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Memories of revival theaters compared with blu-rays


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#1 of 53 benbess

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Posted May 14 2010 - 09:07 AM

Like many others here, I imagine, I grew up going to a revival theater. Ours was the Balboa on Balboa Island in Newport Beach. It was small, the seats squeaked, the floor was sometimes sticky, and the 35mm prints they had were sometimes scratched, dirty, and faded--and yet it was still magical! There's something about seeing a movie with a group of other people who you know are classic movie lovers that's just fun.


Like many revival houses, the Balboa would usually run a new movie every 2-4 days. And so over the course of a couple of months they'd show a lot of films, at least in the mid 70s to early 80s when I went. They'd mail you a flier every few months, printed in lurid 2 color, I think, with little pictures and explanations of the films. This is where I first saw Casablanca, Picnic at Hanging Rock, Forbidden Planet, and a lot of other classics. Some of the films I'd even seen all or part of on tv, but the theater was a different experience.


But, as I already said in the first paragraph, it was kind of mixed. I mean the theater was not that fancy, and the film prints really varied. Sometimes they'd have a new or pretty new print, and it was great, but other times it was just the dregs. Usually it was somewhere in between.


I can right now, any time I want, pull out my blu of Casablanca and have a superior experience to anything I had in that theater. In some ways it's better. But something is lost too. I love my blu-rays--don't get me wrong. I'm still amazed that I have better picture and sound quality in my living room than pretty much all revival theaters had back in the day.


But that's why sites like this are nice. They provide in a different way some of the communal experience of the theater. And in some ways it's better, because people share their analysis and experiences in a way that you would rarely get with a group of strangers.


The last film I saw at the Balboa was Jean de Florette, one summer when I was home from college, c. 1986. By then they'd had a change of management, I think, and they did first run art films too--that they would hold for a few weeks--along with the Hollywood oldies. It was a great experience. Pretty emotional for me, for some reason, and I got to walk out of the theater onto the beach with my mom and just chat about it as we watched the sand and the sea.


The Balboa closed a few years after that, It think. In any case, the last time I was back there a few years ago it had fallen into ruin. Which is weird, because real estate is still sky high there. There's now a campaign to try to reopen it, but it still has a ways to go to raise the one million or so needed.


Anyway, does anyone else have any thoughts to share about their revival theaters? Or how about any thoughts about how blu-rays are in many ways better but still different from that experience?



#2 of 53 Dick

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Posted May 14 2010 - 10:17 AM

Nice post, Ben. Sure, I go back far enough to remember attending old movie houses (now all shuttered) in the State of Maine, and how, despite the less than perfect projection and sound systems, the experience was, as you put it, "magical." In the 60's and 70's there was hardly a week when I did not catch a movie (I once saw five in one day, with a little preplanning and a knowledge of the shortcuts between theaters -- I was like one of the people in Cinemania!) Portland, Lewiston, Augusta all had big old movie houses (not palaces, exactly, but with loge and balcony seating for 800-1,000), and all brought classic titles back from time to time. I was privileged, right in Lewiston, to see Casablanca, Night At the Opera, Dracula (1931), Creature From the Black Lagoon/It Came From Outer Space in 3-D, Citizen Kane, Forbidden Planet, etc. These were films I'd already seen a dozen times apiece on t.v., but they were brand new experiences in a big old, echo-y theater. Blu-ray discs cannot capture that, nor should they be expected to. We demand pristine transfers, and the prints we usually got at revival theaters were hit or miss. Some of the early Image DVD's had this sort of look to them (including changeover cue markers and splices that cut sentences of dialog in half), but Blu-rays are not going to replicate our fond memories in any way, shape or form. If we absolutely insist upon reliving that experience to at least some degree, we need to spend the money for 16mm equipment and second-hand 16mm prints. Some people (I can't afford to be one, or I probably would be) invest in this and I am sure have a delightful, nostalgic experience every time they share their collections with an audience.



