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Movie534, I feel honored, while at the same time humbled, to read your commentary, as you certainly got to experience the movie theater business when it was its finest, and via working within the industry at that when it was! In my own case, I myself got to experience the classic single-screen neighborhood movie theaters and downtown movie palaces during my youth — as a theatergoer — but never had the privilege of knowing what it was like to work behind the scenes in them. Because by the time I came of age everything had gone to multiplexes if it hadn’t been torn down. I assume so much of that downward transition was political. I have to assume that, for why else? I don’t like to make excuses why we can’t have great single-screen neighborhood movie theaters and downtown movie palaces again today, complete with the beautiful curtains that open and close and so on. But if there’s a way to either work around politics, or to work with politics, so as to make it happen, I haven’t hit upon that way yet. Great politicians it appears to me have always been very supportive of well-run theaters. But it’s been awhile since we’ve had that. Case in point, I could just imagine so many incumbents of today upon special invitation squirming in their theater seats during that scene in THE ROBE as Jean Simmons tongue-lashes Caligula about how the rulers of Rome once were noble.
In this particular thread I think it is important to pinpoint all the things that make for a great movie theater architecturally, to keep the concept alive if more cannot be done right now. And, of course, to encourage all cases where it can be.
Not only do movie theater screens need to be kept big to retain a competitive edge over advances being made in home systems, but I feel it’s also very important that audiences get to look up to, as opposed to down towards, the screen, as is the case with theaters having stadium-style seating, and also those with balconies.
In terms of masking to accommodate various aspect ratio formats, it should always strictly be done from the sides, not from top and bottom. Theaters should be designed to be quite wide, therefore, in keeping with this understanding. And working hand-in-hand with this, curtains. There must be the curtains!
Wouldn’t it make more sense for the studios producing the films to pay for the newspaper ads? Where I am, and I’m just assuming it’s the same everywhere else, when a new movie comes out, they show the full ad for the movie and then right below it, as a part of the ad more or less, a list of area theaters where it’s showing at. Perhaps in those cases the studios do pay for the ads, or at least I would assume that. And that to me is good enough.
What I was saying is that the state of movie theaters in this country reflects the government running it. And some presidents were very good for the movie theaters, and some were absolute disasters. FDR was the best thing to happen when it came to America’s movie theaters, and others, such as Eisenhower and Kennedy, were good for the theaters, too. They saw how important they are in being able to help shape American society over all. But longislandmovies, as for your statement “Theaters will be around long after you and i are gone……,” I should point out to you that you’re telling this to someone who grew up in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania — a place that accurately once could have been called “the city of theaters” — but where today every last single neighborhood movie theater is gone. And of the city’s only movie palace still left standing today — this in a city that once had countless movie palaces atop the zillion and one neighborhood theaters it once had — has been boarded up in a state of ruin for the last six years now going on seven. And it’s a case where, if it doesn’t get a buyer soon, will soon be seeing the wrecking ball.
….So, er, what was it you were saying?
If a website devoted to the discussion of theaters isn’t the right place for politics, I don’t know what is, particularly when we’re talking about a president who came up by way of the theaters — BEDTIME FOR BONZO, THE GIRL OF JONES BEACH, KING’S ROW, THE KILLERS, etc., etc., etc.
And reviewing the history of cinemas in America, and each forward — or backward — stride they made in the course of that history, there’s no question politics played a very important role. And if anybody thinks that politics right now isn’t playing an instrumental role in what’s holding digital cinema back they need to take a closer look. For digital cinema’s big holdback in the U.S. has politics written all over it. Politicians of a tyrannical leaning see it as a threat, and there’s no question that’s going on right now. And with this being a presidential election year(2008), I think it’s very fair to ask which contender will be best when it comes to American cinema’s future? We already know where Barack Obama stands on this, based on what happened to the DuPage movie palace in his Illinois district in 2007. But what about the other candidates, Hillary, McCain, and also possibly Nader? Are they all anti-movie theater as well? For if so, it’s going to be a very dark era for American cinema on the road ahead, and likewise a very dark era for America itself. For we need theaters to get Americans all uppity in the way they need to be so as to bring about positive change. Short of movie theaters playing this role there aren’t many good substitutes. Nothing does the trick better than a well-run theater. And as Jefferson would say if he were around today, the existence of such is formidable only to tyrants.
Good luck to you, and be sure to keep us posted with how the project is progressing! With that movie STOP LOSS about to be released on March 28, 2008, if by chance it plays at that particular theater, that should make for some pretty powerful footage I feel.
