area along with the rest of the old #I theatre became the site of The Great Southeast Music Hall. In 1978, the Music Hall moved to the site of the old Cherokee Theatre, north of Lenox Square, just inside DeKalb County. The Screening Room remained open for many years. I do not remember when it closed, but it doesn’t matter now. The old theatres (along with the bowling alley, the K-Mart, Office Depot, the clock repair shop, and the Singer Sewing Machine repair shop, etc…) have all been hauled off to the land fill where they can spend the rest of their days with the remains of all of the other fine theatres that once graced Atlanta.
The South DeKalb will always be one of my favorite theatres, both in its appearance and my personal memories there.
It was opened, I believe, sometime in 1970. The South DeKalb mall was a 2 anchor setup with a Rich’s at one end and a J.C. Penny store at the other. The theatre entrance was located in the center of the mall and the auditoriums stuck out the back into the parking lot. The look of the place was unlike anything I had ever worked in, especially for the very conservative Georgia Theatre Company. Personally, I have always considered it the nicest looking and best laid out theatre I ever managed.
You could enter the theatre from two opposite doors, one from the rear of the mall, and the other from outside. Both doors led to sloping walkways which bottomed out in front of the box-office. When built, South DeKalb was a set of identical twins separated by the box office, concession stand, and a very spacious (by theatre standards) utility room. Attractive and good sized lobby entrances were located on either side of the box office.
The design of the box set the tone for the rest of the place, specifically no straight lines. Everything in the place including box office, lobby, rest rooms, offices, lounges, serving windows for the concession stand, screens, etc… were to some degree curved or outright round. Not only was the box office counter curved out into the entrance area, the glass front which started just above the counter and separated the cashier from the customers was curved as well. The curve eliminated any reflection from the glass and by the end of a rush there would be a series of smudges on the glass where people had rammed their foreheads into the unnoticed glass while trying to lean forward across the counter to talk to the cashier.
Entrance to theatre #1 was to the left and #2 to the right of the box office. The entrance lobby was divided by the concession stand. Large round openings made up for the straight line of the stand. In one of the few design flaws, the stand was pretty narrow which made it difficult for the employees to stand back to back or pass each other while serving both sides at once. From the concession stand you would go down some steps to the main lobby. This lobby was completely round and occupied by a row of round mushroom looking stools lining the wall. Rest rooms were located on either side of the lobby. From the lobby you entered a round “smoking lounge” before entering the bath room itself. Each of the four bathrooms had a storage room inside. Two were used for employee locker rooms and two for storerooms.
From the lobby you would go down more steps (remember, this was pre ADA) to a small standing area where the entrance to the utility room would be on one side and doors to the half round managers office and the projection booth stairwell on the other. From this area there were two doorways leading directly to the aisles inside the auditorium. True to GTC form, there were no doors to the auditorium. I do not know if this was the design or if GTC insisted on this, but it was a big mistake. Most GTC designs had a bending mazelike hallway entrance to their auditoriums, but not here. Not only did the light from the lobby shine on the back few rows, but there was nothing to keep the sound from the concession stand or the people waiting in the lobby from disturbing the rear part of the auditorium.As a result, the manager could not put any customers for the next show in the lobby, but had to line them up in the entrance hallway. If they wanted to come in to the restrooms or concession stand, you sent them to which ever side had the fewest people sitting in the back part of the auditorium.
A note on the lighting is in order here as well. The entrance hallway was lined with large black fixtures attached to the white walls. These fixtures consisted of a tube about six feet tall with a dual fixture in the center, one side pointing up the other down toward the floor. These produced a very nice looking V shaped light on the walls and a round spot on the floor and ceiling. They were, however a pain in the neck to change, especially the ones pointing up. Once you entered the lobby, the line where the ceilings met the walls were lined with exposed light sockets about one foot apart. Into these sockets were placed large clear decorative bulbs, round in shape of course. This produced an incredible sight as well as light level which caused the problem with the auditorium spillover. I never counted the number of these sockets, but they must have been in the hundreds. It was almost a daily chore to check for and replace burned out bulbs. After the energy crunch of the early 70’s we changed from the large 150 watt bulb to a clear but standard size 75 watt bulb, and left every other one unscrewed.
