Jeff Smith 4 p.m., Aug. 28
4th row center: A night at the Egyptian and a day at the Chinese
DISCLAIMER: The title of this article is false and misleading. For the sake of full disclosure, when confronted with a hundred foot screen, you'll find me parked two rows behind my customary position in the 4th row.
Up in Hollywood doing top secret research work for the government and my luck, the trip just happened to coincide with the World 3D Film Expo at the Egyptian Theatre.
Back in 2003 with the first 3D Expo ran, I was fortunate to catch a screening of an extremely rare right-eye, left-eye 3D print of the Martin & Lewis comedy, Money From Home. It is the only stereoscopic print in existence; the film that was never publicly exhibited in 3D. Paramount decided at the last minute to release it as a 'flatty.'
One of only two 3D movies to be filmed in the lush dye transfer Technicolor process (Flight to Tangier was #2), not a drop of saturation had faded from the print since it underwent a color-locking imbibision bath in 1953. The print was scheduled to make a return appearance at this year's Expo and fearing a repeat of the 2003 sellout, I purchased tickets days in advance.
To ensure a pair of 'sweet seats,' my pal John Schultz and I arrived at the theatre 90 minutes prior to showtime. The courtyard was empty and the anticipated SRO crowd never showed. When the dual projectors hit the screen, only a little more than half of the theatre's 773 seats were filled. Still, that's 760 more that they'd have attracted had the event been held in Bland Diego.
A dye transfer 3D print of the innocuous animated Disney short, Melody opened the show. Following a round of polite applause, the crowd went wild at the sight of a 3D Paramount mountain. Both print and presentation were flawless. I should only look as wrinkle and blemish free as this 60-year-old print did. Pat Crowley, who made her film debut as Jerry's love interest, was on hand for a post show Q&A.
Sunday night marked the single greatest night I've spent at the movies in years. That is at least until Monday morning rolled around.
What are the chances of seeing back to back screenings of 3D classics projected in their proper 1.33:1 aspect ratio? Things like this only happen in Hollywood!
I need another viewing of The Wizard of Oz like I need a head in my hole, but a chance to see a newly restored digital copy in the theatre where the film originally debuted in 1939 proved irresistible.
Oz's 2013 digital premier was held opposite the screening of MFH. As much as I would have loved to have had a picture taken with Jerry Maren, one of only two remaining Munchkins, I know with which Jerry my allegiance lies. Instead of bragging rights to being among the first to marvel in the newly refurbished Chinese Theatre, I had to settle for the sloppy seconds a press screening offered the following day.
My desire to reserve a sweet seat once again found me at the head of the line. This time, I arrived a scant 45 minutes ahead of the 10:30 am screening time.
Fortunately it was a press preview. With only 20 or so colleagues (and only two potentially noisy children) in attendance, I had the run of the joint.
The Chinese Theatre opened its doors on May 18, 1927 with the premier of Cecil B. DeMille’s The King of Kings. Originally designed to house 2,258 spectators, the Chinese, which has undergone several architectural facelifts, lost almost 700 seats in 2000 when the theatre became the joint property of Warner Bros. and Paramount.
May the bastard whose decision it was to remove the external ticket booth forever roast in hell!
Arguably the most famous movie theatre in the world, the once glorious Chinese had fallen on hard times. Arclight's acquisition of the Cineramadome left the Chinese in the dust. All of the potential moneymakers had their sites set on playing the Dome. The addition of a six-screen multiplex to the Hollywood and Highland mall failed to put butts in seats. With third-run pictures playing on all six screens and no weekend spillover from a sold out blockbuster in the big house to boost business, the theatre had become a ghost town.
All of this is hopefully about to change. In April 2011, the lease was taken over by nightclub owner/producer Elie Samaha and producer Donald Kushner. Earlier this year, the Chinese television manufacturer TCL purchased the naming rights.
The last film I remember seeing in the big Chinese was John Carpenter's In the Mouth of Madness. Perhaps it was the stench of urine emanating from the gentleman seated two rows ahead of me that kept me from paying a return visit. In retrospect, his running dialog -- the lunatic appeared to be conversing with the right subwoofer -- was far more entertaining than onscreen.
My return to the Chinese signaled an historic event. After months of restoration, the TCL Chinese is poised to set Arclight's snobbish, cookie-cutter black box technology on its ear. Due to reopen it's doors this Friday with the premier of the sparkling, digitally rejuvenated print of The Wizard of Oz, TCL got wise by deciding to bring IMAX to the Boulevard (and I don't mean El Cajon!).
The first to enter the sacred cinematic shrine, I felt like a Lickona kid attending their inaugural Midnight Mass. If there's a better place in America to see a movie, pop for the plane fare and I'll meet you there.
The seating capacity has been whittled down to 932 and for the first time ever I was able to cross my legs without kicking the chair in front of me. A generally pesky center-aisle has been added to the main floor, but it doesn't really matter that much. Given the enormity of the 94 x 47 foot screen, almost every seat in the Chinese is a 'sweet' one.
The new floor-to-ceiling traveling curtain is a replica of the one Sid Grauman commissioned in 1927. It took 30 seconds for them to slowly part and it's certain that you can double the time if the feature is in 'Scope.
One complaint: while the image is virtually ghost-free, the tivoli lights down the center aisle are a bit bright and tend to cause a reflection in the 3D glasses. Hey, it wouldn't be me unless I found something to complain about!
Why not plan a weekend getaway and tour the last remaining single screen vestiges of Hollywood's long lost Golden Age? In addition to the Chinese and the Cineramadome, there Disney's El Capitan on Hollywood Blvd, the Regency Bruin and Regency Westwood Village in Westwood, and the Vista and Landmark's NuArt, both located in Los Angeles. Even an shuttered downtown picture palace will occasionally open its doors for a revival or two. What am I forgetting?
More like this:
- Name That Logo: Deluxe Warner Bros. Edition — Sept. 19, 2013
- What San Diego multiplexes have that Hollywood picture palaces don't — Sept. 16, 2013
- Studio collagist Jacques Kapralik created the fabric of Hollywood ballyhoo — Sept. 10, 2013
- 4th row center: Triumph of the Will — Sept. 6, 2013
- Fox Theatre San Diego, BCSH: Before Copley Symphony Hall — Sept. 3, 2013