#3 of 53 RobertR

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Posted May 14 2010 - 12:13 PM

Thanks for sharing your revival theater memories, Ben.  For me it was the Ogden theater in Denver.  I remember how excited I was when they screened a brand NEW print of Forbidden Planet (interesting how often that film is mentioned in threads such as this), and it looked spectacular!  As nice as it is to have it in hidef,  no video medium can EVER capture the experience of seeing a film print on the big screen.  The Ogden also gave me my first opportunity to see Lawrence of Arabia on the big screen, as well as a showing of all the Connery Bond films.  I wish I had gone to the showing of Thief of Baghdad they had--I've never seen a film print of it.  Being in the LA area, there are multiple opportunities to see old films on the big screen--we just have to keep our eyes open, yes?  :)



#4 of 53 benbess

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Posted May 14 2010 - 12:44 PM

Dick and Robert:


Thanks for your great memories~!


I actually live in Louisville, KY, and have for many years--and so our opportunities for revivals aren't that great. There's one theater that shows "old" (which often means 70s and 80s) films at midnight. As a middle aged person, I just can't stay up that late! Although actually as a young person I rarely did either. I think my one midnight show was Return of the Jedi on opening night in 1983. But I was a senior in HS back then.


Like you Robert, there were many shows at the Balboa that I missed, always thinking I'd have another chance. And now the theater has been closed for c. 20 years! How time flies.


We do have one great old fashioned theater here, the Louisville Palace. And my, what a palace it is. It's a beautifully restored Baroque, village....whatever. It's delightful. But they mainly do concerts of various kinds. Saw Garrison Keillor there once, and he was great.


They did have a whole Hitchcock festival at the Palace about 5 years ago. I was so thrilled. Then, at the theater, it turned out they were projecting--I kid you not--DVDs of the films. :-O  If I sat in the balcony, it actually looked sort of ok, but up close it was beyond pathetic. The Palace seats around 2000, I think, and so you can imagine the size the the screen. A blu-ray might actually look fairly good done that way. But, the thing that was amazing was that even as a projected DVD the crowd response was great. Even real oldies, like Saboteur (quite underrated, imho) just rocked the house. That film may have played at that same theater in its first run back in 1942. Gave me goosebumps somehow to think about it.


At home I do get some audience response, because my two kids--ages 8 and 14--get to watch the blu-ray collection with me. My daughter's huge enthusiasm for old musicals has amazed for some reason. It was unexpected, but I'm not sure why. But she loves The Music Man (and once in a while sings about Trouble, right here in River City), American in Paris, etc. Yesterday we watched most of the Gandhi movie. I was impressed at how engaged the kids were.


My wife is not much of a movie fan. Or, she is, but she has focused tastes around lightweight comedies or romances or action adventure films.


Like Dick, I saw my first 3D in a revival way back when....


Maybe the Palace will start projecting blu-rays...


http://www.louisvillepalace.com/


(check out the little gallery of images of the place...)



#5 of 53 Todd Erwin

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Posted May 14 2010 - 01:24 PM

You will be happy to hear that both the Balboa and The Port are currently undergoing restorations funded by third parties to return these to their former glory.

Originally Posted by benbess 

Like many others here, I imagine, I grew up going to a revival theater. Ours was the Balboa on Balboa Island in Newport Beach. It was small, the seats squeaked, the floor was sometimes sticky, and the 35mm prints they had were sometimes scratched, dirty, and faded--and yet it was still magical! There's something about seeing a movie with a group of other people who you know are classic movie lovers that's just fun.



The Balboa closed a few years after that, It think. In any case, the last time I was back there a few years ago it had fallen into ruin.



#6 of 53 Todd Erwin

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Posted May 14 2010 - 01:32 PM

When I was in high school and college in the early 1980s, I helped run Saturday movie nights at Cinekyd in Willow Grove, PA, and we ran classics, cult films, recent box office hits, and of course held the world premieres of our own films.


They were 16mm prints (with the exception of the Cinekyd-produced titles), but we always tried to put on a good show. Some of the prints were from private collections, but most were rentals.


