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As a veteran of the porno theatre experience in my younger days (hey some of those XXX flicks in 35mm widescreen color weren’t too bad and to this day I’ll take a sex movie over a slasher movie!) I will agree that audiences were extremely well behaved for the most part. Of course it helped that most patrons were men by themselves and the age of the cell phone and texting had not arrived.
I remember one time at the Ritz Hayward (CA) the projectionist got the wrong reel on and there wasn’t even any commotion from the audience. Yeah I know with a porno flick it can be normally difficult to tell even if the wrong reel is on but it this case the feature being shown was a compilation of old black and white stag films (Alex deRenzy’s “History of the Blue Movie”) and the co-feature was a much more contemporary color feature, deRenzy’s “Fantasy Girls” if I remember correctly. It was quite obvious to me that the wrong reel from the wrong feature was on but it was dead silence from the audience. The Ritz had a stadium balcony which I was sitting in so I went over, banged on the projectionist door and informed the sleepy looking projectionist of the situation. A minute later and the projector ground to a halt. Still dead silence from the gents in the audience as the right reel was threaded up and the show then continued. Yeah those were some well mannered dudes in those porno movie theatres back then!
The golden age of legal hardcore porn in theatres was short lived though. Home video understandably brought the era to a rather abrupt end. Most of the today’s porn is pathetic and I can’t imagine how bad it looks blown up from VHS or DVD. Judging from this story about this Baltimore theatre it sounds like one rather solitary activity by some of the patrons is still taking place. On the hottest day of the year you would see guys coming in with jackets to put over their laps. Apparently now as back then you had to watch out for an occasional sticky floor! To put it as delicately as I can…uh it might not be Coke! Aside from that infrequent rude and certainly illegal activity I sort of miss those movie going days. Maybe you had to be there to appreciate it!
One of the nice things about single features is that you can just skip the $5-6 small drinks and small popcorns. Well at least I can! I have no objection at all to paying a premium price for concessions in a movie theater. I don’t expect 7-11 or McDonald’s prices and know that’s how the theatres make their profit and stay in business. However when prices get to the point of being highway robbery it’s time to boycott the concession stand and just get something to eat before or after the movie. Young people (yeah some older people too!) apparently feel differently and continue to walk away with giant tubs of popcorn and half gallon cups of Coke with nachos and hot dogs on the side so I guess the sky is the limit as far as how high prices will go.
RickWolfe it sounds like you run a first class operation and I’m talking much more than having fair concession prices. I don’t blame you at all for enforcing your no food brought in policy. I wish their was a theatre like yours near us!
Wow! Quite a change in Korean cinema since I was there during my U.S. Army tour of duty 1959-1960. Where I was stationed up in the boondocks the theatre in the local village didn’t even have a screen. They just waited until a fat lady came in and showed the movie on her back. (Oh not really! I heard that joke on an old Jack Benny radio program 55 years ago and have been waiting to repeat it ever since!)
It continues to amaze me how slowly Cinerama spread across the country. I grew up in the Bay Area so I saw all of the three strip travelogs at the San Francisco Orpheum during the period 1952-1959. In 1959 I joined the Army. While stationed at Fort Bliss, Texas in 1961-1962 I saw the whole travelog cycle start all over again at El Paso’s Capri Theatre. After being discharged from the Army in 1962 I settled in Sacramento and a year later, as noted above, once again the cycle started at the Esquire with “This Is Cinerama” opening 11 years after it had opened in San Francisco, only 80 miles down the road.
I have a fuzzy memory of an official announcement that the Tower would become Sacramento’s second Cinerama theater (single strip 70mm only by this time of course) but I guess the format was loosing steam big time by then (how low can you go after “Krakatoa, East of Java”?) so those plans were scrapped. I vaguely remember a big wide curved screen but don’t recall anything in 70mm ever projected on it.
Amazing and interesting series Michael! Thanks for your hard work in compiling it!
