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Assuming by now you’ve heard that Philadelphia City Council has illegally given the Fox Chase Cancer Center (just up Cottman Avenue from the Orleans Theatre) the full leeway to expand onto neighboring Burholme Park, there is far more in the area of the Orleans Theatre that is about to be destroyed and replaced with shear horror besides just that theater. I can’t believe this is happening in the U.S. — while as things progress you’ll see exactly what I’m talking about if you can’t now. For brace yourselves, anybody who has ties to that area, it’s going to be pretty bad. No, make that very very bad. This is why I haven’t been saying anything about the Orleans Theatre in recent times.
Yes, I wonder why, too. But I don’t believe the resistance is along the lines of what you suggest, but is far more based on Luddite principles, or emotions, or whatever you can call it.
For my reasoning is, if you feel that digital cinema has not yet reached the level that film has — soul-wise or what have — it greatly has to do with the soul of the movie-makers not the medium.
In my own case, having worked both with analog (film/video) and digital, I have found nothing as of yet with regards to digital that has blocked me from pouring my soul into my work and having that soul be fully manifest in the end product. As mediums go I find it tremendously beautiful, very liberating from my own perspective. When putting your soul across through digital, it DOES take work. But I’m not afraid to do that work. And when I do put in that work, digital does not fight me in any way. Film and video, on the other hand, did. You cannot rework film, you cannot rework video, the way you can digital. When I look at the things I liked about film — while let me just say I was never crazy about video — I find there’s not a single aspect of what I liked about film that I cannot replicate and then some with digital. If I want to age the imagery, digital lets me do it. If I want to “humanize” it with film-like defects, digital lets me do it.
I mean, it’s no wonder from my own perspective why all major films being produced today are being temporarily transformed to digital for editing purposes before then being transferred back to film again.
And when it comes to motion picture exhibition, I can’t even begin to imagine why any projectionist would prefer working with film over digital. For the limitations of film exhibition are tremendous. And the work involved with working within those limitations is tremendous. I very much admire that skill, and I said as much at the start of this page. But geeze, when you look at all the liberation that digital cinema offers if we can just get it past the human resistance level it’s now getting in the U.S. in comparison to running film, it’s like how is this great point being missed? But it’s like, to American projectionists: Suit yourselves. For everything I’ve experienced with digital cinema personally so far has been tremendous! All good, nothing bad. But stubborn others not to embrace it the same way. You explain that to me. For I sure can’t.
I don’t know about you — er, I think I can guess — but I liked the U.S. a lot better when it was the world leader in innovation. For what can film possibly offer that digital cinema can not only replicate but go light years beyond? I suppose you know, for instance, that all films these days are transferred to digital for editing purposes before being transferred back to film again just prior to release. Or, shhhhhh, aren’t you supposed to know that? Film was great back in the days when it was the best thing around. But now this is so sad that Europe is running circles all around us with moving ahead with what has got to be gotten on with. Hey, no wonder the dollar is so weak now and the Euro so strong!
Not during the current strike it isn’t.
I would find it very interesting why Live Nation finally gave up on its plan, for it to come right out and state exactly why. For I, for one, was never against the Boyd being made use of in this way. But as I look at what’s currently going on up there on NYC’s Great White Way, and with it being very unclear what the end resolve is going to be with that, I look at Philadelphia, where in terms of unions being reasonable it’s the absolute worst city in the world. And when looking at that side of Philadelphia it’s not really hard to figure out, ah, that’s why Live Nation finally gave a shrug of resignation. I’m certainly not anti-union by any means. But in Philadelphia’s case we have what we can call mindless unions, ones who have long lost all sight of what they should be collectively bargaining for and what they should be against. So if Live Nation is having great difficulty explaining why it finally gave up on the Boyd, how exactly do you explain what ultimately amounts to a resistance of shear insanity? For that’s the b—— of it. You can’t. Only that it was able to make the simplest things a total impossibility.