Some of my favorites were Doc Savage, The Third Man, Around The World In 80 Days (in 16mm ToddAo-Vision), Captain Blood, Jaws, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and It's A Wonderful Life.



#7 of 53 benbess

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Posted May 14 2010 - 01:40 PM



Originally Posted by Toddwrtr 

You will be happy to hear that both the Balboa and The Port are currently undergoing restorations funded by third parties to return these to their former glory.


Todd: Thanks for letting me know! Love the Port. It's a bit larger and more elegant. Saw the unforgettable movie Koyaanisqatsi--and several others--there.


Of course the Big Newport is amazing. I saw the revival of Lawrence of Arabia there in the restored version by RAH in 70mm!+++



#8 of 53 benbess

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Posted May 14 2010 - 01:41 PM



Originally Posted by Toddwrtr 

When I was in high school and college in the early 1980s, I helped run Saturday movie nights at Cinekyd in Willow Grove, PA, and we ran classics, cult films, recent box office hits, and of course held the world premieres of our own films.


They were 16mm prints (with the exception of the Cinekyd-produced titles), but we always tried to put on a good show. Some of the prints were from private collections, but most were rentals.


Some of my favorites were Doc Savage, The Third Man, Around The World In 80 Days (in 16mm ToddAo-Vision), Captain Blood, Jaws, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and It's A Wonderful Life.

Sounds fun! When did it close?



#9 of 53 Charles Smith

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Posted May 15 2010 - 04:37 AM

Thank you so much for the memory of those printed flyers!  Wish I'd kept a few around.


Great topic, indeed.  I have to say, however, that what is most regretful for me is not just the nostalgia factor surrounding the varying look of the films themselves, but the loss of the neighborhood theaters, the programming, and the communal viewing experience.  I picked up so much of my knowledge of film at the multitude of L.A. revival and second-run houses in the 1970s-1980s, that had I not lived there in those years, I believe my outlook on movies today would be unrecognizable from what it eventually became.

I'm also with you on the look of the films, if perhaps from a slightly different angle.  In addition to my Blu-rays, I very highly value my collection of DVDs -- both the older and newer ones -- and the laserdiscs -- which hearken from the days of "primitive" restoration efforts.  And why?  Because they still look more like film than video in general, and are "imperfect" (ha!) due to the occasional scratches and even splices on the "best" copy that the likes of Criterion, Roan, etc., could get their hands on.  It's beautiful stuff, and these days I'm thrilled when a new restoration on DVD or Blu-ray faithfully portrays the grain of the film.  I also find watching these two forms at their inherent lower resolution (even though beautifully upscaled) a very pleasing experience.


And the rag-tag look we fondly look back on?  That was so beautifully captured in the theatrical release of GRINDHOUSE.  I sat there in the theater from beginning to end, transfixed, eating it up, and I still don't forgive them for not releasing that as a complete theatrical set.



#10 of 53 Dick

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Posted May 15 2010 - 04:47 AM

I am afraid the age of having access to great revival theaters (except perhaps in big cities like NY or LA) are gone forever. We aficionados therefore are willing to spend thousands for big-screen or projection home theater set-ups in order to try to replicate our past experiences as best we can. I feel bad for younger generations who have not had the opportunity to view, not only much better movies than are being made today, but in much better theaters in which to view them. But, then, the younger generations are into texting and video games and couldn't give a rat's ass about the films we on HTF care about. Thus, Hollywood produces crap, and crap is what sells on DVD and Blu-ray, and our movie sensibilities have been dumbed-down to Michael Bay-quality FX, CGI epics that have almost no relation to the beautifully-written, gorgeously-produced classics of yore. I feel a funeral procession is in order.



#11 of 53 TravisR

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Posted May 15 2010 - 05:52 AM

Originally Posted by Dick 

I am afraid the age of having access to great revival theaters (except perhaps in big cities like NY or LA) are gone forever. We aficionados therefore are willing to spend thousands for big-screen or projection home theater set-ups in order to try to replicate our past experiences as best we can. I feel bad for younger generations who have not had the opportunity to view, not only much better movies than are being made today, but in much better theaters in which to view them. But, then, the younger generations are into texting and video games and couldn't give a rat's ass about the films we on HTF care about. Thus, Hollywood produces crap, and crap is what sells on DVD and Blu-ray, and our movie sensibilities have been dumbed-down to Michael Bay-quality FX, CGI epics that have almost no relation to the beautifully-written, gorgeously-produced classics of yore. I feel a funeral procession is in order.



