Over the weekend I took in a new movie (yes, I do see them occasionally). As noted on this site before, November through January is when I start seeing new movies again in anticipation of Oscar time and year-end festivals and top ten lists. Not only am I an Oscar obsessive but I am a film blogger and while I can live with not discussing the summer blockbusters I simply have to be in on the discussion of the festival and award winners at year end, like last year's No Country for Old Men and There Will Be Blood. But I'm not here to do a review of the movie I saw (Happy Go Lucky directed by Mike Leigh) except to perhaps briefly mention how absolutely extraordinary Eddie Marsan is in the role of Scott, the driving instructor. It's a supporting performance so captivating that when he's on the screen he's all you see and when he's not you're anxiously awaiting his return. I sincerely hope he receives a nomination for his intense and driven performance. Anyway, like I said, I'm not here to review it. Rather I'm here to stroll down memory lane and talk about theatres, multiplexes and palaces and why they've been on my mind lately.
Most of my movie going experiences of the last couple of years have been at the renovated A.F.I Silver Theatre in downtown Silver Spring, MD. It's a beautiful old movie palace that the A.F.I. has lovingly restored and kept up in the fashion of the old palaces of yesteryear. There is a coffee shop/bar inside, a concession counter and the feel of quietude. It's not bursting with loud ads, music and the movies don't have twenty minutes of commercials and trailers before them. A few trailers of upcoming A.F.I. showings and that's about it. There are three screens but it's not a multiplex. They have the one large screen with hundreds of seats and then two miniature theatres off to the side that hold about forty people in a small intimate setting.
In jarring contrast, I saw Happy Go Lucky in the local multiplex and felt like heading for the exit before even taking my seat. Packed wall to wall with people, concession lines wrapped around the building, loud music playing in the lobby, commercial bombardments before the feature and the average ticket buyer age somewhere between 14 and 17. I started longing not just for the A.F.I. Silver Theatre but for the glory days of yesteryear when theatres had a single screen, movies played for one week and when they played longer it was because they were "held over" due to popularity. Sometimes, the theatre was enough to make the experience worthwhile even if the movie wasn't.
For instance, I have fond memories of seeing Christine with my brother back in 1983 even though I don't think much of the movie at all. We saw it at the Pinehaven, a local theatre that had a balcony section with big comfortable seats and ashtrays, yes ashtrays, by every seat in the balcony. I'm not glorifying smoking mind you, and I'm sure if I went back now I'd realize how badly it stunk in that balcony section, but it was nice to sit there with my brother, light up a smoke and laugh with and at Christine as it played itself out on the screen before us. The movie left little impression but the theatrical experience remains.
When I returned from Happy Go Lucky I started looking through UCLA's archive of historic locations (yeah, I do things like that) because I had remembered finding some beautiful photos of old theatres there before. Also, I had in mind the name Charles Lee, architect of many theatres in California, because I recently featured a photo of him at the grand opening of MGM's Western Building in December of 1928. As I perused the selection of photos and cross-referenced them on the Cinema Treasures website to see if they were still around I was dismayed to learn that most are now gone. That's too bad. I understand the need for multiplexes in a business driven by ticket sales but I wish every city and town made room for just one old fashioned palatial theatre. Below are some of my favorite photos discovered in my search and I'd be curious to hear from my California based readers if they've driven past any of these that remain standing or even seen a film in one. Some are still operational while others are closed but still standing. I love movie palaces of old. Multiplexes are necessary for business, but the old movie houses left impressions and created memories that in some cases far outlived the movies they showed. Enjoy the photos.
First up is the Tower Theatre, designed by Charles Lee. It had it's grand opening in 1927 and according to that banner, was the first 1,000 seat theatre in America. Still standing in Los Angeles, but hasn't shown a movie since 1988.
The Arden Theatre, pictured here in 1946, opened in 1942 and burned down in 1988. It was located in Lynwood, CA. Architect, Charles Lee.
The Oxnard Theatre located in Oxnard, CA. No dates given on the Cinema Treasures site for this one except that it has been demolished and sat 900. The movie being shown is Judge Hardy's Children from 1938. Architect unknown.
The Fox Theatre in Bakersfield, CA. According to Cinema Treasures it's still up and running. Anyone seen a movie there? I'd love to hear if they have maintained the original decor or not. Architect, Charles Lee.
The Studio Theatre, Los Angeles, CA in 1931. Info given says "demolished" but provides no other dates. Architect unknown.
Finally, Teatro Chapultepec, located in Mexico City, Mexico, pictured here in 1944(three pictures in all). Designed by Theodore Gildred and Charles Lee it has since been demolished. It's a crime.