Monday, June 29, 2009

Not Extinct: One Screen Palaces in Downtown Los Angeles

The Los Angeles Theatre
Los Angeles, CA
Opened 1931
S. Charles Lee & S. Tilden Norton, Architects
Picture Taken 6/24/09

Its doors closed for regular programming since 1994, attending the Los Angeles theatre actually makes the notion of trust fund "hipsters" (a term I am starting to detest since it's taken on some weird boogieman connotations) slumming it up in $500,000 designer lofts sound appealing in hopes that it would revitalize it and the myriad of other long neglected downtown palaces back to an age of everyday venue status. Of course I know that's overly optimistic and near delusional of me, and, in fact, the discussions of opening the first first-run theatre in Downtown in decades are swirling around plans for yet another multiplex in the Arclight vein. In the meantime, theatres like the Los Angeles still exist, though primarily as shooting locales. Which is more than you can say for the former downtown theatres of other urban cities (cough San Francisco, New York cough).

But once every summer, thanks to the great work of the Los Angeles Conservancy and their annual Last Remaining Seats series, now in it's 23rd year, the doors of places like the Los Angeles and its bethren are reopened and used for their intended purpose. Last Wednesday, I was lucky enough to attend a screening of Elia Kazan's 1951 smoldering Tennessee Williams adaption, A Streetcar Named Desire there.

The Los Angeles stands four stories tall: a balcony on top, the lobby and regular seating on the street level, an area for shopping (!) directly below and on the lowest level, two ornately designed restrooms whose combined size probably exceeds my house's lot size in square feet.

Here are some photos I took from the event.

The lobby which looks more like a grand French hotel than a movie theatre:

The balcony, chandeliers and domed roof:

The inside of the theatre is just as carefully detailed, unfortunately I didn't capture some of the finer points, but here is the proscenium and Spartan themed mural curtain:

The kindness of strangers (a sold out show):

For more on the Los Angeles Theatre:

Here's the theatre's website with more history and a photo gallery

The Los Angeles Theatre's entry at Cinema Treasures

For more on the Los Angeles Conservancy and the Last Remaining Seats series:

Here's their website

And finally as I was doing some research on the theatre, I found this awesome website, American Classic Images, and these amazing shots of the theatre while it was still programming regularly circa 1981-82

Beast Master will be there proximo! Yes readers, I'm afraid we are lesser of a nation for not being able to attend a First Blood/Blow Out double bill in such a grand theatre anymore.

And one final shot of the theatre from the same era, a certain movie I've reviewed here happens to be on the bill:

How long did people have to wait to catch Beast Master at the Los Angeles?

Saturday, June 27, 2009

A Grave Disappointment

Perhaps the necessity of warning anyone from purchasing a decade old compilation CD of film music that itself is over seventy plus years of age are slim, but since yours truly was prompted to purchase Rob Zombie Presents The Words & Music of Frankenstein upon discovery in the used bins at Amoeba Records based on a love of the films and a predilection towards soundtrack collecting, I know I would have surely appreciated such a forewarning.

Compiled by musician/filmmaker Rob Zombie (who was at the time under contract both as a music act and writer/director of House of a 1000 Corpses with Universal*, who of course own the rights to Frankenstein) the disc ostensibly collects the music and bits of dialogue from the first three films in the franchise (the eponymous, Bride of and Son of), but like all of Zombie's endeavors, be they musical or cinematic, the result is mediocrity. I guess the fact that words preceded "music" in the compilation's title should have been a clue, but out of the set's 56 (!) tracks only about ten are music only tracks. The rest are snippets of dialogue, often only about 10 seconds in length.

I guess it's cool if the "It's Alive" moment came up when I had my Itunes set to random, but I own these films on DVD and am not blind, so what's the benefit? Most egregiously, several tracks feature dialogue scenes playing over cues of the score that are not included in music only tracks. The whole thing is basically a modern equivalent of those read & listen records that truncated the story of hit movies whilst you read a picture book, turning the page at the chime, that were popular in my childhood.

Ending on a positive note, the booklet that comes with the CD does contain some great production behind the scene photos. This would have made a great special feature on the DVD. Otherwise save your money and hope that eventually someone releases a true album of Franz Waxman and Frank Skinner's wonderful atmospheric scores.