People have been saying that same basic "Today's kids are dumb and today's movies are bad" for how many decades now? It wasn't true then and it isn't true now. There were bad movies then and there's bad movies now. The only difference between today and the "good ole days" is that there hasn't been enough time to forget the bad movies yet.



#12 of 53 RolandL

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Posted May 15 2010 - 07:06 AM

In Hartford, CT we have the Cinestudio theatre on the campus of Trinity college. They sometimes show old films, 70mm, have a balcony but no sticky floors as no food is allowed.


Roland Lataille
Cinerama web site

 


#13 of 53 benbess

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Posted May 15 2010 - 10:20 AM

Dick: Even though Travis is right in saying that for a very long time (since the ancient Greeks, even?) some in each generation feel the next is falling into ruin, I agree with you that today's top movies often leave something to be desired. It may be that there was as much junk released in 2008 as there was in 1965 (to pick two dates somewhat at random), but I think I'd take the list of top box office films from 65 over 08:


1. The Sound of Music* 20th Century Fox Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer $79,975,000
2. Doctor Zhivago MGM Omar Sharif and Julie Christie $60,954,000
3. Thunderball United Artists Sean Connery, Claudine Auger, Luciana Paluzzi and Adolfo Celi $28,621,000
4. Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines 20th Century Fox Stuart Whitman and Sarah Miles $14,000,000
5. A Thousand Clowns United Artists Jason Robards and Barbara Harris $12,628,000
6. The Great Race Warner Brothers Tony Curtis, Jack Lemmon and Natalie Wood $11,400,000
7. Cat Ballou Columbia Jane Fonda and Lee Marvin $9,300,000
8. What's New Pussycat? United Artists Peter Sellers, Peter O'Toole and Ursula Andress $8,469,000
9. Shenandoah Universal James Stewart $7,771,000
10. Von Ryan's Express 20th Century Fox Frank Sinatra $7,700,000



2008 rankPosted Image TitlePosted Image StudioPosted Image Worldwide grossPosted Image Domestic grossPosted Image United Kingdom grossPosted Image Australia grossPosted Image
1 The Dark Knight Warner Bros. $1,022,345,358 $533,345,358 $89,066,002 $39,880,001
2 Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull Paramount $786,636,033 $317,101,110 $79,283,312 $27,981,873
3 Kung Fu Panda DreamWorks $645,737,680 $215,434,591 $39,405,501 $24,764,811
4 Hancock Columbia $624,386,746 $227,946,274 $49,170,891 $19,636,856
5 Mamma Mia! Universal $609,827,661 $144,130,063 $132,342,643 $29,287,466
6 Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa DreamWorks $603,900,309 $180,010,950 $35,471,617 $15,093,421
7 Quantum of Solace MGM / Columbia $586,090,727 $168,368,427 $80,805,643 $20,645,336
8 Iron Man Paramount $585,133,287 $318,412,101 $33,822,889 $18,880,106
9 WALL-E Disney/Pixar $534,767,889 $223,808,164 $41,215,600 $14,165,390
10 The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian Disney/Walden Media $419,651,413 $141,621,490 $21,581,030 $13,181,570


#14 of 53 benbess

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Posted May 15 2010 - 10:26 AM

Actually, I can't really say with absolute certainty which year I prefer, since there are a lot of films in both years I've still not seen.  For 1965, I still haven't seen anything after the top 3. For 2008, I still haven't seen 1, 4, 5, 7, and 8. Of the ones I did see in 08, however, the only one I thought much of was WALL-E...



#15 of 53 RobertR

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Posted May 15 2010 - 10:30 AM

I agree with Ben.  There's a difference between saying "movies today are not as good as they were in past eras" and "past eras had no bad movies".  Making the first statement does not imply making the second.



