Comments from JohnRice

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JohnRice commented about 3-D Revolution at movie theaters on Feb 4, 2009 at 4:54 pm

AlAlvarez wrote:
“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!

JohnRice commented about 3-D Revolution at movie theaters on Feb 4, 2009 at 4:44 pm

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.

JohnRice commented about "What's Up Doc?"...Looney Tunes Marathon on Jan 18, 2009 at 11:51 am

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.

JohnRice commented about "What's Up Doc?"...Looney Tunes Marathon on Jan 16, 2009 at 3:57 pm

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!

JohnRice commented about Happy New Year's on Jan 2, 2009 at 8:08 pm

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!

JohnRice commented about Fabulous Fox Oakland to reopen February 5, 2009 on Dec 24, 2008 at 3:30 pm

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!

JohnRice commented about 25th Anniversary of "A Christmas Story" (1983) - - "You'll shoot your eye out, kid!" on Dec 18, 2008 at 4:33 pm

Oops forgot to add that link to the California’s Christmas film series which includes “A Christmas Story”:

JohnRice commented about 25th Anniversary of "A Christmas Story" (1983) - - "You'll shoot your eye out, kid!" on Dec 18, 2008 at 4:29 pm

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.

JohnRice commented about In Memoriam: Steve Levin on Dec 15, 2008 at 4:30 pm

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!

JohnRice commented about Porn films burnt at 60-year-old drive-in on Nov 5, 2008 at 4:16 pm

Wow that must have been some pretty HOT porn!

JohnRice commented about Signs go up as well as prices on Oct 29, 2008 at 4:53 pm

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!

JohnRice commented about Netflix and Samsung partner to instantly stream movies on Oct 27, 2008 at 4:47 pm

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.

JohnRice commented about Air base theater to reopen on Oct 7, 2008 at 5:16 pm

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!

JohnRice commented about Movies on Demand at the Movies on Sep 25, 2008 at 8:25 am

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?”

JohnRice commented about Once in a lifetime film event at the restored Plaza Theatre in El Paso Texas on Aug 15, 2008 at 1:45 pm

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!

JohnRice commented about The Stanford Theater: Old Films Are New Again on Aug 13, 2008 at 8:09 am

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:

JohnRice commented about The Stanford Theater: Old Films Are New Again on Aug 11, 2008 at 4:18 pm

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.

JohnRice commented about Alameda Theatre cuts corners with non-union workers on Jul 31, 2008 at 8:50 am

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:

View link

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.

JohnRice commented about Alameda Theatre on Jul 25, 2008 at 1:51 pm

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!

JohnRice commented about Alameda Theatre on Jul 25, 2008 at 9:26 am

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!

JohnRice commented about Alameda Theatre cuts corners with non-union workers on Jul 16, 2008 at 10:39 pm

“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!

JohnRice commented about Alameda Theatre cuts corners with non-union workers on Jul 15, 2008 at 8:51 pm

“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?

JohnRice commented about Park Theatre on Jul 9, 2008 at 11:38 pm

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!

JohnRice commented about Alameda Theatre cuts corners with non-union workers on Jul 9, 2008 at 10:57 pm

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!

JohnRice commented about Colonial Theater on Jul 5, 2008 at 11:25 am

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.