Showing 1 - 25 of 59 comments
Well I just finished the mix of my latest feature, “Soft Money”,
and am preparing it for release both theatrically and DVD so I
decided to log on here and see what’s posted.
As I suspected, another attempt by Coates to discredit me in our
I guess the main reason most film directors
or historians bother to post on film related sites is that there
is usually a heckler on each of them which makes discussion a
waste of time.
I’ll clear up one matter which I have mentioned on other sites.
My neice was visting me and playing on the Dell under my name and
saw the listing of my book so she said she’s give a review. It was
originally poster under her name but then for whatever reason, it was
changed to my name. At first I thought it was amusing but then got
negative feedback from it so I’m glad it was removed. Other reviews
by her are listed under her name elsewhere I believe. So much for that.
One final comment is that my last manuscript was not intended as a ‘book of lists’. I even note that in some sections stating that
it’s a list of notable titles not every title in a category. The lists I made were based on information I had at the time and were used to illustrate a point You can get into debates about what
titles should be included in each category but that is really missing the point. Book of lists are better suited for the internet since you have to constantly update them. If I were to re-write the chapter on 70mm I would update the lists based on new information but that is really missing the point of the subject matter. What I was illustrating was that the appex of 70mm was in the mid-eighties. It fizzled out in the mid-nineties not because the format fell out of favor with audiences but for economic reasons. Many theater chains assumed it’s major attribute was six track stereo sound rather than the improved image quality. Thus when six track 35mm digital sound systems were developed, they lost interest in the 70mm blow up prints even though they increased boxoffice revenue in houses that booked them at the time. Also, the newly built megaplexes refused to install the equipment to keep their staff to a minimum in the multiple 35mm platter systems on each screen. The loss of 70mm and the brief revival and demise of dye transfer printing represented the last gasp of showmanship for theatrical exhibition, at least in a general sense. There are still isolated
cinemas that put on a good show.
Back to the Rivoli,
As I recall, after twinning (renamed UA Twin), only the bottom
theater had 70mm capability. The curved screen was removed and replaced with a flat one but the presentations were still quite good.
I would guess that the above mentioned sound system was only installed on this screen. The balcony screen was not as large and probably limted 35mm since I don’t recall a 70mm print ever playing there. The UA Twin didn’t last for long and was being demolished with construction gear outside the fascade even while
they continued to play new features until it’s end. I have pictures of it from that era.
I haven’t been evasive about anything to you. Your telephone
call to my private residence and nasty letter to my publisher
was way out of line although they certainly didn’t take you seriously. To say the least, to make a list of spelling errors
or typos is a little bizarre and speaks volumes. You certainly have a lot of time on your hands. In any event, our major point of contention is that prior to your phone call I never heard of you nor did I recognize you as the leading authority on 70mm. Your request that I give you credit in my bibiography was unfounded. Had you been more civil I might have considered it as a courtesy in the future.
Regarding your reference on “Class of Nuke Em High” in your second to last paragraph of your ‘review’, allow me to update you. That was an exploitation film I worked on 19 years ago and did not author. I know it’s become a common practice to link me to Troma when someone wants to discredit me but that was before my filmmaking career started. I don’t even consider it one of my pictures and I’ve been out of the exploitation genre for many years. My career begins with “Space Avenger” in Technicolor in 1989 and continues with “Run for Cover” in 3-D, my film noir, “Unsavory Characters” through my latest, “Soft Money” which is near completion. If you want to critique my pictures, fine, but at least screen them first
which you apparently haven’t. It’s like linking Ron Howard to “Grand Theft Auto” rather than “A Beautiful Mind” without watching either.
In terms of my credibility as a film historian, I believe it’s intact despite your condemnation. Yours is literally the first bad review I’ve received on either book. Some of your comments are worth debating but others I consider very petty. You approach is confrontational if not snide which is not constructive. I suppose my best move would be to just ignore you but it appeared that you were baiting me in your previous comment about MASH in 70mm. I probably over-reacted.
For those who would like to read a different perspective
on my book, they can see Erwin F. Erhardt’s review and “Film & History: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Film and Television Studies”. It’s available on line.
Both of my books are available on line from various sources including the publisher. I also did some articles about Technicolor and restoration in The Perfect Vision and Film History magazines which can be found on ebay if those subject matters interests you.
And now, back to the discussion of the Rivoli…
What’s interesting in the sixties is that 70mm wasn’t as big a selling tool as it became in the late seventies and eighties when
it was often prominently featured in the newspaper ads and on the
theater marquee. If you log onto The Sand Pebbles website, they have the Roadshow ads for the Rivoli and even though it was a 70mm blow up presentation, it’s not mentioned in the ads. Just the Panavision
and DeLuxe credits. This is where compiling a comprehensive list of 70mm titles becomes controversial. For example, I wasn’t a hundred percent confident that “The Great Race” was given that type of presentation (all 35mm prints were mono Technicolor) until a faded 70mm was discovered in LA.