David, on ABC’s World New Tonight for Tuesday, March 18, 2008, they ran a piece on Decatur, Indiana, and how the citizens there are currently attempting to cope with having lost so many of their young to the war in Iraq. The report opened with a shot of a movie theater there in town that looked to be single-screen, though I apologize for not catching its name in time. They flashed it by so fast. But given what that town is currently going through, it might be interesting to find out what role that theater is playing, if any, in terms of helping the local citizens there cope with what they’re currently going through. This might fit in well in your documentary, which is why I just thought I should mention it.
Yes, Reagan’s plan — which had obviously been unconstitutional — “worked”…as in, worked in getting America tangled in a labyrinth from which it might never be able to emerge from again, Humpty Dumpty style, even with such technological breakthroughs as DLP.
Yes, to clarify, when it comes to free speech it’s not the government’s place to serve as censors.
And to touch on your other point, I hardly call it a “free market society” if the government takes one side and ignores the other other than “trickle down” — as was the case when Reagan made supply side economics a matter of government policy. When really great theaters fell on hard times when Reagan’s program went into effect, it was far from a case of their having failing business models. What was happening before Reagan’s policies kicked in was that lousily run businesses were complaining they couldn’t compete with the well-run ones. So Reagan, hearing the cries of Cain — with Cain clutching a rock in hand that he couldn’t make use of in the way he wanted to — came to Cain’s rescue…while strapping down Abel at the same time.
I, for one, have never inferred that the government should bail out theaters, though on occasion I’ve been accused of inferring that. My only take on government intervention is that the government should protect theaters that are seeking to do more than simply make the buck. In brief, it’s called substantiating the protection guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment. This I’m advocating is not a governmental “bail out,” rather, it is a governmental OBLIGATION. And without fulfilment of that obligation our federal government is just a total fraud. And to me it does not make good business sense for U.S. taxpayers to be supporting a total fraud. Which is what we’re doing now, as evidenced by all the many theaters that went down because the government failed to do its part when it needed to. Where was Barack Obama, for instance, when the DuPage movie palace in his senatorial district was being forced into oblivion because certain people didn’t like what it stood for free speech-wise? U.S. congressmen, as well as presidents, are sworn by oath to uphold the Constitution of the United States. But Obama sure as heck didn’t do that in the DuPage’s case. Nor did Bush or anyone else who’s sworn to uphold it.
And Schmadrian, when it comes to the bottom line, that’s not just the province of those on the supply side. Those on the demand side have their bottom lines, too. And the government has to be there to protect that bottom line as well as the other. We’re not talking bail outs here, we’re talking governmental obligations. Do you understand now? For what’s hard to get about the wrongness, the fraud, of taxation without representation?
And theaters being able to operate in ways that is pleasing to customers the government has an obligation to protect if it’s necessary to — as guaranteed by the First Amendment — which it’s sworn to uphold.
The way you keep rooting for those at the top of the economic pyramid as if you’re one of them, and are so quick to defend them when anyone dares question or criticize them. You said as much when you wrote: “I’m always fascinated when people bemoan free-market, capitalist behaviour…especially where movies are concerned. You’d think there was a moralistic issue attached. Strange, considering we’re talking commerce.”
Schmadrian, I tale you to be fabulously filthy rich to be talking that way.
One thing to keep in mind with film nowadays is that when we see the release print — and I believe it’s what you’re getting at — we’re seeing a movie that was originally shot on film, transferred to digital for editing, and then transferred back to film prior to release. So really, we’re already seeing digital in theaters no matter how you cut it. As for what we can expect from the chains digital-wise, I hold that digital will be more beneficial to stand-alone single-screen theaters trying to compete with them. For digital cinema can allow a theater to change whatever it’s exhibiting on a dime’s notice. Not having this advantage before, it’s what did a lot of traditional stand-alone single-screen theaters in. So it’s there that I’m seeing digital’s biggest potential right now.
That’s a good point you make. But looking back to early TVs, and early computers for that matter, evolution did occur. When the first digital cameras came out, or the first analog video cameras to displace super-8, in both cases — aside from the new convenience these newer devices offered not to mention savings to be realized in the course of using them — the end product was of far less quality then traditional 35mm cameras and how far super-8 movie cameras had arrived to by that point. Yet I don’t remember anybody complaining about that shortfall in quality, for it was just assumed the new devices would improve over time. And of course they did. And people were thrilled just to get on board with the new technology early — knowing it wouldn’t be the most perfect it could be at the outset.