Spoken like a true Luddite. And it just shows that if enough small-brains and naysayers gang up they can pretty much put a stop to anything excitingly fresh and new. Call it a real triumph of the will kind of thing.
NativeForestHiller, so much of what you describe of the Trylon, along with the Perisphere. appears to be excellently captured by Aimee Mann’s “Fifty Years After the Fair” on her WHATEVER album, very much worth a listen if you’ve not heard it yet. And you might even wish to add this great song to your important archiving.
Although it’s sadly now gone, the late DuPage Theater of Lombard, Illinois, an atmospheric movie palace that had been designed by the theater architectural firm of Rapp & Rapp no less, continues to hold a great deal of relevance to this particular Cinema Treasures' news topic in that a particular politician of note who had been in the perfect position to save it (since it was within his senatorial district) but totally refused to — Senator Barack Obama of Illinois — is currently running for president of the U.S. And I think what happened to the DuPage Theater greatly exemplifies what kind of president he’ll make should worse come to worse and he actually does get elected. That is, if you think the significance of America’s movie palaces is being greatly downplayed now…
I can remember a time in the U.S. when it seemed there was nothing on more solid ground than America’s movie palaces, or its classic traditional neighborhood movie theaters for that matter. In times of greatest uncertainty they were always there for us to bring all back on a rightful course once more, showcasing such wonderful classics as BEN HUR, LAWRENCE OF ARABIA, DOCTOR ZHIVAGO and GONE WITH THE WIND. Now, in place of them, we have senseless politicians who “we should vote for” for whatever inane and pointless reason — as in “Vote for me, as I did NOTHING when the DuPage Theater’s fate was at stake. That makes me a ‘smart politician’ who knows what’s ‘most important’.” And a lot of people, like shear fools, or perhaps it’s voting machine rigging, vote for them. Why?
For each time another movie theater goes down America becomes that much darker a place. And Lombard, Illinois — which had once been home to the grand DuPage — is one of the darkest places in the U.S. I know of right now. And there are those who would like to get all America on that same dark and dreary level, and for the most part so far they’ve been “successful.” Call it the “rolling darkness.”
Among those who should be most sitting up and taking notice of America’s vanishing movie theaters right now is no less than Hollywood itself. I can’t conceive of being a film director or actor on one side of the equation not caring how my work gets seen when it comes time for American audiences to go see it. But such does seem to be the case with Hollywood right now. And I feel the vanishing movie theaters is most directly related to this indifference on its part, an indifference that’s all but impossible to make sense of.
Just for future reference, Brucec, it’s spelled “Pittsburgh”, with the “h” at the end carefully kept intact.
Now as for live performance venues in Philadelphia, while I as a Philadelphian certainly wouldn’t object to the Boyd serving this purpose, the city certainly has no shortage of such now. But it doesn’t have a MOVIE palace, and it needs one badly. And the only opportunity left for that right now is the Boyd. But, it’s Philadelphia, and Philadelphia’s not thinking right right now and may not make it to the other side of this. Several years back I might’ve said, “No, no, this city still has a good chance!” And I DID. But now I have many many doubts. So where the Boyd goes from here is a total toss-up. If it survives in any way as a theater I’ll be happy. But we’ve gotten so steeped in this denial thing that its greatest calling is as a movie palace, and it’s now to the stage (no pun meant) of being surreal.
You’re sitting in a beautiful movie palace watching a magnificent rescreening of David Lean’s LAWRENCE OF ARABIA. There’s the special moment when Peter O'Toole (playing Lawrence) watches as the sun slowly comes up over the Sahara Desert and then, almost as if a mirage, it’s immediately followed by a camel-riding Bedouin decked in black who appears approaching in the distance from the silence of that sunrise. Or what is SUPPOSED to be a silent moment, other than the soft whispers of sand we hear in the wind. Add to this that there’s a quiet over the whole audience that’s entranced as that scene plays. Now in that moment to have a cell phone ring from somewhere in the theater? No, sorry, that just doesn’t wash. Cell phones belong outside. But not there in that moment, or during a zillion other cinematic moments I can think of.