#16 of 53 GMpasqua

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Posted May 15 2010 - 02:26 PM

Well, I'm originally from New York, and the city had a number of revival houses (sometimes Radio City would show older films during the day in the 80's) The Recency would get excellant prints sometimes. Of course some of the Broadway film houses would host a revival season like the Cinerama in 1978.


Out in LA we have the Academy of Moyion Pictures (usually top quality and guest speakers)  We also have the American cinematheque which screens at the Eygptian Theater. The Chinese and El Captian also show older films from time to time. The Aero theater will get good prints but the audience is locals who talk through the films and the seating isn't raked very well, though they do show 70MM films - if only the audience was more respectful


Many times (esp in 70MM) the films blow the DVD/Blu-rays out of the water



#17 of 53 marcco00

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Posted May 15 2010 - 03:40 PM

i totally enjoyed my many years spent in revival theaters here in los angeles. from about 1977-1988, my teen-age years thru college, i've seen over 200+ classic films in a theater. almost all were double feature screenings. even silents and foriegn films- and andy warhol & john waters underground films!


at that time LA had many revival theaters- the vagabond, the vista, the encore, the tiffany, the nuart, the silent movie- all around the hollywood area. i'm not sure how many of these are still open today.


i must admit that nothing beats seeing a film on a large screen, with an audience.


on the whole, the film prints were fine-- although i saw many technicolor films that were badly faded.


but before home video, this was the best way to see a film uncut and in its entirety-- broadcast tv really butchered these movies ( i remember KABC would show an afternoon film in a 90 minute time slot-with commercials! i clearly remember the first time i watched 'butterfield 8' 1960, and 'the egyptian' 1954-- both were pan & scan, and both lasted 90 minutes!)


but with the advent of home video, with many films restored to pristine condition, i have my own huge library of my favorite films. it's great to have these at my fingertips!


and i recently bought a 50 inch plasma tv (720p) just to watch films in a darkened room--  to replicate that theater experience.



#18 of 53 Stephen_J_H

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Posted May 16 2010 - 02:45 PM

I've never lived close enough to a revival theatre to be a patron. The closest I came was the Metro Cinema in Edmonton http://www.metrocinema.org/ , which shows a mixture of new prints of classics and arthouse cinema, I saw Metropolis and Bubba Ho-Tep there. That being said, there is something magical about seeing a 35mm print onscreen in an old-school movie theatre.


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#19 of 53 Worth

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Posted May 17 2010 - 01:13 AM

I still go to rep cinemas whenever I get a chance. I'm lucky to live in an area where they still exist - in fact a new one just opened up last week and screened Big Trouble in Little China. And another one is having an 80s film fest at the end of the month - I never thought I'd have the opportunity to see Buckaroo Banzai on the big screen again.


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#20 of 53 Todd Erwin

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Posted May 18 2010 - 04:32 AM



Originally Posted by Toddwrtr 

When I was in high school and college in the early 1980s, I helped run Saturday movie nights at Cinekyd in Willow Grove, PA, and we ran classics, cult films, recent box office hits, and of course held the world premieres of our own films.


They were 16mm prints (with the exception of the Cinekyd-produced titles), but we always tried to put on a good show. Some of the prints were from private collections, but most were rentals.


Some of my favorites were Doc Savage, The Third Man, Around The World In 80 Days (in 16mm ToddAo-Vision), Captain Blood, Jaws, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and It's A Wonderful Life.



Originally Posted by benbess 



Sounds fun! When did it close?



Due to the video revolution, I think they stopped movie nights, with the exception of world premieres, sometime in the mid-90s. I left Cinekyd in 1986 when I moved to SoCal.


Cinekyd was a non-profit educational organization that taught media arts to Jr. and Sr. High School kids, producing a weekly TV show on public access cable, a weekly radio show broadcast on a local college station, and every summer they produced a feature-length movie. Sadly, they were forced to close their doors a few years back due to a major drop in enrollment.