Many years ago I had a film collector friend who found one 70mm reel of “The Sand Pebbles”, possibly from the Rivoli run. Since it was completely faded, I assumed it was junk. In hindsight I should’ve tried to salvage it since it might’ve had one of the scenes cut from the Roadshow. That reel is long gone now. Fox is currently restoring the movie on DVD. It will be interesting to see if the extra footage enhances the movie or slows down the pace.
The technical terms were bilateral and dual bilateral area tracks.
Both were used at least through the early seventies. 35mm Technicolor prints of “The Adventurers” were bilateral (single line) area tracks. The 1971 re-issue of “Lawrence of Arabia” also had this type of track.
I agree that the print of “Suspician” had excellent contrast
and sharpness. It was the best copy I’ve seen of it.
As always, Pete and Nelson put on a topnotch show.
I must say that the new prints they’re making
today of black and white classics look much better than those
shown at the Regency and other rep houses of the seventies.
Part of the problem was that Kodak had removed some of the silver
content at the time which resulted in poor contrast. They have resolved this problem and current estar B&W stock generates rich
blacks and a nice grayscale like pre-seventies stock.
It’s amazing what a difference watching a movie on a large silver screen in a palace makes in your enjoyment of the film. I thought this was one of Hitchcock’s lesser efforts
but the Lafayette screening improved my appreciation of the picture.
I’m still in awe of the artistry that went into the lighting design and compositions of these classics.
Pete informed me that they utilized two types of optical sound for the reels, single line and double line area tracks which accounts
for the volume difference between part A and part B of some reels.
I guess two facilites were involved with the transfer from nitrate to safety which would account for the different preservation track negatives.
I could not confirm “MASH” was blown up to 70mm although it was listed in some places as released in this format. I utilized
Booking and Buying Guides when I compiled my lists and cross referenced them with newspaper ads, studio publicity and film collectors who salvaged some of the original release prints.
In many cases it was a judgment call since distributors often
listed materials in their booking guides that were not manufactured
or used. Newspaper ads and studio publicity were not always accurate either. When compiliing lists, all you can do is use the
data that’s available at the time and update it if new data surfaces.
I know you are a fanatic about 70mm but there will always be a margin of error unless you personally attended the presentation which would be impossible when discussing films shown thirty years ago. In at least one case I was present when the NYC cinema advertised on the marquee and in the newspaper as “Die Hard” being presented in 70mm. I visited the booth and the projectionist showed me that the copy had been damaged in a platter and they had switched to 35mm Dolby without informing patrons.
For those unaware of your activities, let me inform them
that your have been trashing me and my book on other sites, posting derogatory comments and even contacting at my private home to start arguements, all of which has been saved in my records. I would appreciate it if you did not engage in these activities here.
1969 was the beginning of “New Hollywood” dominance over the medium.
Their dominance was short lived but impact long term. They
completely re-defined the very nature of the medium. Obviously, big
budget mainstream Roadshow movies were not part of their concept of
what cinema should be and were linked to “Old Hollywood”. What interesting is how quickly the medium switched from PG type entertainment to R and X. Within a few years, the bulk of the product was restricted which permanently changed the audience demographic and doomed the large screen cinemas.
Simultaneously, many classics were revived like “The Ten Commandments”, “Lawrence of Arabia”, “Giant”, the Connery Bond
films and Disney classics in the late sixtes and early seventies. It was a strange era to go to the movies
since one week would be a stuido classic like “Giant” with it’s superior craftsmanship and the next week the same theater would play a counter-culture film like “Putney Swope” that looked like it was made by amateur films students. Prior to the seventies, you knew what to expect when you went to the theater. After 69', you had
no idea what you were in for. For some, it was an exciting
time for the medium. For the general audience, many adults felt like they were under assualt. Their values and beliefs were being attacked and deconstructed. I imagine many were apprehensive going to the cinema afterwards and many stopped going on a weekly basis
as a matter of habit.
As noted above, some counter-culture pictures were given a large format release. Apparently “MASH” was blown up to 70mm and
shown this way. It was an amusing and stylish film in some respects
but probably didn’t warrant this type of presentation. The photography was too de-saturated and grainy to hold up in the optical
enlargement. Only fully exposed negatives photographed in the classic style worked in 70mm.
Everything you say is true but I don’t blame the audience entirely. They react to the level of showmanship and presentation.
If the cinema looks like a theater with curtains and plush decor
and the management treats the viewer like a customer then they
will react accordingly. If the cinema is the equivalent of a
fast food restaurant in a suburban mall then the audience will
behave according to those conditions. In a fancy restaurant,
the customer is catered to and given top quality food and a courteous
waiter. In a fast food place they are treated like cattle. The
same applies to cinemas. It’s up to the management. My experience
is that when the theater really makes an attempt to ‘put on a show’,
the audience is appreciative and even applauds at the end.