And that, in my opinion, is the ONLY WAY TO look at this matter. We CANNOT let art be compromised by the iconoclasts with their cell phones. Legal rulings or otherwise, it just isn’t done. End of story.
Whether blocking cell phones is against federal law or not, if such is in fact illegal, it’s obviously one of those moot laws the federal government is not going to expend any money and manpower upholding. For cell phones going off in a theater disrupts free speech — the ability of a theater to show its motion pictures without disruption — so of course on that basis a theater operator has EVERY right to introduce whatever it takes to block cell phones from going off inside theaters. For Constitutional law overrides and trumps other laws, just to do the big reality check here.
Anyway, back to your discussion now that we’ve got that point fully cleared up…
If any theater is going to fare well as a movie theater, it is imperative that it be able to share in the profits of the movie itself and not be forced to rely on concessions, though I can understand Hollywood’s reluctance to share this privilege with just any movie theater. But there are certain ones that the movie industry should be most delighted to adopt, and Philadelphia’s Boyd, still awaiting a new buyer, certainly tops that list.
If I were a filmmaker or film actor of today, I would be very much concerned with how the public views my movies, most particularly the context in which they do. For that is 99% of the over all artistry. The film industry’s directors, actors, and so forth, need to start becoming VERY vocal about this. For when you see John Travolta with his private jets, George Clooney practically owning all of Italy’s Lake Como, etc., etc., etc., it’s a no brainer to see that the money is clearly there to start pouring big time back into America’s movie theaters again. And Philadelphia’s Boyd would make an EXCELLENT starting place. It would be a great tragedy to see the Boyd’s next five years be a dismal repeat of the last five years.
Howard, you keep saying “daily movies,” and that is where your major flaw is. The Boyd should be a special events theater ONLY, and special events do not happen every day. They happen once in a blue moon, and that’s what we want the Boyd fully restored for. But to try to have it so the Boyd hosts a special event 365 days a year is as unrealistic as it gets. To me the Boyd should be locked and sealed except for the moments when a special events theater is needed, which I would say would be two or three times out of the year at best. And that’s it. What’s the big mystery here? And while I’m certainly not opposed to its hosting live performances, it has plenty of competition in that regard, and the competition keeps growing. In addition to the Kimmel Center, the Pearlman, the American Academy of Music, the Tower Theater, the Prince, the Wachovia Center, and more live performance playhouses than I can count, the Suzanne Roberts Theatre has just been recently added to the growing list, and other live performance venues are on the way.
But where can people in Philadelphia go to see movie exhibition at its finest? That is, in a palatial setting? More significantly, wat currently operating Philadelphia movie theater is possibly capable of combining Cinerama of the past with digital cinema of the future? Only ONE. And it’s spelled B.O.Y.D.
You say “all things take time.” But I can offer up a perfect response to that by drawing from the Marlon Brando classic, VIVA ZAPATA…
Vito, given the year I was born, seeing the premiere of BEN HUR at the Boyd with my family in the late 1950s when I was a very small child was the closest I ever came to experiencing what you describe. It was back in the days of Philadelphia’s can-do days, an era in totally stark contrast to the Philadelphia of today — where for the most part “nothing is possible.” Or at least that’s the constant message that everyday folks here get when they seek to do this or that. In other words, Ben Franklin, who was one of this city’s most major shapers in the past, would hardly find a very warm welcome if he were to arrive to here today. Nonetheless, I feel very fortunate to have seen some glimpses of Philadelphia back when it was still great, the premiere of BEN HUR at the Boyd being one of the best instances I recall. When at its height, the Boyd was one of just a few theaters in the U.S. that featured Cinerama, to be sure, a very daring and bold step for its time. But it’s just to show how in Philadelphia’s can-do zeitgeist at the time, the city went all out to make sure it was at the forefront of every latest breakthrough. But alas, today this city is so the opposite. Case in point, though Philadelphia still remains a major U.S. city to some degree (last year it fell behind Phoenix), it has yet to see the emergence of one single digital cinema anywhere within its sizeable boundaries. So given that scenario, the general outlook is, “Of course the Boyd could never be brought back to life again doing what it did best, and anyone who thinks they have great memories of that era when it really shined and the rest of the city shone along with it is ‘dillusional’ and ‘just imagining things’.”