A parade of commercials for movies and TV shows that you wouldn’t watch if they were free masquerading as “entertainment”! What a laugh! At least with the slides and music you could pretty much ignore them and talk to your companion before the show. It’s pretty hard to ignore this crap (thank you booming surround sound system!). The regular trailers (if there aren’t too many of them!) are okay but that pre show entertainment is just another reason for me to stay home and watch movies on hi-def satellite or blu ray DVD which frankly looks much better than the mediocre to poor presentation in most multiplexes nowadays! Ah for the days when it was an enjoyable experience going to the movies! Don’t get me started on those cell phones and texting!
Modern young audiences don’t seem to care about quality film presentation. As long as there is some sort of image (in focus or not!) up there and the sound is deafening they are happy. As far as drive ins go, if you are in the back seat doing…uh other things…well the darker the better!
Hurrah for that theatre management! Those damn cell phones and the idiots who use them in theaters are the main reason that with rare exception I don’t go to the movies anymore, and I say that as a life long movie fan who loves (or used to love) the big screen movie going experience. Thank God for DVD, Blu-ray, HD satellite TV and wide screen HDTV sets! That technology came along just when we needed it most! You can now have a home theater experience that beats the presentation in many of the multiplexes and enjoy it without an audience of self indulgent jerks. That is a good thing!
This young woman in the article who got kicked out couldn’t understand why she shouldn’t check her bank balance (and I bet it only took TWO SECONDS!) in the middle of the movie huh? More proof that we are becoming a nation of morons!
Note that only “This is Cinerama” and “How the West Was Won” are 3 strip Cinerama. These are the restored prints that have played the Dome several times before and they are excellent. “The Golden Head” and “Holiday in Spain” are 70mm with severe color fading and frankly not very good films. It indeed is a rare chance to see them though. The two three strip Cinerama films are definitely worth the trip to Hollywood, wish I could be there myself! Here’s a little more info since the Arclight website has yet to be updated:
If it’s one of those pathetic General Cinema theatres with that crazy “shadow box” screens (or whatever that thing was called!)…good riddance! What a disappointment those things were when they opened in the San Francisco Bay Area (Hayward, Hillsdale, Walnut Creek) in the 1960’s. Things got even worse when they started dividing the auditoriums into even smaller shoe boxes. Poorly managed, horrible film presentation! Thank God they are gone!
Now if the Arclight would only give us another chance to see some three strip Cinerama films. A week long revival of “How the West Was Won” would suit me just just fine. Maybe add a couple of showings of “This is Cinerama” during that week or even better have a three strip Cinerama Festival which was rumored to be in the works a couple of years ago. This is one of only about three theatres in the world equipped to play three strip Cinerama I believe. It’s a shame they don’t have more frequent showings in that format.
As for “It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World” there are those who love the film and those who hate it. I’m somewhere in between. I love seeing all those stars in cameo roles, it’s entertaining most of the time but I just have never thought it was all that funny, certainly nowhere near the greatest comedy ever made which I think it tried to be. And yet if I lived anywhere near Hollywood I’d be at the Arclight that night to see it on that big curved screen in 70mm.
Texting and cell phone use in general, including lighting up the aisle and the auditorium to just check the damn things to see if you have any messages, is a situation which is only getting worse, not helped at all by those larger and brighter displays on newer cellphones.
That and other movie going annoyances such as talkers, extravagant admission and concession prices, incompetent projection, pre-show video commercial marathons masquerading as entertainment are really making me question whether it’s worth it to go to the movies anymore. I say this as a film buff who has attended movie theaters for over 50 years.
The economy is definitely one factor in the DVD sales slump. I think another factor is that the novelty of movie collecting has sort of worn off for a lot of people, myself included. I mean why are why buying all of these DVDs and only looking at them once or twice? Wouldn’t it make more sense to just rent them on Netflix, check them out at our local library or Blockbuster? I say all this as a life long film collector (8mm, 16mm, 35mm, Beta, VHS, Laserdisc, DVD…and now Blu-ray!) and the owner of roughly 1500 DVDs…but with nothing on order right now. Hey I’m also running out of shelf space!
Cable and satellite and now even broadband internet delivery of movies has also had it’s impact, especially when the films (including some of the classics on Cinemax, HDNet and MGM HD) are presented commercial free in high definition. Once you’ve seen “My Fair Lady” and “Lawrence of Arabia” in HD it’s pretty hard to get thrilled about your old standard definition DVDs of those titles. Yeah I know there is Blu-ray but that’s a minority format so far and those titles I mentioned aren’t even available on that format yet. Everything even the black and white oldies looks better in high definition! You can of course see all the recent blockbusters on pay-per-view in HD with 5.1 digital surround sound not long after their DVD release.