And I see NOTHING to indicate that digital cinema technology cannot evolve further from what it is now the same way all other technologies have, other than perhaps the lack of competition needed to drive this evolutionary process. Thinking back, for instance, when IBM came out with the first P.C., in the beginning it had the whole market to itself. But then Apple, Hewlett-Packard, even Radio Shack, came out with their own variations, much to the shock of IBM, and computers surely evolved accordingly. And today, well, let’s put it this way, can you still buy a typewriter anywhere?
From my own perspective, if digital cinema can give struggling theaters a whole new shot in the arm, well, that’s better than theaters folding left and right because running traditional film projectors is no longer cost-effective.
To the best of my knowledge, no new technology has ever started out perfect, the best it could possibly be at the outset. Yet we all expect that of digital cinema for some reason. And that just strikes me as very odd.
Great upbeat article on some of America’s most classic theaters! And great photos, too! Hats off to Mr. Melnick for bringing their attention to those traveling through the stratosphere!
This is an exciting story I must say! And congratulations to all who succeeded in pulling together to make it happen! Way to go, Winter Garden, Florida!
Very good photos, ericalynn g.! In an eerie sort of way they remind me a bit of that scene in the 1946 David Lean movie, GREAT EXPECTATIONS, when Pip returns to Miss Havisham’s house long after she’s gone but discovers Estella to still be there. Yet how things do change from what they once were. To think of the huge crowds that flocked to there with the premiere of BEN HUR in the late 1950s. How very different the place called Philadelphia was then. I look to those memories and then I look to these photos and I think, no, they can’t be the same place, the same building, can they? For the one image I hold is so full of life, the other so void of such. Gone now are the searchlights of opening night and the long limousines, the souvinir booklets, the stars in their tuxedos signing their autographs in them, the grand exhibiting of the film itself. THAT Boyd will never be again. It came and went and now it’s behind us all forever.
Yet as I look at this old girl I think, there’s still some life in it yet. And to reveal it, all it would take is a young brash Pip to pull the old long-musty curtains down to let that new light in.
It’s all a balancing act, to be sure. And theaters sink or swim all depending what the existing state of balance is. Regarding the 2008 election, I continue to hold that if Obama prevails it will spell an especial death knell for theaters, my basing this on what happened to the DuPage movie palace in his district while he totally refused to intervene on behalf of those attempting to restore it, and if Clinton prevails, it might just be the booster shot the struggling theaters all across America could well use. I remember how much her husband loved movies while he was in the White House, while I’m assuming she shared his passion.
As for Oscars this year, my only real complaint, aside from the fact that there were no unprepared for political outbursts which make the evening in my views, is that they came and went too fast! Someone mentioned earlier, and I quite agree, it was better when they aired in March. What I think would be an interesting idea, and please note you’re hearing it here first, is that, instead of airing the Oscars in February like they did this year, have a special preliminary show in February where they simply air the trailers of movies that will be up for Oscars, which could also include in-depth interviews with the films' directors, stars and so forth. Then, with the stage being set by that, air the Oscars in March like, they used to do, with viewers having a much better grasp of what’s getting praised, and why.
To say that the era of the movie theater might soon be extinct is the same in my views as saying a major crash in our economy is imminent. For the day that all humanity retreats into its own respective private little cubbyholes is surely to be the day that this planet gives a big groan and says, “All right, enough of that!” and shakes us all back out again.
As for me, I’m one of those who goes in for having a decent home system for viewing movies, but I’d be kidding you and myself if I hid the fact that I rely on this as just a tie-over till the movie theaters come back once more. For come on, you guys, watching a movie in the privacy of your home is like drinking alone or something. Where can it possibly lead to? It doesn’t matter how good the home-based systems are.
Maybe the movie theaters won’t come back, but if they don’t it’s not because the home-based movie-viewing systems are a thousand times better. It’s not a question of great technical strides being made on the home front that’s displacing the theaters. Rather, it’s this illusion that so many now have that everyone can keep going off in their own direction, writing off everyone else in the process, and the world can continue to accommodate it. From the sacrifice of the theater and the rise of the home-based system it has handled it so far. But all told that doesn’t mean anything. For rubberbands don’t stretch forever without snapping. But my saying that right now is kind of like FDR pushing his New Deal policies in the ‘28 election; FDR, armed with the right stuff, but putting it to a world that didn’t want to hear it yet.
