OPED GARAN GREY BLOG
Cinema Sightlines has quietly joined social media, with a page on Facebook. Readers are welcome to post about favorite theatres, home theatre, movie manners, and the moviegoing experience.
Speaking of which, a couple recent visits to our long favorite, Disney's El Capitan Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard, found the place and the experience growing more lackluster and less theatrical. Beginning with the installation of speakers in front of the stage, made much worse by huge trusses hanging Dolby Atmos speakers ruining the grandeur of the opulent ceiling. Frankly I don't see the appeal of those speakers. This is not the kind of theatre that would benefit from Atmos, because if you sit downstairs under the balcony it's useless, and the rest of the house is too high for that overhead sound to make much of a difference. Having seen Brave, Tangled, Frozen, etc. there, I honestly noticed nothing about Atmos other than it makes this grand theatre look more like a techno geek's mancave. If the El Cap wants to enhance the experience they really should consider enlerging the screen - because these days size matters and there certainly is room within their existing proscenium and generous masking for a larger picture. To make matters worse, the El Cap's legendary signature curtain prologue has been replaced by the kind of slides and projections common to any multiplex. Disappointing.
And in direct relevance to our Movie Manners article, I noticed a couple nearby who brought their adorable daughter, whose apparently volcanic eruptions in her diaper continued from the line outside throughout the film. Waves of cesspool-like fumes that kept wafting from this otherwise nice little family made me wonder if new parents become immune to such smells coming from their offspring as they often seem not to notice their noise.
it was a long time coming, and a long time to budget, but I've finally entered the digital age of Home Theatre. Sure the screen size and width are an improvement, making movies at home feel more like movies (less so since my matte LED screen was replaced with an excessively reflective one), but there are many disappointments in the transition. I've already abandoned the idea of automatically replacing my entire DVD library with the BluRay "upgrades" because so often they are not really upgrades. More on this to come.
We've continued to get lots of email from publicists, hawking everything from unknown talent show contestants to obscure videos. Recently we were sent something touting a "revolutionary" picture technology that was purported to be better than the current standard of high-definition. A net search brings up numerous companies by the same name, and a website that is "under construction." The release contained totally unsubstantiated claims that this unknown company's unseen product was the one true solution, that the major entertainment tech companies were conspiring to ignore it - a conspiracy, it suggested, that would set the industry back many years. The email contained an image, not of the product itself, but the two guys who supposedly invented it (and a third, who apparently is the publicist). We have to wonder, if the product is so stupendous, why not show it, instead of three unknown guys? When pointedly asked that question, the publicist sent back a string of increasingly juvenile, bitchy (and misspelled) personal attacks. "Rocks" thrown from a glass house. Apparently this guy has a lot of time to scour the net looking for things to criticize. Anyone reading this site finds plenty of evidence that we make no pretense or claims to our own importance. This person has bullet points on his email signature claiming he is much lauded, and outstanding in his field. His behavior indicates an immature poseur. I have met and dealt with enough "top" publicists to know that no true professional would answer any question, however unwelcome it may be, in such a spiteful manner. The value of the invention behind the press release remains to be seen, but their choice of representation doesn't give them much credibility.
An unexpected result from our coverage of the sadly mishandled Sing-Along MAMMA MIA!, was that AMC Theatres contacted a national media directory, indicating that Cinema Sightlines should be included. That listing sparked an ongoing flurry of email from publicists, only a few of whom have actually checked out the site, or even read our profile. Many proposals we get leave us scratching our heads, wondering what makes someone think a website dedicated to showmanship and the moviegoing experience, would cover the kind of things they are promoting.
We were asked to interview "magician" Criss Angel, who was launching a line of clothing. Our first reaction was it's scary enough that ONE person walks the earth looking like Mr. Angel, but what we actually said, was unless he was outfitting movie ushers, the story was not within our scope.