As for Mr. Haas' website, as you can see, and thanks Howard for re-providing us the link, it hasn’t been updated since March 3. To semi-quote from a great movie past: The great and powerful Haas has spoken!
Vito, all this week you have truly given us some excellent insights into what it was like behind the scenes when movie theater operation was at its finest, while to be sure, I have been very moved by it! A person would have to be pretty far gone not to be. Before seeing your posts I was making comparisons between what it must’ve been like running a movie palace back in cinema’s golden era to that 1967 movie, HOTEL. But now, after reading your commentaries, let me on expand that by saying it must’ve been like HOTEL (1967) meets Cecil B, DeMille’s 1952 classic, THE GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH! And in like fashion, drawing elements from both those films, I continue to hold what you have told us would make for a great movie….IF in this “no-can-do age” we’re living in today that much could be done at the very least.
I currently reside here in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, as also does the creator of this particular Cinema Treaures' webpage, and as both he and I can tell you, Philadelphia’s last standing movie palace — the Boyd Theatre — in a city where once there were many — is currently up for sale, while its whole future at this point is totally uncertain. But I just was thinking after reading your posts this week: how farfetched an idea would it be that the Boyd could become the setting of the creation of such a movie based on your accounts? For it certainly has all the outstanding features that would work well for that. In the old days it seems getting such a movie made in that setting would’ve been a snap, given the tremendous mutual cooperativeness of yore, as what you’ve described lays perfect testimony to. But these days, just to make the movie itself it seems would be a major challenge — at least here in Philadelphia at the present time-wise. Except that Philadelphia, with its magnificent Boyd Theatre building, could provide the perfect setting for it in terms of the physical tangibles necessary. And such a movie made there could serve as a vital forerunner to bringing the Boyd back up to what its supposed to be. As Mr. Haas (the creator of this webpage) has pointed out many times now, every major city in the U.S. has restored at least one of its movie palaces, whereby in Philadelphia’s case the Boyd is its last shot to do so.
In any event, I just thought I should circulate this idea here simply to get others' takes on its possibilities, especially Howard’s, since he heads up Friends of the Boyd and is the most on top of its current situation.
Vito, one thing I will say is that you were very lucky to work under the management you did, as such type management is verrrrrry rare in today’s world. To compensate for Murphy’s law in that era, democratic cooperation and coordination at all levels of the process was extremely vital. And the lack of that in today’s world is clearly the number one thing blocking the reemergence of movie palaces today un my opinion. Some today might suggest that “simply” to exhibit movies well is not worth all that hard work and strong commitment. Yet for those fortunate enough to have seen movies exhibited in that best possible way, in so many many instances it made for a life changing experience. And I think it’s in far far more instances than we consciously realize. For instance, if you go back to previous generatiions and ask this or that person, “Why did you decide to become a doctor?” (or a minister, or a teacher, or a lawyer, or an artist, or join the millitary, or buy a motorcycle, or start up a rock and roll band, or go in for boxing, or become an astronaut, or go in for politics, and, well, you get the idea), strong odds are that there was some particular movie they saw at a theater — presented well — that changed their whole life and gave them a whole new sense of direction in that way. And that is saying a great deal positive about the art of exhibiting movies well. For how many other professions in this world can you think of that have that high degree of world transforming power? Yet notice what is absent from the long list of movies that inspired people to do this or that with their lives: A movie that went behind the scenes of operating a movie palace well, depicting all the many countless aspects involved. There have been movies I can name that illustrate how motion pictures spurred people to do this or that. MIDNIGHT COWBOY, for instance, begins with the star deciding to become a “cowboy” due to his exposure to westerns exhibited at a local drive-in. In LOST IN AMERICA, a motorcyle cop states that EASY RIDER had been the number one thing that inspired him to choose his profession. And I’m sure there’s countless other examples that could be named as well. While those two movies hardly depict the major ways in which movies exhibited well transformed peoples' lives out in the real world. For that’s where you’ll find the real stories in this regard.
