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Me thinks the chains are digging their own graves with all of the above. High definition cable or satelllite TV or Blu-ray DVD, even regular DVD looks pretty damn good on a 42 or 50 inch plasma TV, even better than it does in some of our local multiplexes with their dim xenon lamps, poorly adjusted sound, and out of focus and out of frame projection by incompetents in the booth Then there are those cretins in the audience who want to talk to each other, talk on their cell phones or light up the whole theater while they text message. Forget those overpriced concessions too! Yeah I know it’s nice to get out of the house but one of these days I’m going to say “Enough is enough!”. That will be with some regret because I’ve been a movie-goer for over 50 years and look on the theater going experience in my younger years fondly. There was a time when going to the movies was an enjoyable and reasonably priced experience…really there was!
Not that I wouldn’t love to see it but 65mm (70mm prints) has about as much chance of returning as silent movies. In fact it looks like 35mm is about to become an endangered species. Like it or not, we are now living in a digital world, at least as far as our media is concerned.
I have somewhat fond memories of the theaters on the Army bases where I was stationed during my 1959-1962 service years. Most of the stateside theaters were not much to look at on the outside (no marquees, just one sheet poster cases) but inside many had very nice interiors with stage and curtains, some even equipped for 4 channel mag sound. Projection and presentation was usually as good as the commercial theaters downtown. There were 5 program changes a week back then, all single features with either a newsreel, cartoon or a short and trailers preceding the feature. Oh yeah the admission price was only 25 cents…cheap even if most of us enlistees were only making $80-150 a month.
At Camp Kaiser in Korea in 1959-60 things weren’t quite as good, the 35mm post theater was a quonset hut and the Korean projectionist (probably on orders from the sergeant managing the theater) was always skipping the trailers and shorts so the staff could go home early. We didn’t even have TV at Kaiser (too far from the station at Seoul) so we valued even the missing newsreels to show us what was going on at home. The smaller theaters in the boondocks of Korea played films in 16mm rather than 35mm.
Returning to the USA in 1961 I was stationed at Fort Bliss Texas where we had two very nice post theaters. Unfortunately a few months after I arrived the bone headed post commander decreed that we had to wear uniforms or coats and ties to get our nightly 25 cents movie fix. Bummer! Most of us boycotted the post theaters from then on and went into El Paso to frequent the downtown houses (loved that Plaza!) or a carload of us got a couple of sixpacks and went to one of the many local drive ins. One of them (the Northpoint?) was 99 cents a carload, even cheaper per GI than on post!
Yeah those were the days…sort of!
Hmmm…that reminds me of that old joke I think I heard on the Jack Benny radio show way back in the early 1950’s when television was having such a dramatic impact on the movie theater business. A man calls a movie theater to see what time the show starts and the response is “What time can you get here?”
Sounds like a great series…it ALMOST makes me want to make a return trip to El Paso even though I now live 1200 miles away! As a young GI stationed at Fort Bliss in 1961 and 1962 I have fond memories of that old theater, it’s huge auditorium and the Wurlitzer pipe organ that was played during intermission on Sunday nights when in addition to the regular feature you saw a “Major Studio Sneak Preview”, usually the next attraction at the Plaza or one coming very soon. I’m delighted to know that grand movie palace (as well as the Wurlitzer!) is still there, has been restored and is still playing movies…at least on special occasions such as this!
Check out the Stanford’s website to see the current program which is the annual summer film festival, usually a mixed bag but with lots of James Stewart and Bette Davis this year. You can also browse the programs of past festivals which are normally dedicated to a specific star or director. They even had a dual projector 3-D Festival at one time (wish they would do a repeat of that one!). You can even check out a list of every program that played the Stanford since it opened back in the 1920’s.
Here’s the link:
The Stanford is indeed a Bay Area if not a national treasure! No way it could survive in today’s commercial market without the deep pockets of the Stanford Foundation and the movie loving passion of David Packard though. It’s a beautiful theater with superb presentation and projection (35mm dual projector changeover of course since play play archive prints including nitrates). There’s also a Wurlitzer pipe organ for the silents. If that’s not enough popcorn and soft drink prices are unbelievably reasonable (cheap!), starting at $1.00 I believe! As far as I know there is not another theater like it in the whole country. I love the Stanford and hope it and it’s policy of showing only films from the Golden Age of Hollywood (roughly 1920 to 1960) will be around long after I’ve gone.