Sorry for the confusion. I didn’t mean “Jaws” itself had 900
prints made, I was referring to the trend to making more and more
release copies throughout the late seventies for the saturation
booking. I was aware that this type of formula had been tried
in the past by indies but it was unusual for the majors to operate
in this way if for no other reason than to keep the larger cinemas
in business with their window of exclusivity.
“The Godfather” actually had about 400 Technicolor release prints
made. Then they made another batch of prints at Movielab from
a CRI which looked awful in comparison. The dye transfer prints
were supervised by the cinematographer to generate the pitch black
blacks and vibrant fleshtones as desired. The Movielab prints were supervised by no one (which was typical for all high speed release copies) and looked it. That’s probably why Willis supervised the
last new feature to be printed in the process in 1974 which was “The Godfather II”. One of the many advantages of the IB process is that
once the creative people approve the ‘look’ of the film, every print
will look the same. You can actually watch the release copies being
made and each dye imbibed on the print. In China, at the end of the dye transfer line was a high speed projector where the staff watched
the prints projected as they were run off. If there was a problem,
the line could be stopped and adjustments could be made. No way to do that on a high speed printer. They are cranked out at the rate of 2000 ft. per minute on a ‘one lite’ setting and you don’t know if they came out until the next morning. No matter how they look, they are shipped out and I doubt whether any facility will reprint 2000 copies if the color or contrast is off. No one cares.
I agree that the DVD release is considered far more important than exhibition these days which is tragic to those of us who miss the
classic moviegoing experience. I guess as time goes on, there will
be fewer and fewer of us left to discuss this and new generations
will have a completely different concept of what cinema is. At least there is a great deal of showmanship put into many DVD releases. Some are like film history lessons with the commentary
tracks and other suppliments and the masters are made from either first generation materials (IP or EK low contrast print) or even the camera negative itself.
As I suggested, the only way to improve the theatrical experience is to get the cooperation of the distributors. If they won’t spend the extra money to make quality release prints, there’s little the theater can do. They have to play what’s sent them even if it’s not the optimum quality.
Some things the cinematographers could do is to shoot in the ‘classic studio’ style with more light on set, higher f.stops
and fully exposed negatives. The better the EK, the better the
intermediates will look. Color could and should be used as an integral element in the story, not just used functionally. Shooting in large format negatives and printing down would improve the sharpness and resolution. For example, the new high speed 35mm prints of “2001” still look quite good because they were shot by a master DP in 65mm.
“Jaws” was one of the movies that changed the pattern of distribution. Prior to the seventies, most major films
were released regionally rather than nationally. It made
sense from a business perspective since depending on the movie,
it might play extended engagements in some areas. Roadshows
were part of that venue. There was a ‘window’ between Roadshow
and general release and another window before the film was available for network broadcast. This enabled the various types of theaters
to derive as much income as they could from the release pattern.
Roadshow presentations had the exclusive in their area and of course
charged more because the screens were bigger and they offered 70mm
and six track stereo sound. Some had deeply curved screens too.
After Roadshow there was first run in other areas, often with 35mm
Technicolor prints in four track magnetic stereo of the same title,
reduction printed from the 65mm original. These were usually the uncut version too. Finally came general release, often cut, at popular prices. Overtures and intermissions were cut for these
screenings and the shorter running enabled more than just two screenings a day. There was another six months to a year before
the film was broadcast which enabled second run, double bills and drive ins. Some “A” prints remained in the exchanges for future
Repertory bookings. The advantage of this type of release is that the distributor could make a limited number of top quality release prints (between 100-400) off the original negative for optimum quality regardless of whether it was shot in 65mm or 35mm. In addition, the costs of advertising and marketing could be amortized
as the film played in each venue. Some of the profits from the Roadshow could be rolled over to advertise the general release and
“Jaws” began the “saturation” style of exhibition. An enormous number of prints were made (between 500-900) off of sub-standard
duplicate negatives (CRI’s at the time which generated inferior
resolution and increased grain) and booked simultaneously in the major markets. If the film was a hit, it worked, if it wasn’t it
was pulled since the marketing costs were not amortized and it was sink or swim in a few weeks. The window was dramatically reduced so that the films played on network shortly afterwards rather than continuing in the second run and drive ins. Later, home video and cable became so popular that theatrical exhibition was considered just another part of the marketing expenses and little if any effort was made in terms of getting good quality release prints or exhibiting them with showmanship. The window between saturation run and the ancillary markets was barely long enough to play many films second run much less make them available for drive ins. This also altered the content and more adult fare was phased out to a great extent because those types of features played better regionally than in saturation bookings. Of course the cost of saturation bookings was far greater since all of the advertising had to be paid for upfront and there were upwards of 2000 (junk) release prints cranked out by the labs from duplicate negatives. Only studio personnel got to see camera negative prints any more which were relabeled “Showprints”. Prior to the seventies they weren’t ‘showprints’ but the actual prints that audiences were charged to see.