Personally I think the glory days of DVD are gone for good and the studios are going to have to adjust for that!
“…Fox Filmed Entertainment Chairman and CEO Jim Gianopulos calling 3-D â€œthe most exciting new exhibition technology since they put sprocket holes in celluloid,â€
Hmmm…I think I’ve heard something like that before….like in 1953 right after a quite dreadful little United Artists 3-D film called “Bwana Devil” opened and did land office business. All the major studios jumped on the band wagon saying 3-D was the savior of the industry which was of course competing big time with free TV back then. By late 1954 3-D in Hollywood was history! You heard the same nonsense from studio execs at the beginning of the brief (single strip) 3-D boom in the 1980’s but that one died very quickly too.
I have the feeling that by the next ShoWest not too many of the honchos will be so enthusiastically singing the praises of 3-D even though I expect there will be occasional mostly animated 3-D releases. Until they can figure a way to do 3-D without the glasses 3-D always has been and always will be a novelty.
Not that there is anything wrong with novelties you understand. I happen to be a 3-D buff who was there in the beginning, attended both of the recent 3-D film festivals in Hollywood and just caught and enjoyed “Monsters vs. Aliens” in IMAX 3-D this past weekend. I also happen to be a realist!
Yeah I know…this is digital and doesn’t have some of the drawbacks of the dual strip interlocked projector process and is an improvement on the over/under single strip film process but you still have to wear those damn glasses which darken the image among other things. Like I said before…3-D movies are a novelty pure and simple, always has been, always will be! That’s just my humble opinion of course!
That brings back some Cinerama memories for me. I was stationed at Fort Bliss during the time the first five films (the 3 strip travelogs) played there, finishing up my three year Army stint. I remember seeing all of those five films at the Capri. It seemed strange at the time that El Paso was just getting Cinerama in late 1961, eight years since I’d first seen it at San Francisco’s Orpheum, near my home in Northern California. Unlike CinemaScope and 3-D, Cinerama really had a slow national rollout didn’t it? I was to see the whole cycle of Cinerama films start all over again at the Esquire in Sacramento after my Army discharge, starting in 1963 I believe. I’ll be curious to see where it all ended, that is which American city was the last to get the three strip films.
By the way this has been a very interesting and informative series Michael. Thanks for putting all the work into it and posting it here!
Regarding the success of “The Robe” and “How to Marry a Millionaire” relative to “Kiss Me Kate” you also have to remember that the former were the first films in the brand new CinemaScope process when that widescreen format’s name had big marquee value, just as 3-D had at the beginning of the brief 3-D era. The novelty of 3-D had pretty much worn off, people were in fact tired of wearing those 3-D glasses, the darkened image caused by them and the sometimes imperfect projection. The mediocrity of many (but definitely not all) of the films of course had something to do with it. Meanwhile they were anxious to see the mostly extravagant and star packed CinemaScope films on their local theater’s new wide screens, hopefully accompanied by four channel stereophonic sound. CinemaScope of course was here to stay and 3-D was on it’s last legs.
Growing up in RIchmond CA I could tell that the 3-D era’s end was near. We had two downtown theaters equipped for 3-D, the UA and the Fox. I dismayed to see that films that played San Francisco and Oakland in 3-D like “Kiss Me Kate” were arriving in Richmond a month or so later in flat 3-D versions. We fortunately did get “Hondo” in 3-D and then (surprisingly) “Revenge of the Creature” and that was the end of 3-D for us. Our local suburban theater, the Park in El Sobrante, had previously announced that 3-D was “coming soon” but soon saw the handwriting on the wall and cancelled plans to install it. At theaters all over town you would see posters for films originally shot in 3-D with pasted strips over the 3-D logos and obviously being played flat in those theaters. As a teenage boy who enjoyed the novelty of 3-D I was completely bummed out but looking back I can see the reasons for the format’s quick demise in both the 1950’s and 1980’s.