The promised article about the Alameda’s projection problems is in this week’s edition of the East Bay Express. I think it’s a pretty good and well balanced article. You can read it on line here:
JDC seems to think it’s just a simple job to prepare the films and run a good show (“it takes a pulse, patience and eyes”). If that’s the case I do wonder why the Alameda is still having all those problems. I would however agree that union membership is not a prerequisite for being a good projectionist. I was a non union projectionist in the carbon arc lamp/changeover days, learned the craft while in the Army, and would put my skills and pride in running a good show against any union man, not that some of those union guys didn’t also do a damn good job back in those days. Union or non union you do have to have some good training though and some good work ethics too. Loving movies probably helps!
The bottom line is that as audience members, especially in these days of $10 tickets and $5 popcorn, we do have the right to expect a good presentation regardless of who is minding those many projectors up there. We expect the picture in focus and in frame and the sound level to be at an appropriate level at all times. If there is a problem (and there should be few of them!) we want it to be promptly corrected. I don’t think that’s too much to ask and based on my experience and other people’s experience at the Alameda they are continuing to receive failing grades in the presentation department. That’s too bad because otherwise it’s a very nice multiplex and a great asset to downtown Alameda.
I think the poster means it’s not practical or financially possible to have a projectionist monitoring each auditorium at all times. Let’s face it. with platters it’s not necessary. The days of carbon arc lamps and films on 2000 foot (20 minute) reels which pretty much required constant attention are long gone except in a very few specialized theaters.
You do have to prepare the films on platters right, splice the reels together in frame for example, a procedure which the Alameda still seems to be unclear on the concept. You do have to check your focus and framing and sound volume when the show starts. It’s a good idea to re-check these things after the trailers at the beginning of the feature. When you are running the projectors in anywhere from 4 to 25 auditoriums you just can’t give each auditorium your constant attention, as much as that would be an ideal situation. By hiring competent personnel you can minimize your problems and audience complaints though. Again the Alameda seems to be unclear on that concept!
Regarding cledo’s comment above:
And they wonder why sensible people are staying home more and more nowadays! Hey DVD or better yet high definition DVD or satellite service doesn’t look too shabby on a plasma TV. In my humble opinion it looks better in fact that the image in many multiplexes, especially multiplexes with incompetent projection personnel as well as incompetent management like the Alameda sadly appears to have. Don’t get me started on those cellphone, texting, talking airheads either! I was giving the Alameda the benefit of the doubt after their sloppy opening but my patience is now completely exhausted. Even though I just live a few miles away it just ain’t worth the drive!
“You dont need a union to get that!”
Right! Let’s just give one of the auto-focus oriented popcorn selling kids an extra 50 cents an hour and let him or her run 10 or 20 screens!
I conceded somewhere above that union membership isn’t necessary to be a good projectionist but you do have to have some conscientious, increasingly tech savy personnel in your booth. The state of modern day multiplex projection is pathetic. I could tell you horror stories all day long and I spent a good deal of time in projection rooms in my younger days (non union at that!) so I sort of know what I’m talking about.
All most of us are asking is for the Alameda to get it’s act together and give us a good film presentation. Nice new theater but their projection sucks! Most of us don’t much care if it’s union or non union…just do it right!
“Alameda Theatre cuts corners with non-union workers” Its called staying in business……."
Some of us think that it’s quite possible to hire competent projection personnel, be they union or non union, and still stay in business. It actually works for a few local theaters that I know of, the Grand Lake for instance. The Alameda unfortunately still appears to be a bit unclear on that concept. Is the film being in focus and framed properly too much to ask for our meager $10 admission and $4 (small) Cokes?
Thanks for those first hand comments Trainmaster! The old stage, screen and curtain were definitely there behind the widescreen when I was growing up in El Sobrante. They may have been removed when the Park had some additional remodeling done after I left El Sobrante in 1958. That’s when the screen curtain was put back in and the screen size reduced just a bit…a big improvement by the way! I only saw the Park in that form one time, on a return trip to my old stomping grounds. I still remember the features were “Hud” with Paul Newman and “Fun in Acapulco” with Elvis…and a trailer for “Dr. No”. (What a memory eh?)
