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From your description of the last 18 years of projection problems — between micro 35 MM images, and now projection so out of proportion that images are cropped enough that subtitles are a problem — it seems that stadium seating is the least of the Continental’s problems. This is the “outstanding job” Regal is doing with the Continental Theatre? It’s been a quarter century since the fire destroyed the original lenses, and this is the best that Regal can accomplish? The bar has been set quite low indeed. What a sad end to have this theater in these hands.
I’m also curious about the lenses…
Drive-in screens are flat… the original Continental screen was D-150 and curved, which is why it had specially ground lenses to accommodate the curvature. If they are now using old drive-in lenses, has the screen been re-configured at the Continental as a flat surface? Or is there major distortion and edge focus issues as such use would typically cause?
The Continental Theatre has been operating for at least 43 years (since around 1965) and though it became part of United Artists then Commonwealth in the late 70’s, at least a third of its life was spent as either one of the three independent Continental Theatres, or with Cooper/Highland Theaters (as of about 1972-3). One third is a pretty significant chunk of time, and it was through these years that the theater established itself in the community and set exhibition standards.
Then again, you may be right that most people are only familiar with the later stages of the building’s life. (After all, London has been around for centuries, though most people today never experienced a time when it didn’t have a McDonald’s.)
No doubt the Continental played Star Wars in 70MM, and even doing so nearly a decade after its release counts. But the fact that Cooper/Highland management decided to premiere the original at the Cooper instead of the Continental speaks to that fallow period in the theater’s history.
There have been times when, for whatever reason, the theater didn’t always use the D-150 lens — sometimes because of a film’s odd image ratio, sometimes because of screen or curtain problems. When that happened, and the full screen was not used, it did seem like a postage stamp on the wall. But when the full expanse of screen was employed (it was the third largest screen in a commercial theater when it opened, after all), the result was awesome. During the run of “Sound Of Music”, we’d send rookie ushers to seat late arrivers towards the front of the house — invariably they’d glance at the images of flying over the Alps in the opening sequence and get vertigo… stumbling over their feet to make their way up the aisle to the amusement of everyone. It was that enormous, filling the peripheral vision of those in the front rows.
Would a stadium seat help the presentation of a film in the Continental? Toss a coin. But it would negatively affect the audio dynamics of the auditorium… and it would certainly diminish the sense of grandeur and grace that are rarely available anywhere. Even in a temporal town like Los Angeles, the City Council and the audiences wouldn’t allow that sort of modification to their Cinerama Dome or Chinese Theater.
Sometimes it’s not what you do TO a theater, but what you do WITH it that determines its commercial value and protects the cultural history of the community. This effort, alas, is usually not the priority of large theater chains who don’t always have the time or attention to maximize a venue with anything other than a cookie cutter. Stadium seats weren’t integrated with the original design not because the technology was unavailable, but because it changes the experience aesthetics. That appreciation is subjective… and probably orchestrated by common contemporary experience.
Sounds like a typical middle-management decision.
The only reason to renovate with stadium seating at the Continental is to compress the amount of space between the last row and the screen — allowing for more lobby area to accommodate additional snack sales.
Back in the 1970’s, when the film “Barry Lyndon” was about to be released, Stanley Kubrick sent out teams of theater inspectors to measure the distance between rows of seats. He understood that his film was quite long, and that the comfort of the audience in the theater would be key to their enjoyment of the film. His team approved of two theaters in Denver: the Century 21 on Colorado Blvd, and the Continental. At that time, Mann Theaters had more $$ for the film rental guarantees, and got the engagement. (Unless you were aware of the, um, “product split” that was going on at the time.) Today it would be difficult to imagine a filmmaker with either the clout or the interest to make such demands. And apparently, exhibitors lack the imagination to find ways of increasing revenue without destroying the atmosphere that brings audiences to theaters in the first place.
Unless we decide to be happy with our hi-def home flat screens, I suggest a campaign championed by AFI, the cultural departments of the city of Denver, or just a good old fashioned press event staged outside the Continental for the benefit of the local TV stations.