About the only venue to see quality prints after the seventies was in 70mm blow up presentations. There was a small ‘window’ (sometimes only a few weeks) for these shows prior to being shown in 35mm junk prints for general release. I guess they were a type of Roadshow presentation in that the multiplexes usually kept one screen large enough to show the format and the image and sound were far superior to the 35mm high speed copies. Many 70mm blow ups were derived directly from the 35mm camera negatives which made them first generation blow ups. In many cases, they looked quite good as in the first release of “Star Wars” in 70mm at the Loews Astor Plaza in NYC. By the mid-nineties, even these types of shows were gone as was the 70mm format.
Today, outside of industry screenings and a handful of first run houses, the megaplexes all get the same quickly processed high speed
release prints. Unfortunately, the bigger the screen, the worse these copies look.
One way of telling that you’re seeing a camera negative showprint is that the cue marks will be scratched onto the release copy. They are no loger scribed onto the camera negative as they were in the past. You’ll also notice that the image is much sharper and finer grain. It doesn’t have that murkiness of the high speed prints.
Nice picture. The Rivoli and other movie palaces had elaborate
custom made displays in that era since major motion pictures were
marketed to the public as ‘events’. This continued to exist on some level through the eighties, at least in the theaters that played 70mm
but died off in the nineties. This type of presentation and display is rare today although there are some theaters that still ‘put on a show’ like the Lafayette in Suffern, New York.
That’s the problem with movie palace afficianados. It doesn't
work without the participation of the distributors and most of them
consider theatrical exhibition as ‘paid advertising’ for the home
Sounds like what later happened at “Bloody Peekskill” with Paul
Robeson when he got up on stage at the Paramount theater in Peekskill
and swore allegance to Joseph Stalin. A riot ensued. Robeson later wrote the eulogy for the dictator.
The 1930’s is sometimes referred to as “The Red Decade” since the CPSUA was very active politically in the U.S. instigating labor unrest, riots and espionage. The Party increased it’s memership in Hollywood at the time but lost a great deal of it during the Hitler/Stalin pact. Afterwards, a Popular Front was created with CPUSA members and their political opponents (conservative, moderates and many liberals) until the war was over. After World War II, this Popular Front collapsed and the CPUSA commenced labor terrorism in Hollywood with violent strikes at the major film studios and Technicolor. Industry personnel were beaten and intimidated. Cars were blown up outside studio gates. Opposing union leaders had their houses firebombed. The CPUSA threatened to pour acid on then SAG president, Ronald Reagan, if he opposed them. Reagan had to hire body guards to protect his family. The CPUSA also threatened to blow up the nitrate negatives at Technicolor. David Selznick had to delay the release of one of his movies because he couldn’t get his nitrate prints past the strikers. These incidents are what caused HUAC to investigate the film industry in 1948 and 1951. Of course, the blacklist followed against those directly involved (i.e. Herb Sorrell of the CSU) along with ex-party members like Larry Parks who were no longer involved with the CPUSA.
Of course, all movies made prior to 1968, are going to have more vibrant color regardless of format because of the style of photography of that era. It was in the seventies that cinematographers began to de-saturate and mute the colors. Most post-1970 films will lack the vibrancy of pre-seventies color
film. When the Lafayette played an EK showprint of “Planet of the Apes”, the rich blue skies and vivid fleshtones also gave that ‘Technicolor’ appearance.
Color was an integral part of most movies made between 1935-1970. It was used for atmosphere and creatively incorporated into the narrative. Most features were aesthetically beautiful to watch. Today, color is used functionaly. In many cases, the cinematography is rather murky and ugly. Very few films are aethetically beautiful to watch, at least in my opinion.
Personally, I prefer the look of pre-1970 color movies although there are advocates of the current de-saturated style of cinematography.
Actually, most cartoons floating around are nineties' reprints on estar LPP stock. Original IB cartoons are very rare and are usually
quite worn since they played more often than features.
Pete is correct in that silver screens add luminance and improve the contrast of all prints. They give a better presentation, especially in large screen houses with a long through like this restored movie palace.
On the other hand, original IB prints look even more spectacular than the properly timed LPP copies of “Meet Me in St. Louis” and
“The Easter Parade”. I saw a re-issue IB of “The Wizard of Oz” and an original IB/Technirama print of “Zulu” there and they were breathtaking. The reds and other primaries really glow from the screen and the blacks are non-transparent. What interesting from a technical standpoint is that while Eastmancolor positive prints are technically sharper than an IB print, the Technicolor copies give the appearance of being much sharper since the contrast is superior and the vibrant dyes generate a three dimensional illusion. “Zulu” was especially sharp because it was shot in Technirama and reduction printed to standard scope. No one does print downs these days even though it would dramatically improve the resolution and sharpness of high speed Eastmancolor prints.