Having seen movies exhibited well is an experience that people remember throughout the rest of their lives. And that assuredly is its biggest payoff, that which lives on, and these days in so many instances long after the theater where they saw is gone. And I would say more often than not, far more than just the memory living on there’s the motivation it planted. The way of looking at things. The flashbacks of Marlon Brando as the godfather, or Sally Field as the union organizer in NORMA RAE, or Al Pacino as the conscientious cop in SERPICO, or Robert Redford in THE CANDIDATE, and on goes the list. And there are no doubt countless incidences where such memories of having seen movies exhibited well saved lives in times of deepest despair and great crisis, such as recalling Vivien Leigh’s inexorable determination to survive in GONE WITH THE WIND.
And that’s what it’s all about to me. For we know now in hindsight just how important the movie theaters of the past were, while the better operated the theater, the more important it was. Or shoukl I say vital.
That is an amazing account you’ve given us, Vito! While there’s no question that as many fondly look back now to that magnificent movie theater era they do so because of the commitment of highly skilled projectionists such yourself. For when it comes to exhibiting movies right, there is a tremendous artistry to it, while I would love to see that expressed in a motion picture somehow. What most readily comes to my mind as I say that is the 1967 movie, HOTEL, starring Rod Taylor. And my thinking is, why not apply that same approach to show what all went on behind the scenes of running those classic theaters we so fondly remember? For if such a movie could be made I have no doubt it would go a long way in escalating the current public interest in the movie palaces of yesteryear. And you know how so often it is. Every new trend starts with a movie. In this case the film I’m envisioning would end with the start of the motion picture exhibition after all the hard work and dedication that went into leading up to that point, with the audience left imagining and hungry for the splendor that comes next, and wanting to experience it for real. In my case I have vivid memories of what that was like. But we have a whole new generation now that has no idea what it’s missing. And some might say, “Well, they have other things now.” To which I can only say, “Oh really? Like what?”
And the number one way to do that is to bring it to the attention of the best possible buyer with its continuing to be up for sale. In the right hands, the potential of this movie palace is tremendous and easily worth whatever the asking price happens to be. It is at a choice location to serve as a prominent east coast destination theater with its convenient closeness to Philadelphia’s Amtrak Station, not to mention its being near to the University of Pennsylvania. And there’s no question it is totally ripe for partaking in Center City Philadelphia’s invigorating renaissance which is now fast oversweeping that part of downtown Philadelphia where the Boyd Theatre stands. A beautifully restored Boyd Theatre is the one thing glaringly missing from that renaissance right now.
It is mindboggling from the perspective of today’s world when you describe the hard work and commitment that went into exhibiting films in the past, and all the quick-fix innovations that projectionists working as a team incorporated to make sure the show went on as scheduled. For that type of conscientiousness and dedication is a rarity in today’s world. There have been countless movies made about all that goes on behind the scenes of putting on live performances and the making of films, while I would say that one that shows what went on behind exhibiting Cinerama, 70mm, 3-D, etc., back in motion pictures golden era is long overdue. We’re only starting to see now in hindsight how there was a time when movie theater owners and their dedicated crews were as much a part of the history of motion pictures' advance as everyone else in the movie business had been. And that critical leg of motion picture history should not be forgotten as digital cinema comes into more prominent usage. For that past is indeed very facinating. In my looking back, I can only ask, how did they do it? It’s akin to walking around the giant structures that comprise Athens' Acropolis or Rome’s Colosseum and trying to fathom how such could’ve been created at a time over a millennium before there were such things as deisel-powered cranes and trucks and bulldozers and so on. But did it they had, and we all just took it for granted at the time, assuming that running a movie theater was much simpler than it really was. What we didn’t know, and those exhibiting the films at the giant theaters were clever enough not to let on about.