That’s very true about the louvered Cinerama screen at the Cooper. However the problem with the 35 to 70MM blow-up of Star Wars was the muddied focus as the film grain was simply magnified in the quick-and-dirty process to rush larger format prints to the market. (Another reason it was digitally enhanced later in life.) The Continental enjoyed a true D-150 screen that was carefully curved for the dimensional effect — part of the specs demanded by Michael Todd when he was promoting an anamorphic alternative to the three-projector Cinerama process. As discussed here earlier, the Continental Theatre(s) were built for the three projectors (and fourth audio unit), but changed their hardware after construction for the single, switch-over 70MM system.
Harold — as one of the original Assitant Managers of the Denver Continental, I can attest that even the doormen were required to wear tuxedos to work there. When I started working there, I was attending a local high school, and wore the tux shirt to school so that I had less to change when I rushed to the theater to work the matinees… and it being a time of more outlandish hippie attire, the ruffled shirt really fit in to the whole aesthetic with beads and jeans (before dressing up for the job!). But in response to an earlier post: The Continental in Denver did not premiere the original Star Wars. That was at the Cooper Cinerama Dome, and it was initially presented in 35MM. After a few weeks, an extra 70MM print was struck and used… but the 35MM actually looked better on screen. The effects work was shot in 35MM (with the camera turned 90-degrees for more negative area), as was the overall picture itself. The 70MM prints were just 35MM blown-up, so they looked “soft” on the big screen, though the six track audio made up for some of the diminished picture. (It was very easy to see the occasional poor matting on the action sequences.) As far as 35MM presentations at the Continental, not only were the original theater lenses made for the specific throw of the house (including the curved screen installed for the D-150 effect), but the aperture plates on the projectors had to be re-filed by the projectionist to accommodate showings of earlier Academy Frame prints that were still available for classic films — some of which included a special Tom Mix Film Festival that Harold’s grandfather asked us to present.
I was also living in that area in 1969 and recall the limited occassions when the Continental was used by this congregation. As I recall, when the “Church of the Risen Christ” was completed, it featured a very modernistic architectural front… and in a supreme bit of irony, Woody Allen used this church’s fascade as a set in the early sequences of his film “Sleeper”, which premiered at the Continental Theatre a few blocks up the street.
The Continental Theatre (please note that it originally used the “re” spelling and it was not part of the Commonwealth chain) was part of a three theater chain built by an Oklahoma oil man — the other two theaters in Tulsa and Oklahoma City (also called the “Continental Theatre”) were constructed from the exact same blueprints, so that each theater was identical. When this building was constructed in the 1960s, it featured the third largest screen in the world (for a contoured suspended screen) — the largest at that time having been in Japan. The building featured three projection booths (plus a separate sound booth) as it was originally designed to handle Cinerama shows, but during the final stage of constriction the Michael Todd’s D150 anamorphic 70MM process became available, so only the main center booth was used. (The left booth became storage, the right became the manager’s office… and as it had a large window for the missing projector, it also served as a screening box for celebrities who would attend premieres.) The projectionist union required two operators whenever 70MM prints were used, because of their weight to mount on the machines, and the lenses were specially made for the screen because it was not only large, but curved to 150-degrees — NOT a flat projection. Until 1970, all seating was sold as “hard tickets” (reserved seats) and the single refreshment stand sold only orange drink and Toblerone chocolates. Popcorn came later, and to save money, was often popped at off hours in Oklahoma, shipped to Denver in giant plastic bags, and re-heated before the doors opened. It was THE site for premieres of major productions (“The Bible”, “Funny Girl”, “Hello Dolly”, “Hawaii”, etc.) because it lended a very exclusive aire to the runs… and also because the Continental would agree to roadshow a film for an extended period. “Funny Girl” played there for 18 continuous months. The large theater chains in Denver stretched their muscles in the 70s and funneled the big releases towards their cracker boxes, so the Continental went through a period of “experimentation” for a while. We’d collect as many 70MM prints of films like “Sound Of Music”, “South Pacific”, “2001” etc. as could be found, then mix and match the prints until we could create one perfect assembly from the bunch… then re-premiere in 70MM 6-track surround. We’d play films no other theater would consider — like the 8-hour uncut “The Sorrow & The Pity”, or a Beatles marathon, a Tom Mix marathon, even “The Stewardesses in 3D”. Finally, Highland Theaters bought it up and brought it down a bit in class with their ability to keep fresh films flowing through. But there’s no comparison between seeing “2001” in 70MM and Burt Reynolds in “White Lightning” in 35MM… even if there are more people in the seats. Ah well….