This cinema is part of the Nelson Page cinema chain that operates in NJ and NY. Page is a real showman and has organ music prior to the shows. He books new features and occasional classics.
One of the theaters in the Galaxy triplex has a large silver screen with curtains and 600 seats. It’s a nice house that gives impressive presentations. The silver screen was installed to premiere my 3-D feature, “Run for Cover” in 1995.
The theater also appears in the climax of my 2001 film, “Unsavory Characters”. As an inside joke, the cinema is playing my previous
film, “Run for Cover” and the patrons are wearing the 3-D glasses during the shoot out.
Jeffrey Barker is the organist who performs before the shows. He also plays at Nelson Page’s restored movie palace, The Lafayette which is the best cinema in New York State.
I have the road sign of this Drive-in, on the door of the projection booth of my screening room which I found on ebay.
I attended the Hollowbrook drive in through out the sixties.
Like most Ozoners in the area, children under 12 got in for
free. I saw pictures like “The Sand Pebbles”, “Planet of the
Apes” and the 1969 re-issue of “Ben Hur” there.
In 1982, I filmed a murder sequence at this theater for my
film, “Splatter University”. You can see the ticket booth,
screen and woods behind the speakers in the film. Circa 1983,
the movie played there on a double bill with “Squeeze Play”.
I went there one more time to see “The Blues Brothers” and then
it folded along with most of the indoor and outdoor Westchester
single screen theaters.
Some questions to ponder are the following:
What exactly are the digital advocates claiming about this technology?
That’s it’s cheaper to show than film? Obviously not for exhibitors.
The projectors cost 10 times more than a 35mm machine and have to be replaced more often as the electronic components degrade or wear out,
the projection illumination is more expensive. Who saves money? Not the theater as far as I can determine in both long and short run.
Are they claiming that it looks better than film? This is a tricky question. It might look no worse than the current level of quality but that’s not saying much. Certainly none of the digital systems have can replicate the resolution of film at it’s peak (the kind that brought in the crowds in the past) like 70mm, a camera negative showprint (first generation print) or dye transfer print. It would be cheaper to revive those techniques than switch to digital projection.
Will a 35mm back up print still have to be manufactured and run or can they guarentee that the system won’t break down in the middle of the show as it has in a number of houses and in trade screenings? If a 35mm print is run simultaneously, then what’s the point?
If the image originates on digital, how will it affect contrast, lighting design, the grain structure and other considerations.
If it severely limits the options of a cinematographer due to inherant flaws in the technology, how will this improve the quality of feature films. Features that are shot on location with live actors to simulate reality for the narrative are a lot different than special effects fantasies like “Star Wars”. Will conventional
narratives have the artificial appearance of science fiction fantasies due to the nature of digital imagery. How will this affect your ‘supspension of disbelief’. For example, let’s say you wanted to make a mystery film with ‘film noir’ style lighting. Is this even possible if you shoot in a digital format. What if you wanted to have the image in B&W for artistic effect like “Shindler’s List”. How will this look if shot digitally? Can it even be done?
How do you preserve a digital image when it starts to degrade. Is digital archival in any way, shape or form?
Do you have to re-copy the image every few years just to retain the data and who is going to remember to do that on hundreds of films?
Will the major distributors continue to store their negatives or will they transfer everything to digital and junk them all afterwards. This happened in the past when Fox discarded the original 3 Strip B&W Technicolor negatives after converting them
to Eastmancolor (De Luxe). Now those color negatives are fading and they don’t have the original B&W records to restore them. Universal
destroyed all of their silent film negatives in the late forties when they were considered ‘obsolete’. Now archivists are scrambling around to find surviving elements to restore titles like “Phantom of the Opera” (Chaney version). Most studios have state of the art storage today but will they continue to pay the bills for these 35mm elements after converting them to digital?
I certainly hope I’m not the only one asking these questions in the mad dash to eliminate a hundred year old medium. At a recent trade show for digital they had a tag line they were using,“Film is a four letter word”.
A few types on the above. I meant to say that attendence dropped from 1948-1951. Also, the counter-culture dominance was from the mid-sixties through around 1973 or 74. As I’ve stated elsewhere,
I enjoy some of those pictures as cultural curiosities today. “Easy Rider” is quite funny. However, their affect on moviegoing demographics was negative from an exhibition perspective.
I am a film producer and shoot my pictures in 35mm (in a simulated style of sixties' Technicolor films) and do all the
editing in the video domain then conform the 35mm negative and
make 35mm prints. I have no objection to utilizing video and/or
digital as part of the post-production process but there’s no question the film should be photographed on celluloid which generates
a far greater resolution than any digital/video process. You have
an incredible leeway in exposure today, T grain structure which
increases the sharpness and a great deal of lattitude in terms of
lighting design. Digital and video by their nature have a very limited contrast ratio. You’re not going to successfully light
anything photographed in these processes with much nuance or detail
in the shadow areas nor will it generate a good resolution when out-putted to film.
