Tuesday, April 30, 2019

And the popcorn was good too!

Remember Revival Theatres? These were movie houses that ran eclectic double bills of vintage films, usually for one or two night runs. On Tuesday they might feature THE BIG SLEEP and MALTESE FALCON, Wednesday could have two Bergman films, and Thursday maybe BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI and VOLUNTEERS (okay, that last one is my fantasy). Weekends offered midnight shows as well. ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW was a staple at many of these old movie palaces.

Revival Theatres saw their heydays in the ‘70s and ‘80s, usually in college towns. We were introduced to a whole new world of cinema. I can’t count the number of classic films I was exposed to for the first time by going to the Fox Venice, the Nuart, and the Beverly Cinema. And in the early ‘70s the Fox Venice also had a music group playing on the weekends – Oingo Boingo. Admission was something like $2.00. So for two movies and Danny Elfman’s group playing live it was a pretty good deal.

Then video tapes arrived, and laser discs, and video stores, and eventually HBO, TCM, NETFLIX, DVD’s, ON DEMAND, etc. You didn’t need a Revival Theatre to see BLAZING SADDLES and THE BICYCLE THIEF; there were seventeen other ways to obtain copies to watch in the comfort of your own home. Revival Theatres began to disappear.

In LA the Nuart is still there but their programs now change only a few times a week and a lot of their double bills are so obscure I wonder if anyone has ever heard of them. The Beverly Cinema recently got a face lift when Quentin Tarantino bought and renovated it. For that I am very grateful (although not grateful enough to ever watch HATEFUL 8 again).

Last Sunday night I went to the New Beverly Cinema to see two Neil Simon films, AFTER THE FOX and THE HEARTBREAK KID. I had forgotten how much fun it was to watch comedies on the big screen and hear actual laughter. Especially for THE HEARTBREAK KID. This is one of my favorite movies, it was directed by Elaine May, and as comedies go it’s rather dark. It’s also very Jewish.

I saw this movie when it first came out in 1973. I was an all-night DJ on KMEN San Bernardino back then so went to the big City Center theatre in San Berdoo to see it opening night. It was a Friday date night and since the film was billed as a romantic comedy the theatre was packed with young people. Imagine this cavernous theatre and only one voice laughing at this picture – mine. I’ve seen it many times subsequently but at home. I think this was the first time I saw it on the big screen where it got explosive laughs from the audience.

SIDEBAR: When I hosted the Neil Simon Film Festival for TCM I asked that they include THE HEARTBREAK KID, which they did. They also said it was the first time that film had ever aired on TCM. I hope they’re still playing it (although it’s not nearly as good without my intro and outro).

I really miss the shared experience of enjoying a comedy with actual people. That’s a big reason why I write plays. Actors are not going to come to your home – you have to go to them. If there’s a Revival Theatre in your town go to it, support it, and tell your friends. You won’t just be seeing movies; you’ll be having an experience. That’s the one thing Netflix can’t give you (despite their raising prices). And if you do have a Revival Theatre in your neighborhood, suggest a double-bill of BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI and VOLUNTEERS. I think it would be really cool.


Anonymous said...

Remember when they made films like AFTER THE FOX and THE HEARTBREAK KID? When you went to see a movie and actually laughed out loud to an entertaining story? When they made comedies without the "f-word"repeated over and over or cheap bodily function jokes ... with wit and inventiveness?

Mike Barer said...

Seaside Oregon remodeled and reopened it's downtown theatre which had been dormant for decades. It had built a multiplex on the highway.
Going to the remodeled theatre was a really neat experience, bringing back childhood memories.

McAlvie said...

These classic movies deserve to be seen on the big screen again, so I hope we see another revival. I've always believed that a really good movie, like a good book or a good song, withstands time and sadly they seem to suffer when rebooted. I think there's some ephemeral something that gets lost when they try to update them. Don't know enough about movie making to say what that something is, I just know its true. Remember the first time you watched "The Taking of Pelham 123"?

Movies have been around long enough now that we have a nice stash, a treasure chest, even, of really good classic movies, and it has never made sense to me that theaters don't take advantage. Considering they now come with 20 screens and there are generally only two decent new films showing, surely they could allocate one screen for classic films.