When it is said that this year’s Oscar telecast was the lowest rated ever, it almost holds the implication that there were far more exciting things to attune to during the same time it aired. But I’ve always found that if there is anything exciting happening in America the Academy Awards Presentations embodies it. This year, however, America-wise, there was nothing to get excited about, or “hung about,” as the Beatles might say. So in the face of that across-the-nation dullness, this year’s Oscar telecast had quite a challenge in making itself exciting. The “highpoint of interest” this year while the Oscars aired was the presidential race going on, and that, too, surely must be the lowest-rated presidential race ever. It is by far the dullest presidential race I’ve ever seen, so dull, that if this year’s Oscar telecast had acknowledged it in any it would’ve really made for an especially dull Oscar telecast. So thank God it didn’t!
I don’t deny that many Americans tuned out the Academy Awards this year. But it should be noted that they tuned out everything else as well, lest it be made to look like the Academy Awards is being singled out and picked on as being dull while all else other than that is being praised and flocked to.
While I’m all for the “atmospheric” interior theme, I feel that in this case it goes a little too far, crossing the line from tasteful to garish, as if the designer was trying to outshine the movies being exhibited there. John Eberson, who I rank as number one when it comes to atmospheric interiors, never did that. He retained a very good sense of what the ultimate priority should be. But in the case of the Majestic Crest the message seems to be, forget the films, just come to see the theater, and almost as if there’s a twinge of jealousy contained in that message. And maybe that sort of obnoxious assertiveness delights some people these days. But to me it all falls flat. A theater’s interior design should lend itself to the film by being respectfully secondary to it, not detract, or distract, from it. Audiences of the Majestic Crest must wonder what they’re most there for.
I, for one, was happy just to see the Oscars air at all, given the threat being posed to it by the writers' strike several weeks before. And all this criticism of this year’s Oscars going on here, if you ask me, is just another classic case of blaming the victim. Could any of you doing all this criticizing do better than than those who you’re putting down so readily? To answer that question for you, in many instances the answer is likely yes — IF ONLY it WASN’T for certain big obstacles in the way, number one being the extremely bad refereeing going on right now. And if you can grasp that, well, guess what; it’s the same obstacles that those who you’re criticizing are up against. But at least in their case they were able to make some headway despite it. Which is more than the rest of us out here can claim.
And who is it that’s doing the bad referreeing? Well, in many instances it is we ourselves. On the other hand, not to come down to hard on us, some of you might’ve noticed that the American government is not functioning right these days. Too often now, in many instances now it’s become quite standard, regulatory decisions are based not on order of law, fairness and reason, but upon prejudices, jealousies and whims. This, in turn, makes it very hard, in some cases impossible, for those in the film industry to be fully truthful and objective. While on the one hand they might succeed in getting that far so far as producing a truthful and objective film itself, but beyond that there have to be the theaters and other outlets where such films will be seen. Where they can be seen. Otherwise, what good is such a film?
Because of the way politics is in much of America now, theaters are under great restraints in terms of what they can and cannot exhibit, lest they have the carpet pulled out from under them, which so many theaters throughout America already have seen happen. And all other outlets are under similar restraints. Yes, even the Internet. And unfortunately the film industry is not 100% immune to that, as much as many of us would still like to believe it is. And the restraints are NOT based on order of law or reason, but on the character flaws of those doing the restraining.
And it is through this unreasonable filtering process that those who put on the Oscars each year have to weave through to put on an at least half decent show. And this year the challenge they faced I liken to that scene in THE SOUND OF MUSIC when the Trapp Family Singers were called upon to perform for those German officers.
My big disappointment this year was that there were not any unplanned-for Michael Moore type outbursts, which to me is a must-have if the Oscar Presentations are to truly be great. Hopefully, future Oscars Presentations will have those once again.
I can see a newly built cinema built as a twin being successful. But how could any theatergoer expect a single-screen theater having been twinned as somehow being “better”? Where I grew up, the first multiplex to arrive on the scene was precisely that at the outset. A multiplex from the getgo. So people went to it without complaint and derived enjoyment from it because it was all so new and novel. But when the single-screen theaters around us began splitting up into twins and multiplexes to get with the new format, they really became pathetic. For it was impossible not to feel shortchanged from what they had been before. To sit squeezed into a mere slither of what had been a grand large-scale auditorium before. In the name of good taste and respect for the audiences, it just isn’t done. But in this case it was. And now every last one of those split up theaters, plus the multiplex-at-the-getgo that started the trend, is gone. No mystery why.
Was THE DAY AFTER the movie that shows the postman continuing to make his rounds in full uniform, even though there’s no new mail to deliver? Or am I confusing it with TESTAMENT? For that one scene with the forlorn postman I’ll always remember!