In terms of the decreased attedence since the sixties, it was caused by two factors. Originally, attendence dropped in half because the market was glutted with too many restricted movies after 1968. When the principal product of the industry was not general attendence (G, M/GP/PG/PG-13), it forced the large screen cinemas
to fold like dominoes. However, after the counter-culture movement somewhat fizzled out in the mid-sixties (it was linked to the Vietnam war), a number of highly successful mainstream features were made in the mid to late seventies which increased attendence again.
Titles included “Jaws”, “Close Encounters”, “Star Wars”, “Grease"
and "Superman”. Attendence went up and the moviegoing demographic was enlarged. What’s also interesting is that there were some technological developments that also increased attendence. Beginning with “Star Wars”, 70mm made a major comeback and the sound was improved with dolby processing which reduced the hiss and broadened the range. 70mm became one of the selling tools for getting people back to theaters even when home video formats became popular in the mid-eighties as a threat to the increased attendence.
It even gave the mutli-plexes a boost since most outlets kept one large screen for these presentations even if the other screens in the complex were much smaller and hand less impressive presentations.
According to Variety, box office grosses were higher in cinemas that offer 70mm which had superior image quality and sound than theaters playing the same film in 35mm.
It seems to me there’s a lesson to be learned from the reaction to competition in the fifties and the late seventies. The way to get people back into cinemas is to first, have the bulk of the product mainstream which encompasses a large demographic (thus limiting but not elminating the number of restricted and/or controversial pictures which by their nature reduce attendence) and secondly, to offer some kind of spectacular technological innovation that offers something unique compared to what you can see at home.
It worked in both the fifties and the late seventies and eighties.
For example, attendence dropped from 90 million a week down to about 41 million a week from 1958-1951 due to the usurping TV medium.
The way exhibitors and distributors brought it up to 49 million a week a few years later was to introduce Cinerama, 3-D, CinemaScope,
VistaVision and Todd-AO on enormous large screens (both curved and flat). That was something you couldn’t get on television then and now. Alas, as the studios changed their approach by the late fifties
and decided ‘if you can’t beat em’, join em'. They started producing for the mediuma and selling their backlog of “A” titles for broadcast. In the sixties they began eliminating all of the superior formats introduced in the previous decade. By the late sixites, original Cinerama, VistaVision, 3-D, Technirama and other formats were gone. Attendence decreased to about 41 million by the mid-sixties. It was thought that by dumping the production code and
allowing complete screen freedom would increase attendence. This was actually a myth since it had the opposite effect. The general audience was eliminated (at least for the bulk of the yearly product) and replaced with ‘targeted viewers’ which in reality meant the youth market. While grossses were high on some individual counter-culture pictures like “Woodstock”, the majority of them didn’t do well and alienated so many viewers attendence was reduced to 22 million weekly by the mid-seventies. Attendence didn’t go up again until mainstream blockbusters were re-introduced in the 70mm format.
However, it would appear that by the nineties, the approach by the industry was not to try to compete with the home video competition but to cut corners to try to reduce operating costs in theaters. This certainly didn’t work to increase general attendence as a whole although individual pictures brought back the crowds. Platters with inept operators, advertising slides, horrid release copies with murky cinematography, trailers played at a volume that was louder than the feature and other visual distractions combined with inflated ticket prices replaced 70mm which was phased out by 1997 and dye transfer printing which came and went afterwards.
Over production of theater building combined with less than impressive presentations put many chains into Chapter 11 at the beginning of the new millenium.
It seems to me that what’s needed it to re-invent the theatrical experience again as it was in the past. I seriously doubt the unreliable digital format is the way to go. The quality cannot replicate film at it’s best (i.e. camera negative showprint, 70mm,
dye transfer) and the fact that some claim it will be ‘acceptable’ is not the kind of technilogical innovation that will ‘wow’ audiences the way the original 70mm prints of “Star Wars” and “Close Encounters” did in the late seventies.
About the only format that is still impressive is Imax although it’s not really suitable to feature presentation. It’s so sad that the megaplexes absolutely refused to install 70mm projectors even though they have digital sound in that format now (to replace the mag stripes) and the image quality is much steadier and finer grain than 35mm. That’s the kind of technology that can impress audiences and you clearly cannot replicate it’s quality on a home DVD projector.
I know I’m a voice in the wind but I think history has shown that ‘showmanship’ is a more reliable technique of increasing boxoffice and attendence than trying to start from scratch with
a technology that does not dramatically improve what we have now.
I just recalled something strange about their 3-D festival. In some showings they changed the aspect ratio of the films. I recall seeing “Dial M for Murder” and “Kiss Me Kate” in both full frame and cropped 1.85 ratios there. I’m not sure which one is considered accurate. Both movies were filmed and printed full frame but I know “Kiss Me Kate” was originally cropped in 1953 and advertised as ‘widescreen’ as well as 3-D to jump on the CinemaScope band wagon. I think they play better in 1.33 personally.