I’m not optimistic that 3-D will really catch on in a big way this time either. Unless they can finally find a way to perfect it without having the audience wearing glasses I think it will just remain the novelty it has always been…not that there is anything wrong with novelties! If there is ever a 3-D Expo III in Hollywood, I’m on my way!
Amen to what Bob said about anyone describing “Kiss Me Kate” as unbearable! Most movie fans (myself included) consider it one of the better 1950’s musicals and one of the better 3-D films. Too bad it came along right at the end at didn’t get more playdates in 3-D. Leonard Maltin gives it 3 ½ stars in his very reliable movie guide. He gives 3 stars to the other films mentioned with the exception of 2 ½ stars for “Cease Fire” which I didn’t much care for either although I never saw it in 3-D.
“House of Wax” and “Black Lagoon” “so bad they are funny”? Not in my opinion, then or now! Like you say Mr. Alvarez it is definitely subjective though…“different strokes for different folks”…and all that good stuff!
Speaking of “stroking” (sorry about that!) the 1969/71 adult softcore epic “The Stewardesses” has just been released on DVD in anaglyphic 3-D if any of you dirty old men or dirty young men (or women?) want a blast from the past. You can get it from Amazon and other web dealers. It’s pretty tame by today’s standards and pretty bad by the standards of any era, amazing that it played for months during it’s initial release. I remember when the good citizens of Berkeley were picketing the little Elmwood theatre because they were holding it over too long and keeping out the artsy foreign and independent films which were the normal fare of the Elmwood.
“In 1953 and 1954, 3-D was used for some very good films- including House of Wax, Kiss Me Kate, Inferno, Dial M for Murder, The Glass Web, Creature from the Black Lagoon, Hondo, Miss Sadie Thompson, etc.” Which one of those films are you accusing of being good?"
Actually most of those flicks were pretty good and can still stand up pretty well today in flat 2-D! You could say the same of several others. However there was also “Robot Monster”, “Cat Women of the Moon”, “Bwana Devil” (which got the 50’s 3-D boom started), “The Maze”, “Fort Ti”, “Drums of Tahiti” and way too many others that would have been turkeys in any format. They helped kill the 3-D boom just as much as imperfect (out of synch, out of frame, etc.) projection and the requirement that the audience wear those 3-D glasses. I still loved it back then, still do in fact!
I’m a fan of 3-D, have been since the 1950’s when contrary to popular opinion when presented in the right way (dual projector polaroid with perfect projection) it was pretty damn good…and downright amazing for 1950’s technology. I’ve attended both of the more recent 3-D Festivals in Hollywood (where it was also presented in the right way) and thoroughly enjoyed re-visiting those 50’s 3-D classics and not so classics (who can forget “Robot Monster” and “Cat Women of the Moon”?) I’ve even seen a few of the recent animated 3-D digital productions as well as the live action “Journey to the Center of the Earth” and enjoyed them too. However for me 3-D remains a novelty to be experienced just once in a while. No way I would want to see every new flick, even the majority of new flicks in that process. If the industry goes bonkers with their 3-D mania I predict it will die just as quick death as the 1950’s version and the 1980’s version. People still don’t like to wear those damn glasses! If they are selective in what films are shot in 3-D and don’t go overboard well it may be around for a while. Only time will tell.
With rare exception you are sadly unable to see these cartoon shorts from the Golden Age in theaters anymore. Ever sadder is the fact that they have almost entirely disappeared from broadcast and cable/satellite television. Entire generations are growing up without the benefit of Looney Tunes as well as the other classics. Talk about cruel and unusual punishment! Even the Cartoon Network whose parent company (Time Warner) owns the Warners cartoon library as well as the Paramount Popeyes and MGM cartoons has almost entirely given up on them in favor of the more modern stuff…but I guess that’s the stuff that sells advertising nowadays…and quite possibly what modern kids prefer (sigh). I do have to say that in the closing days of the theatrical cartoon (the mid to late 1960’s I believe) most of the cartoons, even from Warner Brothers had gotten so lame that some of us were not that disappointed to see them disappear from theaters.