Sorry to be long winded, but I wanted to add that some years ago we were in the habit of making day/weekend trips to some of the small towns up and down the east coast, and I have a fond memory of an ancient theater somewhere in Western Maryland where they'd taken out most of the theater seating and replaced them with sofas and an eclectic assortment of vintage seating. It was all a bit shabby, but the lobby was clean, the popcorn maker worked, and admission was cheap. I think it was The Thin Man, though I may be remembering that wrong, and they had a decent audience. I've forgotten the town, but I remember the experience very fondly.

Steve Bailey said...

I agree with you about the communal feel, but I just can't abide by the current theatrical experience -- tons of ads, a half-hour of trailers, people on their cell phones, etc. And I live in Jacksonville, where you couldn't pay people to visit revival theaters. I used to show Laurel & Hardy movies once a month (FOR FREE) at a local library, and if a dozen people attended, that was a big night.

Frank Beans said...

There are still art house theaters around in cities with universities (I don't like to say "college towns") that play films that aren't likely to be in the stupid multiplex theaters--Sundance films, foreign films, etc. I think that classic films that were major releases are just too friggin expensive to be shown in these kinds of places anymore. And people have movie theaters in their homes now. And what's with this "text messaging" thing I keep hearing about? Back in my day...

And get these damn kids off my lawn!

Pat Reeder said...

We have Netflix, Amazon Prime, cable and Blu-rays, but Laura and I have started going a lot more often to see classic films on the big screen (but hardly any new movies.) It really is a completely different experience, and the way they were meant to be seen, especially if you can see a really good digital restoration of a very old film, with both picture and soundtrack restored.

Some of the multi-screen art houses and even Cinemarks are showing them. Here in Dallas, we have locally-picked classics on Tuesday nights at the Magnolia, and Fathom Events books TCM movies into the megaplexes (I finally saw the '50s version of "Ben-Hur" on a big screen for the first time a couple of weeks ago -- thank God they also preserved the original intermission bathroom break. They need to bring those back, or else edit current films more ruthlessly.) Check out the Fathom Events website for those; they're national bookings. The Texas Theater in Oak Cliff (where the cops caught Lee Harvey Oswald) has been restored and also shows classics regularly. "The Apartment" was just there, and we recently caught "The Birds," Lillian Gish in "The Wind," and "Metropolis" with a new live music score.

When I was a kid, the Grenada Theater in Dallas was the repertory theater, with a different double bill of cult, classic or just plain weird movies every night (I remember "Harold and Maude" and "King of Hearts" rolled around regularly.) They used to print a big poster calendar covering about six weeks, with photos and brief descriptions of each movie. Everyone would hang them on their walls and bedroom/dorm room doors. The Grenada posters alone were an education in film. The Grenada is now remodeled as a very nice live music venue. Great place, but I'm still sad that the old Grenada is gone.

Wendy M. Grossman said...

Ken, I commend to you the Prince Charles Cinema, next to London's Leicester Square. On the weekends, it makes bucks by showing 1980s/1990s revivals, some of them singalongs and quotealongs Their "Singalong-A-Sound-of-Music" showings are famous;l their Quotealong-The-Big-Lebowski includes White Russians served at the bar and encourages everyone to come wearing bathrobes. They do all=night trilogy (not all SF!) showings, and publish an FAQ of advice on attending that includes the note that you're welcome to bring your own food and should wear your most comfortable clothes - pyjamas if you want. During the week, they show relatively current second-run movies with a program that changes daily.

The screens are correctly placed, the seats are comfortable, the sound is not too loud, and the picture is always in focus.


Anonymous said...

The University of Chicago’s Doc Films
is a combination revival house,
second-run/recent release theatre,
and sneak preview showcase.
Quarterly Season Passes are $40-
this Spring that would get you into
80+ films.

Among the filmmakers who’ve dropped by
in person during its 87 years history
Alfred Hitchcock, Woody Allen, John Ford,
and Terrence Malick


thomas tucker said...

Yes, yes, yes- loved The Heartbreak Kid, which started my admiration for Charles Grodin, later to appear in one of my favorite films of all time, Midnight Run. Heartbreak Kid was hilarious, witty and featured great acting by the whole cast. @Pat Reeder- I grew up in Dallas and used to go to the Grenada all the time. It's where I first saw Singing in the Rain, and was introduced to Fellini films. I remember their calendar posters very well.

Unknown said...

