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Movie Palaces, Cinemas and Theaters of Yesterday and Today

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Moraldo Rubini
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"Shut the door"

Postby Moraldo Rubini » May 16th, 2007, 12:08 am

This morning I had a goal to get out bed before noon so that I could go to a movie. I've been starving for celluloid and the craving had to be quenched. Since I went to the Ziegfeld already, I thought it time to check out my other favorite Manhattan theatre: The Paris. This sparkling moderne theatre is situated across from the old Plaza Hotel (now being renovated into a "condotel" by Ivana Trump). It opened in 1948, and is said to be the longest continuously operating art house in the U.S. Bring a sweater if you ever plan to attend a movie here, as it's always bone-chillingly cold. The interior is sleek, with an aubergine curtain that opens to reveal the treasured reflections of light.

Appropriately enough, the movie playing there is Paris, Je t'aime, a collection of 18 love stories set in the City of Light -- one for each arrondisement. Each story was made by a different director with a range of Gus Van Sant, Wes Craven, the Coen Brothers, Alfonso Cuarón among others and starring a dreamcast of Natalie Portman, Gina Rowlands, Gérard Depardieu, Juliette Binoche, Ben Gazzara, Nick Nolte, Elijah Wood, Willem Dafoe, Marianne Faithfull, Steve Buscemi, Miranda Richardson, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Fanny Ardant, Bob Hoskins, Rufus Sewell, and so many others. It was all put together by Claudie Ossard (who produced the hit Le Fabuleux destin d'Amélie Poulain).

As in any collection, some pieces work better than others, and it seemed a bit long; but I was fascinated by how well so many of them fit together. Did the directors work together? Did Ossard explain that a tale must end on a certain note so that the next film could begin there; or was it serendipity?
Last edited by Moraldo Rubini on May 22nd, 2007, 5:28 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Postby Sue Sue Applegate » May 22nd, 2007, 5:12 pm

I would love to see that! You make it sound so wonderful.
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It's not a bookstore

Postby Moraldo Rubini » June 10th, 2007, 1:18 am

San Francisco's Strand Theatre suffered from a major fire last night. It was in very sad shape anway, having been shuttered four years ago. The roof of this derelict cinema became home to the homeless, who started the fire and then witnessed it growing out of control.

The Strand, as I knew it in the 1980's, was run by Mike Thomas who founded the art film distributing company Strand Releasing. It was one of a string of independent houses that he was running in those days. He would often program triple features and midnight movies and it was here that I learned to appreciate the vivid colors of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, when it was a double-feature with How to Marry a Millionaire. When Thomas took over the Strand, he launched it with a revival of Howard Hughes' The Outlaw, with Jane Russell making a personal appearance. He also ran a ballyhoo series, which included rigging the seats to recreate the original "thrills" of The Tingler.

The house was built in 1917, but didn't get the Strand moniker until the late 1920's.

Thomas kept the prices low, which sometimes attracted a "colorful" [read: seedy] crowd. There was a screening of Nijinsky (in a double-bill with The Turning Point) when I was haunted by a fellow wearing a trenchcoat that would sit next to me even though the house was practically empty. I would move, and he would follow. I finally had to speak forcefully to "back off", while the poor guy seemed surprised that I actually wanted to watch the movie.

The Loma Prieta earthquake closed the cinema for awhile and even though it eventually reopened it was never the same. It later became one of the last porn houses (the man in the trenchcoat must have felt at home) before closing down entirely.

Click here to see a 1978 Strand Schedule.* Once the schedule appears, you can click on it again to get a detailed view...
__________
* Thanks to the Flickhead Blog.

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El Rey

Postby Moraldo Rubini » June 27th, 2007, 5:20 pm

Above, I wrote a bit about the Senator Theatre in Chico, California. I recently received an update about Chico's second movie palace -- the El Rey. This theatre was born in 1905 as the Majestic; a vaudeville house. In 1926, the Sacramento architectural firm, Starks and Flanders, remodeled it for the National Theaters Circuit, and rechristened it "The National". In 1939 it was once again remodeled and named the "American". A terrible fire in 1946 caused extensive damage and destroyed the marquee. The interiors were redone, now featuring new frescoes of frolicking fairies that charmed local audiences for the coming decades.* Supposedly around the same time, a fire destroyed an El Rey theatre in Oakland, California and Chico's theatre bought their marquee and took over the name.

When the Senator was split (see above), the El Rey became the premiere theatre in town, showing major first run films with a smattering of classics (a Sunday series) and midnight movies on the weekend. It was here that I first saw Gone with the Wind, Singin' in the Rain, Words and Music and Carousel in revival. As a child, I felt rather sophisticated to see Guess Who's Coming to Dinner here, with my parents and their friends. And I saw my first fully produced opera (albeit on film) here when I was 9: La Bohème. Produced by the maestro Herbert von Karajan with sets by Zefferelli, it featured the stellar cast of Mirella Freni, Rolando Panerai and Gianni Raimondi. Now I was hooked on both opera and movies.