Although (thankfully) not round, the auditoriums were outstanding in design and appearance as well. Almost square, each held 540 rocking chair seats, dark red in color. The walls were draped completely black. The screen was curved at the prescribed 146 degrees and covered by a curtain that had a bright orange, yellow, and white pattern. Although there were no screen flood lights, the bright curtain looked lit up when surrounded by the black walls. The screens were almost wall to wall leaving just enough room for exit doors on either side. Since the curtain opened across the path to these doors and were stored beyond the path this caused a problem at the end of the show. Since the doors opened out into the parking lot, many people used these exits. When the automation closed the curtain at the end of the show, it would cut across the exit path blocking access to the doors. After the curtain was pulled out of its track by people grabbing it when it crossed in front of them we disabled the closing cue in the automation and had the projectionist close it by manual switch after everyone was out. Just another example of owners and designers not asking the opinions of the unworthy peons who do the actual work.
Each booth was automated and equipped with 35MM Century projectors and 6000 foot reels. The outstanding feature was the presence of an Optiverter which combined with the curved screen produced an outstanding picture. I have described this Academy Award winning process in detail on the Phipps Plaza Theatre site, although there I incorrectly called it Optivision. The correct name is Ultravision.
I first attended the South DeKalb in the spring of 1971. The feature was an incredible looking cinemascope presentation of “Patton.” Since I had not started working in theatres at this time I knew nothing of the technical setup, but even so noticed the quality of the picture. I saw several more movies here and started work as manager in 1974. This was still in the days of long, exclusive runs for movies in the downtown and northside first run houses such as the Fox, Roxy, Lenox, and Phipps. South DeKalb was located in the southeastern part of DeKalb County, and when we picked up a big hit on what was then called the intermediate break, it was like showing it first run. The biggest business from those days was done by “The Sting” and “Airport ‘75” both from the Georgia Cinerama, “Herbie Rides Again” and “Death Wish” from the Tara, “Blazing Saddles” from the North DeKalb, and “The Longest Yard” from Phipps. All of these produced multiple sellouts for what seemed like weeks on end. Wide break first run releases like “Trial of Billy Jack” and “Island At The Top Of The World” also attracted capacity crowds.
These were also the pre video days when theatres would bring back an old reliable as a filler when they needed something to show for a week or so until the next big booking. We had filler bookings of “2001: A Space Odyssey” and “Doctor Zhivago” during this period. These magnificent wide screen productions looked wonderful on our big curved screens, and came complete with intermission strips and music. I do not recall them doing much business, but they did take me back to my days as an usher at the Atlanta Theatre during its glory days and gave me the chance to at least pretend that I was running a first class roadshow house.
I left the South DeKalb in 1975 to run the Lenox Square Theatre because it was closer to my home. (One of my bigger career mistakes, but that is another story.) South DeKalb continued on in this pattern, but like so many other fine venues, its success led to its downfall. In the fall of 1977, each side was closed in turn for twinning. (The last movie I saw under the old setup was a beautiful cinemascope presentation of “A Bridge Too Far.”) Out came the curved screens, the pretty curtains, the optiverters, the nice square shape, and in came the platters, small screens, no curtains, and the oh so 70’s shoebox shape. They did, at least, use the orange curtains to drape one of the new dividing walls, alternating panels of it with black. Each house ended up with 328 seats, so the total seat count jumped from 1080 to 1312, which should give you some idea of how they crammed them in. The new seats, while the same color, were not rockers and were placed in the front rows. The two off center aisles in the old set up now became the center aisles in the new houses. Only two improvements came out of this. One was carpet for the entrance hallway, installed over the impossible to keep clean rubber matting. This had the advantage of absorbing the headache inducing din that came with the echo off of the rubber floor, especially during busy times. The other was entrance doors for the auditoriums although this was only added at the last minute at the insistence of the manager. Seems he was the only one concerned about the movie sound or screams or laughter from the crowds crossing from house to house.
The final appearance made the place look like, on paper at least, a copy of the Akers Mill. Four identical shoebox auditoriums one of which later had Dolby added. As was the case in most of these instances, the resulting business made the decision to twin look good. The attendance and concession receipts skyrocketed though the crowds for four different theatres trying to enter and exit through a lobby and entrances designed for two came close to crushing the staff at times. I worked here a number of times during these later years and can at least say that I never saw all four house full at once. At the time, I had suggested (not to imply that anyone in authority ever listened to me) that only one side be twinned but since showmanship and presentation was at the bottom of the list in those days, if indeed it ever made the list at all, that idea was a non starter.
Just like all GTC properties, the beginning of the end of this place came with the sale of GTC to United Artists Theatres. UA was not interested in anything as small as this and by the early 90’s the place was closed. UA may not have been interested but that did not mean that they wanted anyone else coming in and competing. When they left the stripped the place bare, including light fixtures and carpets. On a recent visit I could tell that the mall is using the sloping entrance hallways to store their utility equipment. I could not see into the lobby, but I am sure it as well as the auditoriums and projection booths are empty shells as well.