OK, let's make a law, if a theatre has more than 8 screens, one has to be dedicated to classic movies.

p.s. I had to looked up THE HEARTBREAK KID, and first item was with Ben Stiller, directed by the Farrelly brothers. Was scratching my head on why you would be excited by that, until I dug deeper for the 1972 original version.

Jon88 said...

The other great thing about the revival houses (NYC had, what, six?) was discovering films because they happened to be playing on a double bill with the one movie you went to see. That's how I accidentally discovered the greatness of "The Stunt Man" and "Resurrection" (the 1980 original with Burstyn and Shepard, not the remake we choose to believe was never released).

Greg said...

You have to check out The Aero in Santa Monica, or The Egyptian in Hollywood (though this one was just bought by Netflix, so we'll see). These theaters have no problem screening R.O.T.O.R. one night, then a double bill of Kurosawa films the next. And much of the time, the world-famous filmmaker will show up (well, maybe not Kurosawa). It always reminds me of how lucky I am to live in L.A. when I drive by the Aero and it says something like "Jaws", with S. Spielberg". You know, you just catch a screening of Jaws at a little neighborhood theater, and, oh yeah, Steven Spielberg's gonna drop by and hang out for a bit.

It's NUTS.

Greg said...

You have to check out The Aero in Santa Monica, or The Egyptian in Hollywood (though this one was just bought by Netflix, so we'll see). These theaters have no problem screening R.O.T.O.R. one night, then a double bill of Kurosawa films the next. And much of the time, the world-famous filmmaker will show up (well, maybe not Kurosawa). It always reminds me of how lucky I am to live in L.A. when I drive by the Aero and it says something like "Jaws", with S. Spielberg". You know, you just catch a screening of Jaws at a little neighborhood theater, and, oh yeah, Steven Spielberg's gonna drop by and hang out for a bit.

It's NUTS.

Tom Galloway said...

A great revival house is Palo Alto's Stanford Theater, a 20s movie house renovated to its original status including a Mighty Wurlitzer organ played for silents and before talkies.

The story behind it is interesting. It's owned by the David and Lucille Packard Foundation, as in Hewlett-Packard, and is essentially run by David Packard, the son of the HP Packard. He was a professor at UNC-Chapel Hill shortly before I attended, and one night went to the then excellent campus film program (another thing which has mostly gone away) and fell in love with classic films. He eventually moved back to NorCal, bought and renovated the Stanford, and it's been going for several decades. He's also very involved in film restoration and preservation.

Also, the popcorn is reasonably priced and you get real butter on it.

E. Yarber said...

I remember spending my high school years shuffling from one screen to another... two revival theaters, free showings at the art museum, programs at the local college. There was an art in itself to locating screenings, and it was easy and cheap for me to see over two hundred movies a year with barely a toe in the water regarding contemporary stuff (which invariably looked incredibly ragged to me after being thoroughly acclimated to foreign and classic cinema). Then there was college, where a few of us leafed through distribution catalogs in a tiny office where we programmed four nights of films a week, more than willing to abuse our ability to choose anything we hadn't seen for projection on the big screen.

I used to think of theater vs home video as the difference between reading a book in a well-made hardcover copy as opposed to a flimsy paperback, but even that analogy is in the bin of history these days. When I went out to lunch today I was the only customer with a book of any sort, while three or four people read their phones.

The American Cinematheque manages to put together some interesting programming at the Egyptian and Aero Theaters, but now Netflix of all creatures is trying to purchase the Egyptian as a vanity press venue for their own stuff.

Mark Murphy said...

We don't have a revival theater in my hometown of Syracuse, but we do have a group that has been meeting for about 50 years to see old films (anyone, not just members, can attend), and it's doing better than ever.

The films are shown weekly at a local restaurant. People come early, have dinner and see the movie. And again, many are nonmembers and aren't experts on old movies. Luckily the head of the group is an expert and gives a quick but knowledgeable intro before each film.

And more in more, these showing are PACKED.

Case in point: A few weeks ago the film was "Midnight," with Don Ameche, Claudette Colbert, John Barrymore and Mary Astor. Script by Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett.

I'd seen the movie on DVD at home and found it amusing. But with an appreciative audience, the movie really killed -- and Barrymore, though he's been dead for more than 70 years, especially killed. Big time. So much that it was almost pleasantly eerie. So yes, please see old movies -- especially comedies -- with an audience if you can.