They only used VistaVision for large format (horizontal Eastmancolor eight sprocket prints) from 1954-1956. Among the last films to be shown in that format were “The Ten Commandments” and “The Man Who Knew Too Much”. All Paramount VistaVision films contained the Perspecta encoding which generated directional sound between three speakers behind the screen but no surround. The exception was “The Ten Commandments” which did have a magnetic stereo mix. I don’t believe any other VV title had a stereo mix other that this film.
Curiously, some of the Hitchcock titles were released in Perspecta
sound include the above mentioned “MWHTM” as well as “To Catch a Thief” and “The Trouble with Harry”. When Hitchcock was involved with the Perspecta encoding is unknown since he never mentioned it in any of his interviews. I did hear original 35mm Technicolor reels of Harry and Thief and they definately had the encoding although it wasn’t used too much. On the thief reel, the only section that used the directional sound was when they were driving around the hills in the car. Otherwise, everything came out of the center speaker. Harry only had music cues on the other speakers. The dialogue was center channel. In comparison the Perspecta prints of Universal’s “This Island Earth” were very lively with sound bouncing around the front three speakers at different volume.
Very few cinemas were actually set up for horizontal VV projection.
It was noticed early on that it generated a dramatically sharper
reduction print in 1.85. One of the problems theaters were having is that when they took standard flat 1.33 movies and artifically
made them into ‘widescreen’ by cropping the top and bottom of the frame and enlarging them (i.e. “Shame”), the image fell apart and became grainy. VistaVision addressed this problem and the Technicolor or B&W print downs generated an ultra sharp and grain free image when enlarged in this fashion. VistaVision negatives were also A&B rolled so that the optical effects like fades and dissolves were the same first generation as the rest of the film. In contrast, CinemaScope films had extremelly grainy and contrasty opticals on dupe stock.
I would classify VistaVision as the best of the ‘cropped’ widescreen processes. Much better than conventional 1.85 or SuperScope. Unfortunately, it was phased out in the sixties along with most of the other technology introduced in the sixties with the exception of 70mm and Panavision. Now only Panavision is left which is certainly better than CinemaScope (less distortion in the anamorphic lenses) but no match for the large format systems. I guess technically SuperScope is still around too although it’s now called “Super 35”.
Actually many of the trade screenings for digital projection
have had technical breakdowns.
As I mentioned elsewhere, if the industry does dump film, there
will be an archival crisis down the road as the digital masters
start deteroriating and losing their data. There will be fewer
‘hard copies’ from which to restore. One of the reasons so many
films exist is because there were camera negatives, Interpositives,
Internegatives, B&W separations and prints made on most titles for
both domestic and foreign release. This ensured that something survived on the film. In addition, since motion pictures are a
‘hard copy’ of an image and sound it’s far easier to restore them
then electronic data which is easily erased or deteriorated. I don't
know of any archives that consider digital data archival. I guess that’s not a concern for exhibitors but it ought to be for filmmakers.
The cost of digital far exceeds that of 35mm or 16mm motion picture film. It might wipe out many indies.
As for the quality, I guess you could say that digital projection at it’s best might be better than the current quality level of release
prints (which is film at it’s nadir with high speed prints cranked
out at the rate of 2000 ft. per minute with sub-standard resolution).
However, digital cannot replicate or surpass motion pictures at it’s finest in 70mm (“Lawrence of Arabia”), Cinerama (“How the West Was Won”), VistaVision (“Vertigo”) or Technicolor (“Thunderball”).
No digital process comes even close to simulating that level of quality.
I’d prefer reviving some of those formats to dramtically improve
exhibition and give people something far more impressive to screen
than they can get at home with the best DVD player/projection system.
It seems to me digital is just another degregadion of cinema that has been occuring over the past thirty years. Of course, unless you have seen films presented at their zenith (i.e. a new 70mm print of “Lawrenc”), you won’t know what you’re missing and I’m sure that digital will be passable to the targeted youth audience although I doubt it will be an incentive to dramatically increase the general demographic. The question is why go for ‘acceptable’? Why not try to bring back “spectacular”? Most of the problems like speckling (a result of high speed printing), scratches (improperly set up platters) and wobbles (improperly adjusted gate) can be easily fixed in any house with a professional operator. Of course that goes to the theater management. Do they have a professional or an amateur running the machines. Again, something that can be adressed without completely changing the type of projection unit used in the house.
I do believe it will prove to be quite costly for exhibitors in the field compared to standard film presentations.
The most impressive shows I saw at RCMH were the special event presentations after they stopped screening first run fare.
I saw “Napoleon” with the live orchestra and triptych sequence and
“A Star is Born” in Technicolor, CinemaScope and magnetic stereo sound with the extra scenes spliced into the print.
When I was very young my family took me there three times in 1966.