I have good memories of this place, and the 70’s were good times to work in the theatre business before it turned into the megaplex dominated fast food business it is today. To this day I still keep in touch with some of my former employees and co workers from the South DeKalb, and we often talk about those times, and especially Tom Pike Jr., the long time manager after I left who passed away an amazing 14 years ago now at the age of only 40. It is a shame he is not around to write this as his recollections and stories would dwarf anything I have to offer.
I passed by the Delk the other day and found it still closed. Info on the marquee stated that it is being converted to an indoor amusement, game room and paintball facility. However, there was no sign that any work had been done.
I enjoy reading EJE’s articles on the movie studio business, but before writing on the theatre end of this industry he needs to learn more or get a better researcher. Just a few random thoughts on some of his points:
The last time I changed a reel in a projection booth was 1987 when the last reel to reel house in Atlanta (the GCC Northlake Triple) was converted to platters. I doubt if there is still a grind theatre in America of more than one screen still using reels. Of course he may have been talking about platters and did not know the correct name. If so, his comment about running up to 8 screens is also off. Other than Thursdays (build up and tear down day) most multiplex projectionists usually run twice this many by themselves. Besides, even when the world was full of single screen sites using 2000 foot reels, I do not know of any projectionists, (including myself) who sat there watching the screen all day.
This theory regarding film gate tension is just plain goofy. I guess it might depend on what make of equipment you are using, but the only time I ever had a problem with loose film gate tension, the result was not poor focus, but the film starting to jump, or “jitter.”
As for unattended projectors, I am sure that 99% of projectors running right now are not attended. Once the film hits the screen in frame and in focus it is almost certain to run for its entire length without problems. Don’t get me wrong. This is not the perfect practice. However, given the economics of exhibition these days one look and perhaps another one during the show is about all many projectionists have time for these days.
The main problem here is that many theatres do not have a projectionist at all, but instead add this duty to the managers job, who usually trains the most promising doorman or concession attendant to thread up the projectors so the manager can keep an eye on the concession stand. Many megaplexes have booth “managers” who have the job of maintaining the equipment and seeing that a cadre of “film threaders” is available to do the grind labor. And lets face it. If the job is done right on Thursday night, i.e. properly splicing the print and previews together in frame, the rest of the week should take care of itself. With the post 1995 film stock that does not break, even when you need it to, which is another story, and with the vast majority of theatres playing new prints, if a print runs through on the first showing it will probably run OK for its entire run.
I do not like this state of affairs as it has cost me more than a few jobs over the years. However, there is no denying the reality of the situation. Besides, most theatre companies are still haunted by the memory of the days when projection was considered a trade or craft. As both a manager and later as a projectionist, I knew of owners and supervisors who hated the fact that they needed a competent, dependable projectionist and thus had to pay someone (especially union, but non union as well) a decent wage to keep the picture on the screen. With the advent of automation and platters, they are determined not to let this happen again. I have seen several examples of theatres that have a film threader working the booth one day but tearing tickets or cleaning up auditoriums the next just to make sure no one gets the idea that their only job is to work the booth. Even when running the booth they were usually called downstairs to do floor work when there was no threading to be done.
As to the ownership end of theatres, I have no direct knowledge. However, even I know that the 50 / 50 take between theatres and distributors is way off. 75 / 25 is more like it, and that is over the course of the entire run. For the first week or so it is 90 / 10, and it is not the theatre that gets the 90. 30 years ago in the age of limited prints and long exclusive runs, theatres could make a nice profit showing a movie with “legs”, that is one that would still be doing good business after 6 or 8 weeks when the split might be closer to 50 /50. Now things are different. In this age of 4000 print releases playing on multiple screens in every megaplex in town, everyone who wants to see a movie before the DVD release has seen it by the time the second weekend is over. The print then moves down to the end of the hall where the 110 seat houses with mono sound and tiny screens are located to finish out the balance of their contracted for run. By that time they are usually alternating a single screen with some other washed up four week old former blockbuster or playing at night while a played out childrens movie plays in the afternoon. Or vice versa.
As for the rest of the article, I found it pretty accurate in its description of the relationship between the concession stand and the theatre and where the priority is, but nothing that common sense would not tell the average movie-goer. I am sure the same general theme would apply to the fast food or discount retail business or any other that relies on large volume, quick turnover, use of minimum wage employees, and an obsession with keeping expenses to a very bare minimum.