Vito, your statement, “Obviously a blockbusters gross was not affected by whether or not it was in 70mm, people were going to see the movie either way,” comes across as sad but also very true. When it comes to blockbusters, audiences do settle for less than the best if that’s the only choice they have. And in recognizing the truth of your statement it really gets down to art v. making money. Traditionally, no question it cost more to exhibit films in the 70mm format which is why it was abandoned when the contest came down to being between the two — art v. making money. But I DO see digital cinema’s versatility potential as being able to change that. Right now I see digital cinema as being in a position quite similar to when the first electric guitars came along. Many right now are treating it as if a mere surrogate to conventional analog film projection, and thus not quite as good but more costly. With money strictly being the bottom line, there’s very little in the way of imagination. Theaters under existing monetary pressures don’t have time to experiment and the risk of losing audiences en route from Point A to Point B. And so long as all theater operators throughout the U.S. are more or less in that same position, the current status quo is pretty much locked in place for now. At least U.S.-wise. At the present time the development of digital cinema is with very little audience participation which is vital to its growth and development. It’s like how do you train to become a star without that? To have to guess at what audiences might or might not like prior to the big debut.
Ah, thanks for explaining that! For I was going to say, is collector Todd Feiertag a grave-robber or what? So I’ll sleep easier now that I know the truth on that! (And I’m sure Lugosi’s spirit will continue to as well!)
Meantime, I don’t know how much it’s common knowledge, but I read that Vampira, during the making of Ed Wood’s PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE, would put on her make-up and costume at home, then ride the public Los Angeles bus to the studio that way!
Because the individual auditoriums of multiplex theaters were much smaller, to say a movie was being exhibited in 70mm meant nothing suddenly. At least regarding the multiplexes. For when the screen size is small, so what if the movie’s being shown in 70mm or standard 35mm? But a large single-screen theater with a large screen still carried a lot of clout when it billed a film as being shown in 70mm — at least if the film in question was an epic. For come on. If you have a choice of seeing TITANIC in 35mm on a small screen at a multiplex, or a giant screen in 70mm at a sizeable single-screen theater, who in their right mind would opt for the multiplex in that particular case? 70mm has its place, and that’s never gone away. Only the theaters capable of making it mean something. And the types of movies that do, while every once in a while along comes a movie like TITANIC — which demand to be seen in 70mm on a big screen while anything short of that is a total joke. Even the least discriminating teenager would tell you that.
Perhaps some multiplexes, applying a bit of innovation, can find a way of combining two or three auditoriums into one when epics come out, and with digital cinema’s capabilities, exhibit them in virtual 70mm format? Why not the idea of retractable walls and expandable screens in such instances?
I’d always heard that Lugosi was buried in his Dracula costume, assuming this included that famous cape he wore as well. So perhaps some clarification could be made here? Thanks!
So which American theater will dare to take digital cinema out of the “Edison stage”? Just as SINGING IN THE RAIN depicted Hollywood’s transition from silents to talkies, will there someday be a musical about what’s going on now as well? I look forward to the theater that really takes the lead and runs with digital cinema. America-wise, will it be in NY or Philly? Back when the Beatles sought to make there American debut, Philadelphia, with its “American Bandstand” TV show at the time was given first choice, but host Dick Clark didn’t see anything to them. So NY stepped in and grabbed them up, premiering them on “The Ed Sullivan Show,” and Philly’s been kicking itself ever since.
Thanks for the additional great photos, Ken MC! In looking at them, though, I’m amazed how people interpreted how they should “appropriately” dress when at the Shore back in those days. For it just seems so out of sync with what the environmental conditions demand. It must’ve gotten awfully hot and uncomfortable for them at times! Quite seriously, they must’ve gone through clothes like crazy! For how many times can you sweat in a three-piece suit and it still remain wearable? For there wasn’t any air-conditioning back then, nor were there even any washing machines yet, were there? And no deodorants yet or whatever. It’s hard to picture what it must’ve been like from today’s perspective!