D McEwan said...

"Actors are not going to come to your home – you have to go to them."

Actors come to my home quite often. This has always been so.

Although After The Fox is, in many ways, a mess, I've always really liked it. Victor Mature is genuinely funny in it. And much of it survives Peter Sellers's attempts to sabotage it offscreen. (Nothing against that particular film for Sellers. With the exception of Being There, Sellers did everything he could to sabotage every movie he was in from 1965 on. He was a great talent, but he was also a very sick, self-destructive, puppy.)

D McEwan said...

"if you do have a Revival Theatre in your neighborhood, suggest a double-bill of BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI and VOLUNTEERS."

That's roughly a four and a half hour program, not counting the two intermissions. (Bridge has a much-needed intermission within it.) You better hope Volunteers is on first. Bridge is a great movie, but I've never felt at the end like I really wanted another movie just then.

estiv said...

My hometown had a similar theater, and I miss it, but I also miss other alternative ways to see films. The first time I saw Hour of the Wolf (one of Ingmar Bergman's more dreamlike films, which meant it was way.out.there.) was at a local university, in a room that probably held large lecture sessions most of the time. When I later moved to Austin there were two film societies at the university, plus a very good independent film society (founded by Richard Linklater after his first success), and a couple of dollar theaters showing films that had been in the megaplexes a couple of months before. So there was always something worthwhile to do that involved sitting in a darkened room and sharing a collective experience. Now there is no free parking anywhere near the university campus, the Austin Film Society seems to be mostly an excuse for hipsters to bond, and the dollar theaters are all gone. I love Netflix, but being part of an audience is irreplaceable.

tb said...

A lot of times there were triple-bills, too! Take the Money & Run, Bananas & Sleeper, for example. Used to go to the Rialto in South Pasadena all the time. A film about Jimi Hendrix / Rainbow Bridge / Jimi Plays Berkeley, another triple-bill I'd always catch. Lots of good times at the old Rialto. They'd had Rocky Horror every weekend for years.

OokOok said...

Best double bill I ever saw was sometime around 1991: RAGTIME and...AIRPLANE! This was at the $1 bargain matinee theater. AIRPLANE! had come out in 1990 so fit their model of "current" movies at the tail end of their theatrical release, but RAGTIME had come out in 1991 so not certain why they had it.

I do recall the odd juxtaposition of watching with horror as Howard Rollins sprawled in death at the end of the first movie while knowing, in about 30 minutes time, I'd be watching (literally) shit hit a fan.

Liggie said...

In suburban Seattle, a theater had special themes on some Sunday nights, such as "Hitchcock-tober" and Bogart February; for the latter I saw "The Treasure of the Sierra Madre", "The Maltese Falcon", and "The African Queen" on consecutive Sundays. That theater is gone because the entire complex is being remodeled, let's see if the replacement theater will have these classic nights. Also, the local iPic (one of those theaters with recliners and dinner menus) does show revivals, I saw "The Philadelphia Story" there.

Of course, there are a number of classic film showings in Seattle proper. Near the University District I've seen "The Third Man" and a strange 1960s Richard Lester picture, "The Knack ... And How to Get It".

Todd Everett said...

There was, for a while, a theater on Hollywood Blvd. (near La Palmas; south side) that headlined a relatively current feature, billed with a vintage classic -- to make up an example, "Volunteers" with "The Road to Morocco." Great idea, but for whatever reason it didn't last.

Michael Hagerty said...

Ken: Check out the Old Town Music Hall in El Segundo. A Laurel and Hardy festival this weekend, "Sunset Boulevard" later this month, a 1939 Film Festival in late June and a 1925 Wurlitzer pipe organ.


Pat Reeder said...

BTW, another place film buffs might want to check out is local churches. Churches have space, seating and sound systems, and they're empty most of the week, so some have started hosting concerts and classic films as family entertainment for the local community. A couple of months ago, we went to a Dallas church that showed Buster Keaton's "Steamboat Bill Jr." with an organist providing live accompaniment on the big church organ. It was great, and it drew a sizable crowd. I was happy to see that the front row was packed almost entirely with kids under 10 who appeared to love it. That's about the age I was when I fell in love with silent movies, too.

Earl Boebert said...