The Park was the first Richmond area theater to go wide screen (cropping even the older films!), even before they played any CinemaScope films. They replaced their original stage, screen and curtain with an almost wall to wall non curtained screen, approximately 1.85:1 ratio. That screen was soon replaced with a slightly wider screen with about a 2:1 ratio. Scope fllms were shown letterboxed on both of those screens, not a system I approved of since I always believed that Scope films should be presented wider than “flat” (1.85:1) films. The reason I know the old stage and screen were still there was on rare occasions a staff member would go behind the screen before the show and turn the lights on. Like you mentioned you could see right through the new screen and I could see the old stage and screen which I fondly remembered from my early days attending the Park. At time I was amazed they were still there!
The regular projectionist at the Park when I was growing up was a gruff but good hearted middle aged gent named Lee. He let me come up to the booth a few times. “You’re not supposed to…but come on up!”. As I recall it was one of the more spacious projection rooms that I’ve been in.
I couldn’t agree more with your opinion of modern day multiplexes, automated projection and crummy presentation!
It’s more than just a problem of being union or non union although I’ve been a unIon (railroad) man most of my life and strongly approve of the hiring of union projectionists. They generally just know their craft and do it better! I have also seen some very competent non union projectionists. In fact (not to brag) I was one of them many moons ago. With the Alameda they just seem to have hired an incompetent group of individuals to run their equipment. I mean these guys and/or gals haven’t even figured out how to splice or thread in frame yet! I’m not even sure the blame can be placed directly on them. If no one teaches you properly you can’t be expected to do a good job. Take a look at the Alameda’s page on this website to read about the problems they’ve had since opening and are continuing to have. Talk about amateur night at the movies!
The Colonial was running softcore pin up nudie films in the mid 1960’s. I believe it was the first Sacramento theater to break the full frontal nudity barrier with these films. Softcore films of course later turned to hardcore as they did at almost all of the adult theaters in the country. I’d almost forgotten about this theater until I read that Sacramento theater (Crest, Guild) impresario Matias Bombal was programming classic movies again at the Colonial. That policy was unfortunately short lived, just as it was at the Guild. I believe that was sometime in the late 1990’s. It’s nice to know that at least the building still stands.
As I recall this little theater opened in the late 1960s and initially played Mexican films, sort of a replacement for the recently closed Rio Theater (519 J Street). That policy didn’t work so they quckly switched to an art house policy. Landmark later operated it successfully for several years with a calendar rep policy.
I have fond memories of Guild during the years I lived in Sacramento, roughly 1962-1968. It introduced me to the new world of independent American and foreign film. “Jules and Jim”, “Seven Samurai”, “La Dolce Vita”, “The Virgin Spring”, “David and Lisa”…I could name dozens more that I saw for the first time at the cozy little Guild, sort of the Sacramento equivalent of San Francisco’s legendary Surf. In particular I liked to attend on Monday nights when in addition to the regular feature they had a bonus feature, usually another legendary art film. The neighborhood got more dangerous and Art Theater Guild opened another art house, the Towne, in the Sacramento suburbs, out near American River College. That seemed to be the beginning of the end for the Guild. I remember some Los Angeles based porno chain taking over in the late 1960’s and then I lost track of it until it was briefly reopened by Matias Bombal in the 1990’s. Nice to see it still is being used as a theater, even if films are not being shown there anymore.
The Times, right across the street from the Esquire and Encore on K Street, had a grind house policy when I first moved to Sacramento in 1962, double features for a low admission price, several weekly program changes. It shortly thereafter changed to a softcore sex films policy. The Hyatt Regency hotel now stands in it’s place.
Oops in the first sentence of my last paragraph above I meant the World, not the Encore when I talked about the closing. I sure wish we could edit our posts on Cinema Treasures. As many times as I proof read them I frequently notice a boo-boo after I’ve posted.
The World was a grind house when I moved to Sacramento in 1962. It programmed double features for about 50 cents admission, showings daily from 1:00 PM to midnight as I recall. I still remember the first program I saw there, a couple of Fox CinemaScope films from the 1950’s, “The Tall Men” with Clark Gable and Jane Russell and “April Love” with Pat Boone and Shirley Jones. The color on “The Tall Men” had already turned pink, the first time I’d seen than phenomenon. Do I have a good memory of what?