*Universal eventually found it too graphic and never released the film, Lionsgate eventually did.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

I, Twit

Well, I went and did it, I created a twitter account. As someone who favors introspection over immediacy, has a tendency to be very private, and is often guilty of not being the most ardent practitioner of brevity, this is probably not going to be anything too illuminating, but if you want to hear about how my tomato plants are blooming, by all means, follow me here:

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

3 Years...That's all we got*

Moon (2009, Duncan Jones), recollects such 60's/70's era science fiction films as Solaris, Silent Running and The Man Who Fell to Earth (here's the part where I am obligated to mention Jones is the progeny of a musician and actor with interstellar bona fides of his own, David Bowie) that use the vastness of space to tell seemingly intimate stories which ultimately reveal expansive ideas. Unfortunately, discussing these ideas in relation to Moon too much would unveil the elegantly revealed surprises in store in Nathan Parker's script (based on a story by Jones), which is built on a natural progression of information over abrupt surprises, but to name one, nothing less than the idea of what constitutes humanity in someone/something is a major theme.

The film may be Jones' debut, but he displays a strong and assured directorial hand, with a veteran skilled organic storytelling approach. Tony Noble's carefully detailed production design and the reliance on practical effects over CGI lends it the air of a film from an era other than the post Star Wars western in space template reliant on spectacle over ideas and character that is the standard for modern day sci-fi, currently on display in JJ Abrams retooling of Star Trek (a film I like, by the way).

Sam Rockwell, who's pretty much in every minute of the film as Sam Bell, an astronaut counting down the final days of a three year mining mission stint on the moon whose entire life is thrown for a loop after waking from an accident during a routine exercise, gives a wonderful, nuanced performance in a tricky role that...well, again, I can't really go into details without spoiling too much.

Composer Clint Mansell, whose score for Requiem for a Dream has been used so much in other film's trailers to convey doomed intensity to the point of cliche, provides a pitch-perfect score that's sure to be iconic, with textures and ambiance that calls to mind one of Jones' father's greatest collaborators, Brian Eno.

With the exception of one or two nits I could pick, including a bit of unnecessary voice-over dialogue as the film fades out, this is the first new film in quite some time to really burrow into my head and effect me (probably first since There Will Be Blood), and one that I foresee only growing in estimation with each subsequent viewing. I loathe terms like "thinking man's" science fiction, since it's natural implication displays an arrogance and contempt for pop art such as the aforementioned Star Wars or Trek, but Moon juggles the tricky line of not holding your hand and trusting you to keep up with it while being free of any pretension. It's easily my favorite film of 2009 (so far, naturally).

Here's the trailer which gives you a good sense of the film while slightly hinting at the plot mechanics which I tried to avoid discussing here. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

*see what I did there, I combined a plot element of the film with a line of a Bowie song

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Not Extinct: One Screen Palaces in the Modern World (The Fremont)

The Fremont Theatre
San Luis Obispo, CA
Built 1940
S Charles Lee, Architect
Picture Taken 5/22/09

Located in the heart of vibrant downtown San Luis Obispo, home of Cal Poly University, nestled snugly halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco, is this impressive one screen wonder that has for nearly seventy years shown the latest Hollywood fare to college student and townie alike, the Fremont Theatre.

Owned and lovingly operated by small independent theatre chain The Movie Experience (there was hardly a space on the lobby walls not covered with a poster for an upcoming film) after years of neglect by such unsuitable chains as Mann, the Fremont has been renovated for modern exhibition with a booming sound system and crisp digital projection while still maintaining the charm and dignity of its Art Deco style and painted walls. An added bonus: once a month they show a classic film, this year's schedule was focused on the 1950's.

Here's two pictures of the interior (I apologize for the crummy quality of the pictures, I was not using a flash):

Should you ever visit SLO, and it's a great weekend trip for either Southern or Northern California residents, do yourself a favor and catch whatever film is playing there, no matter its quality, the experience will be worth it.

For more on the Fremont Theatre:

-The Fremont Theatre's Cinema Treasures page
-The Movie Experience Chain's website
-The Fremont Theatre's Cinematour page (featuring many more interior photos)

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