One of the great joys of my youth was the ability to take a (long) walk from home to the Cinema Guild and Studio on Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley. It was run by Pauline Kael and her then-husband, and consisted of two storefront 16mm revival houses. I haunted that place, and saw all the classics and then some. She wrote the handout listing coming attractions, which was an education in film theory by itself. I often wondered if those were preserved anywhere.

On the other side of the UC campus was another art/revival house, the Northgate. It was in a kind of patio complex (IIRC) with a basement jazz joint, which had the interesting characteristic that if you dropped in near closing time the bartender was too stoned to bother with checking IDs.

Andrew said...

You're idea of a double-feature might work. If I recall (it's been a long time), The Bridge on the River Kwai ends with a character saying, "Madness! Madness!" At that moment you could skip the end credits and go straight to Volunteers.

Anonymous said...

Someone mentioned "intermissions". How I miss them. I felt an 'intermission' might have been a good idea for the three hour Avengers movie and then I saw the movie and realized, it didn't really need an intermission because I probably wouldn't want to come back if it did. I love super hero films but that was the lamest thing I've ever seen. No wonder it'll make literally 4 billion dollars. The ending was the smartest/classiest part of it and it's the thing that's getting the most negative attention (not surprised).

Since I've already tipped my hand that I'm a grumpy middle aged man (I guess 55 is still sorta kinda middle aged), I might as well go back to the original reason for this response - the sorry state of audience behavior at movies. I used to love the movie going experience more than the movies themselves - I love the trailers, the popcorn, the posters in the lobby, the feel/smell of the whole thing, that feeling of coming out of the world you've been in and out into the world you live in, etc. All that's kind of disrupted by the damn cell phones and people desperately fearing of missing out by being on their cell phones/on social media at all times. During the previously mentioned blockbuster, the guy next to me actually took a call during the biggest moment in the movie. It was 2am. Was he a doctor or a drug dealer, you decide. Who needs to answer their phone at 2am on a Wednesday morning?

There was a great revival house in Minneapolis near Augsburg and the U of M. I didn't see tons of movies there when I was going to college in the early/mid 80s, but I certainly saw a lot of films that I wouldn't otherwise have been exposed to. it was in the Cedar Lake area and might have been called The Cedar. There was/is also the Uptown Theater which really dug deep into revivals and interesting programming.

Film Forum here in NYC is still going strong with a variety of eclectic programming and some of the best popcorn in town (although the Paris is the hands down winner of any movie theater in town... the best popcorn in the entire city exists at a dive bar called Tap a Keg up at Broadway and 104th).

Dave said...

With all due respect, the Fox Venice, Beverly, and Nuart were AAA at best. The Vagabond and (the king of them all) the Encore towered over every other venue. Hell, even the Sherman had better programming.

Smicha1 said...

For those on the east coast, the Mahoning Drive-In is a great resource for retro-cinema experiences. When movies converted to digital they made the choice to stay 35mm and become a retro-only drive-in. Here's a neat piece about them:

Barry Rivadue said...

RAGTIME was released in 1981. Cagney had already died by 1991.

cadavra said...

OokOok: Traditionally, second features come from the same studio (in this case, Paramount). They probably picked AIRPLANE! because it's short.

Dana Gabbard said...

Yes! And they have a Wurlitzer theater pipe organ. Glorious for showing silent films!

Dana Gabbard said...

Ken! I was the guy using a walker at that screening. It was my birthday and I had always wanted to see After the Fox, mostly for Victor Mature spoofing himself. Fabulous. Heartbreak Kid was clever but the saga of a cad and flirt left me a bit cold. But obviously many agree with you about it as they had a significant number of patrons who came only to see the 2nd film which caused the intermission to be extended. I missed the last 20 minutes due to things running long and I had a ride to catch. Probably catch the last 20 minutes on YouTube sometime.

There is a calendar for classic screenings in the L.A. area, Kansas Anymore.


Dana Gabbard said...

Yes! The Vagabond! When I graduated from USC with a cinema degree finances dictated pursuing employment in an industry where entry level pays decently but I moved into an apartment near my new job right across from the Vagabond. It was glorious. For the first six months I had no TV and became a regular. They showed 3 different double bills a week. Heaven for a film buff like me. It eventually became a church and is now a live theater/comedy venue known as The Hayworth.