The theater was impressive as were the stage shows but unfortunately, the movies I saw were bad. “The Singing Nun”, “The Glass Bottom Boat” and “Inside Daisy Clover”. I saw the last official release, “Crossed Swords” and that was medicore too. I wish I had seen some of the good pictures they played there over the years. Just my bad luck attending turkeys.
In terms of the projection booth, I believe I read that they installed the lazy 8 horizontal projectors for “White Christmas” but later removed them when VistaVision was used to generate a finer grain reduction print in 1.85 Technicolor rather than using it to project a horizontal Eastmancolor print.
70mm projectors were installed for “Airport” at the director’s request. They later had a 70mm festival at the Hall and showed
“Gone with the Wind” and others in that format. I wish I had attended them.
Although “Gone with the Wind” looked awful in it’s pan/scan blow up print, it was a smash hit in that format and revived several times including a playdate at the Rivoli in 70mm. They didn’t derive it from the 3 strip B&W negative or a Technicolor print. They made a color Interpositive from the seps, then pan scanned it by cropping the tops and bottoms of the color IN and enlarging that part of the frame to 65mm.
3-D would not have been appropriate for RCMH since the distance to the screen would’ve required a lot more luminance from the lamphouse to compensate for the loss of light from polarization. They also would’ve had to install an enormous custom made silver screen. The trouble with silver screens is they lose gain from balconies and from off center seating. The place is too big for so many people to have seen it properly.
The reason RCMH and many Roadshow large screen houses folded in the seventies was the lack of quality mainstream product. After the demise of the production code in 1968, more and more restricted films were released each year. By 1980 there were more R rated films than PG which posed a problem for large theaters that needed general audiences to fill their seats.
That’s why I used to buy the “Village Voice” every week. It was the only NYC paper that listed every movie playing in town including Repertory and the museums. Andrew Sarris did a column about movies that were worth another viewing.
Other rep houses included The Art which was located by NYU. They eld a “Sam Goldwyn Festival”. Down the street was “8th Street Playhouse” which had a film book store next to the cinema. The Film Forum was small but showed some interesting pictures at a different location than they are at today. The Joseph Papp Theater showed some revivals including a Roger Corman festival. They made brand new prints of all of his movies. It was the first time I saw the Poe films with good color in Panavision. Corman was present and introduced the films. MOMA also had some great retrospectives in this era. They showed the entire David O. Selznick collection of his personal prints. Many were original nitrates which sparkled on their screen. They also had a Michael Powell festival borrowing prints from the BFI which including nitrates of “Black Narcisus” (uncut version) and “The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp” (also uncut). Both were breathtaking Technicolor prints.
I even went to South Street Seaport to see a print of “The Sand Pebbles” in 16mm. Of course my dorm played prints in the basement.
They rented copies of “Singin' in the Rain” (in Technicolor) and “Jaws” in widescreen. At the Tisch building they also showed movies. I was on the committee to select the films. I persuaded them to book “Close Encounters” in scope and “Andy Warhol’s Frankenstein” which the student crowd had a good time with.
The seventies was a great era to see movies all over NYC.
The Hollywood Twin was the worst of the repertory cinemas. Unlike
Bleecker Street, Carnegie Hall and the Regency, they used platters rather than reel to reel projection. Whenever a film played there, it got scratched or damaged before it was sent to the next venue. I recall watching a near mint Technicolor print of “Thunderball” get torn up while I was there. The audience laughed but I cringed realizing that this would ruin it for the other rep houses. Whenever I saw a classic booked there I knew I would not see it in good condition again.
The theater itself was like one of those muliplexes with the bowling alley style and small screen. It had none of the character of other small screen rep houses like The Thalia. I guess it was certainly better than operating as a porn house but I didn’t like the impact it had on the limited number of classic prints that were in the field.
On the other hand, I did a great double bill there of two Technicolor classics, “West Side Story” and “Bell, Book and Candle”.
I don’t know what kind of condition they left the theater but the prints were mint when I saw them. Another time they played a completely faded print of “Ben Hur” in Metrocolor and wouldn’t give me my money back. I knew there was a good Technicolor print floating around because it played the 8th Street Playhouse previously. They also played a totally faded print of “Pit and the Pendulum” and the same thing happened. No refund. Once again I argued that a new print had been struck on this title for the Corman festival at the Joseph Papp theater and they shouldn’t charge admission for junk copies. It was real hit and miss there. Sometimes they had great prints, other times total garbage. I don’t think they had the contacts or knowledge of people like Frank Rowley (Regency, Biograph), Bruce Goldstein (Film Forum) or Charles Zlatkin (Elgin Cinema) to know how to secure the best surviving release prints from the exchange. For example, I did get free passes from Rowley when MGM accidently sent them a red Eastmancolor print of “King Solomon’s Mines” instead of a Technicolor copy. If you saw a bad print at The Hollywood Twin, you were out of luck.