In the fall of 1976, I was settled in the local university's revival house to watch a double-feature (I think it was Midnight and It's a Wonderful Life). When house lights dimmed, the packed house was surprised by the screening of a loud trailer that blared the coming of a new sci-fi fantasy. It was greeted with boos and cat calls; modern trailers were never previously shown at this theatre. I heard everyone declaring they would never deign to see such crass entertainment. On May 25, 1977 I found myself in a line that snaked around the block and through a parking lot to see this crass entertainment. The El Rey charged $3.50 to see Star Wars. I'd never paid that much for a movie in my life, and cursed the price under my breath as I awaited entrance. I vowed never to pay this amount again. And I was right -- now I pay $11.00.

A few years ago, the El Rey was closed. A couple of guys bought it for $700,000 with the intention of gutting it and converting it into an office building. It never happened. Instead it just sat empty, developing a hole in the roof and becoming a glamorous pigeon coop. Today, it's on the block again. This time they're asking $1,700,000. There is a local group trying to save it. The fairy murals are still in tact. If anyone wants to be involved in saving an old palace -- this would be a good place to start.

__________
* These same fairies could be seen on the walls of San Francisco's Coronet Theatre. I wonder how many other movie houses featured the same murals?

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Postby Lzcutter » June 28th, 2007, 12:34 am

Ahh,

Prechance to dream and wake up to find I have been awarded one of those MacArthur Foundation grants.

Ah, the good works I could do....
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Farley Granger and Al Fresco

Postby Moraldo Rubini » June 30th, 2007, 11:31 pm

Farley Granger is going to make an appearance at a screening of Strangers on a Train at the George Eastman House in Rochester, New York; July 13!

And on Saturday, September 29 Eric von Stroheim's Greed will be shown in a free outdoor screening in the San Francisco neighborhood of Hayes Valley -- where the movie was shot! Von Stroheim filmed in a turret-capped Victorian building at Hayes and Laguna, where this epic silent will be shown.

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Durham

Postby Moraldo Rubini » August 24th, 2007, 1:32 am

After shuttering its doors for repairs in early June, Durham's Carolina Theatre reopens in Friday, August 23, 2007. While most of the much-needed maintenance will not be apparent to patrons — fixing the roof, HVAC ductwork and the like — the delay in completing the work and reopening the theater, which was originally scheduled for August 3 afforded the theatre additional time to ready for it's grand reopening: the 12th Annual North Carolina Gay and Lesbian Film Festival. Included in the festival will be the new controversial Eytan Fox film The Bubble.

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En Vogue

Postby Moraldo Rubini » August 27th, 2007, 1:05 am

The day after I posted about Durham's reopening of the Carolina Theatre, San Francisco announced the reopening of the Vogue. This cinema originally opened in 1910 and is said to be the City's oldest single screen movie house. Perhaps the most inspiring aspect of the story is that it was saved by move lovers: The San Francisco Neighborhood Theater Foundation purchased the theatre with money raised by the Vogue Capital Campaign.

"Five years ago we formed the foundation in a grassroots effort to preserve the last remaining neighborhood theatres in San Francisco," said foundation president Alfonso Felder in an article published by the San Francisco Chronicle. Since then we have helped save several theaters and won passage of landmark legislation making it more difficult to tear down neighborhood movie theatres."

The theatre is great for the neighborhood. Nearby restaurants and other businesses contributed to the fund, knowing that a healthy theatre brings healthy business to them as well. And sharing the silver screen with your neighbors helps to build a community.

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Save this Theatre!

Postby Moraldo Rubini » September 12th, 2007, 12:33 pm

Look at these amazing photos of Chicago's astounding Uptown Theatre. There's a group that's trying to save this grand old dame. I wish them all the best. What a treasure... And you can help: Sign the petition to save the Uptown.

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I'll Take Manhattan!

Postby Moraldo Rubini » September 29th, 2007, 2:00 am

How's this for a Drive-In? Yup, real estate on the isle of Manhattan is at a premium; and no one drives there anyway. So how do you get a Drive-In? As the link shows: it's all set up for you -- auto included. Just step inside the car and enjoy the show!

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City of Brotherly Love

Postby Moraldo Rubini » October 13th, 2007, 3:12 pm

Man, I love those posts, John. Thank you so much. It's funny: the few times that I've visited Philadelphia, I can't picture any movie theatres! So it was great to hear about your movie-going experiences there. And I'm so envious that you were able to see Night of the Demon on the big screen back then...

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Postby Moraldo Rubini » October 13th, 2007, 5:33 pm

JohnM wrote:I went searching for photos, and all I could find were two that I couldn't figure out how to copy and post here. Below is a link. Once there, you will see 2 thumbnail photos to the right. The far right photo is a photo of the Belgrade's drinking fountain.

Here's a more direct link to the Belgrade fountain photos of Mr. Haas; and here's another of the theatre itself. It looks like an exceptional piece of moderne architecture. Since cinema is all about light and reflection of light, it's a nice touch to employ glass bricks so prominently. Is the building gone now?


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