A short time later the World changed to a triple feature, daily change of programs, open all night policy. There was quite an eclectic mix in the programming those days. You could see fairly recent (a year or two old) features mixed with stuff from the 1930’s and 1940’s. I remember watching “Rocket Ship” (feature version of a Flash Gordon serial), an old Universal Bob Baker western, lots of the Warner Brothers classics, a bunch of 1950’s Columbia features, etc. etc. ect. There was no rhyme or reason to the combination of titles on the same program but that was typical of the grindhouses of the era.
The World was a great place for a young film buff like myself or anybody else looking to see some cheap flicks and some you couldn’t see anywhere else in town. The audience seemed to consist mainly of older people and transients and for the most part they were pretty well behaved. This was before alcoholics, druggies, punks and idiots took over the grind houses. That small men’s restroom at the top of the stairs could get pretty smelly at times though! The biggest problem with the World is that they didn’t advertise in the Sacramento Bee or Union. No programs at the theater either. You had to go down to the theater or buy one the the now defunct San Francisco newspapers (Call Bulletin?) where ironically they did have a small classified ad, probably because they were part of a chain, United California Theaters I believe, who advertised all of their Northern California theaters that way.
The triple feature grind policy didn’t last much beyond the mid 1960’s. The World policy then changed to softcore sex films with a new operator. It later went hardcore and became part of the Pussycat chain, the second Pussycat in Sacramento (first was the former Encore on K Street).
I don’t remember when the Encore was closed and demolished but I belive the 9th Street entrance to the Sacramento main library now stands in it’s place. The theater wasn’t much, certainly not a movie palace, but it had it’s own character and I have fond memories of the few years I attended.
It’s pretty discouraging that after over a month of operation they still haven’t got any projection room personnel that know how to splice the 2000 foot reels together in frame as they make up the feature on the platter. I can’t recall a theater that opened with such amateurish projection and I’ve been going to movies since the late 1940’s…and spent more than a few days and nights in projection rooms too! I had that threading and splicing in frame thing figured out after about 10 minutes. It’s not rocket science you know!
I don’t want to come down too hard on the Alameda though. The craft of projection and the art of good film presentation has pretty much disappeared from theaters throughout the country and probably around the world. Just give one of the popcorn selling guys or gals an extra 50 cents an hour and let them handle the projectors in ten or twenty auditoriums. Most of the rubes who paid their $10 a seat won’t know the difference! Now if only we could outsource it to India…and maybe with the upcoming move from 35mm to digital we’ll be able to do that! Welcome to movie going in the 21st Century folks!
An absolutely fascinating read!
So what is going to stop Mr. & Mrs. Joseph P. Yuppie from paying their $35 (plus $25 for premium concessions?) each and still forgetting to turn their cell phones off and/or text messaging and talking throughout the movie? Ordering food and drinks and having them delivered and paid for during the show sounds a little disruptive to me too. Then there is the negative effect on one alcoholic drink too many on some people. From my multiplex experience it’s more than just rowdy teenagers who make for a miserable movie going experience nowadays. Rude, inconsiderate behavior seems to be spread across the whole spectrum of age and class…or maybe I’ve just been patronizing the wrong multiplexes!
I agree with the Florida Times-Union! It’s certainly one of my favorites to check out every day!
It was a fun and interesting job in the changeover days, carefully checking each print when it came in on exchange reels, maintaining those sometimes troublesome carbon arc lamps, threading the projectors and rewinding the 2000' (20 minute) reels, listening for the end-of-reel bell to alert you to strike an arc and start watching for the changeover cues, changing the lenses and aperture plates to go from flat to scope or visa versa…most of all trying to give the audience the best film presentation you could. I was never bored. Nowadays with xenon lamps and platters it seems to me about as interesting to me as putting a DVD in the player, not that I don’t respect the men and women who do take their projection jobs seriously. It still takes skill to do it right (watch that focus and framing PLEASE!) but for me it just ain’t the same as it was in the “good old days”. I look back fondly on my days in the booth even though they ended long ago.