The good news is that for those of us who still love classic cartoons, an increasing number of them are being released on DVD in absolutely stunning quality, many restored from original 35mm negatives. There are 6 4 disc volumes of Looney Tunes each with over 60 cartoons on each disc, 3 volumes of Popeye the Sailor with more to come, 3 volumes of Tom and Jerry, 2 volumes of Woody Woodpecker and friends, a two disc Tex Avery’s Droopy and a whole bunch of Walt Disney Treasures sets with almost every Disney cartoon ever made since Disney started animating. Lots of lesser public domain stuff too but quality does vary on these disks.
Notably missing from DVD at present are the Tex Avery MGM cartoons without Droopy (and there’s some GREAT cartoons there! Shame on Warners for not putting them out!) and except for some mediocre public domain releases the also great Betty Boop library. Lion’s Gate apparently owns the Boops now and unless it has John Wayne in it it has little to no interest in it’s classic library. Shame on them too! There is also almost nothing available from the Columbia/UPA (Fox & Crow, Mr. Magoo, etc.) or Terrytoon (Mighty Mouse, etc.) cartoon libraries either.
As you can see there are some great classic cartoons out there on DVD. Pick up a few discs and add a cartoon or two to your next DVD night. It’s as close that we can come to bringing back the good old days when every program at your local theater featured a cartoon.
Anything with Bugs Bunny would be fine with me. I also love “One Froggy Evening” (that singing frog!) and Daffy and Porky and Feghorn Leghorn and Henry Hawk and Beaky Buzzard and the Tasmanian Devil. Oh heck I love all the Looney Tunes with the possible exception of those with Sniffles the Mouse, just not my cup of tea (sorry MariaMaria!) When I was growing up in the 1950’s our local theater (the Park in El Sobrante CA) used to show the Blue Ribbon reissue of “Bedtimes for Sniffles” in their Saturday afternoon carnival way too often and it would always get a big groan out us boys who would rather have a Bugs or Daffy or better yet a Tex Avery Droopy or any Tex Avery cartoon from MGM.
Yeah those were the days when a cartoon on every program (usually double feature programs!) added to the enjoyment of going to the movies. On Saturday you could see anywhere from 5 to 10 cartoons as well as a serial chapter in addition to the regular double feature program. Some theaters even added a third feature just for the matinee. You could go in at 10 AM and come out about 4 PM after seeing all of this entertainment for a mere 25 cents! I truly spent some of the most pleasurable hours of my youth at those Saturday matinees!
Absolutely one of my favorite sites and one I check every day of the year! Thanks so much to the site operators and all who contribute. Happy New Year to all!
Ah miracles do happen! I don’t know how many times I walked by that old theater after it closed sadly thinking that it was just a matter of time before it was demolished and nostalgically remembering my pleasant movie going experiences there in the 1950’s and 1960’s. The same thing happened when walking by San Jose’s California Theatre before it was beautifully restored. I wish they had included facilities for film projection as they did with the (Oakland) Paramount and (San Jose) California but I guess you can’t have everything. I can’t wait to visit the newly restored Fox Oakland! Welcome back grand old movie palace! It should be a shot in the arm for downtown Oakland too, which needs all the help it can get!
Oops forgot to add that link to the California’s Christmas film series which includes “A Christmas Story”:
If you live in the San Francisco Bay Area there is a great chance to see “A Christmas Story” this weekend (Friday to Sunday, December 19-21) at the beautifully restored California Theatre in San Jose. It’s on a double bill with the BIng Crosby-Danny Kaye “White Christmas” (the first VistaVision feature from 1954), part of a rare movie series at the California which is usually home to only symphony and opera. The theatre alone is worth the very low price of admission ($5 which includes a free popcorn!) but the superb 35mm film presentation makes this a real treat. Unfortunately nothing in 70mm in this year’s series but any film showing at the California is definitely worth the trip to San Jose.
A great loss indeed to the theatre history community! Not that I didn’t love movies and theatres since childhood but my real introduction to the historical and architectural aspects came at a slide show and lecture by Mr. Levin at the San Francisco Public Library in the mid 1970’s. I encountered Steve several times later and was always impressed with his knowledge and passion for our Cinema Treasures. Rest in Peace Mr. Levin, you will be missed!