While watching an LA based "reality" series (that we wouldn't want to admit watching), an invitation to a fashion show came in from the office of a charming young designer who was featured on that very episode. Again baffled by the invite, we were tempted to go anyway, as the designer specializes in skimpy underwear, which would be worn by some attractive models. Our response: If they do something in a theatre, we're there!
Some of the movies and/or DVDs we're asked to cover aren't the kind of things we'd ever watch. One such request was that we promote a "documentary" on You Tube about fantasy football, made by someone whose last subject was Segueway races. Uh-huh.
One publicist asked that we interview the "director" of a recent DVD release. We looked up the man, and found out that he was far better known as a writer, with an interesting list of credits, including an upcoming IMAX 3D feature. We said we were interested in asking him about that, along with his preference for how he watches movies, and how he would prefer his movies to be seen. The interview was promptly cancelled.
A sorely ill-fated job interview for an Apple Store precluded our attending a rare screening of a favorite old Hollywood movie, with its legendary leading lady in attendance... Another screening invitation was politely declined when logistics made it difficult, despite the lure of a 3D Imax epic about sardines!
We were kindly invited to the Glorious El Capitan to see a movie about Chihuahuas. The theatre was wonderful, with a fine live organ concert, plenty of good seats, free popcorn and soda, plus a typically strained pre-show, with cute performing dog-stars. The movie was well, um... well projected, and very, uh... colorful. Yeah, that's it.
There were rare screenings of SOUTH PACIFIC, 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, and HOW THE WEST WAS WON at the lamentable Cinerama Dome - presentations which mostly typify our strong reservations about the ArcLight complex and the way it's run. Our explicit and detailed opinions on the Dome/Arclight situation have been the most consistently requested since we came online, but it's a can of worms we've been reluctant to open right now. Ditto our opinions on the ill-advised redo of an old showplace, which is now an ugly space run by nice folks.
For The Birds: Alfred Hitchcock's THE BIRDS was shown as part of a film series at a downtown bar-lounge space in what was once a power station. The physical space is almost as labyrinthine as its website, but much easier to navigate. The primary draw was Actress Tippi Hedren, looking very nice during a Q&A conducted by Ben Mankiewicz, who was a welcome substitute for the advertised Ben Lyons. There were very elaborately printed brochures, with info on the movie, and the worthy animal advocate cause that Ms. Hedren represents. Those brochures were very nearly the most impressive thing we saw all night.
The idea of watching an entire movie in a bar, is not as much fun as it might seem on paper. The friend I attended with, experienced at running similar events, was baffled by our 35 minute attempt to get a drink. The bar staff have mastered an intriguing show of abstract busy-ness: a lot of action moving bottles around, that didn't seem to end up with anyone actually getting a drink. We gave up.
The evening was unnecessarily prolonged by a delayed start, long grandiose introductions, and the totally incongruous display of a young woman hanging from the ceiling, wrapped Cirque Du Soleil-style, in a sheet. Perhaps if she at least looked like a Bird, it might have a shred of relevance to the place or the event. Instead, it was simply a waste of time. They could have better spent that money on having someone from ISF come calibrate their video equipment. Where I sat, we had a choice of a screen with a distorted picture and good color, or an undistorted picture with bad color. There was also a light, which presumably illuminates the wall when the screen is not there, washing out about a third of the picture.
Seating was limited, and we spent the entire time on an oversized ottoman with two others and nothing to lean on. A third of our view was cut off by a man perched on the arm of a sofa directly in front of us. There seemed to be another, much livelier party going on in the ladies lounge. We heard loud music throughout the movie, and even louder conversation every time the door opened.
The strongest memory I have of watching THE BIRDS, is the irritatingly repetitive song the school kids chirp incessantly while the birds collect outside. After about nine choruses, I was rooting for the birds.
London Pride: A recent addition to our message boards, UK Cinema Lover has favored us with some fine descriptions of moviegoing in the United Kingdom, from the original roadshow of THE SOUND OF MUSIC to the questionable manners of movie pests. This welcome contributor is prepping a feature about moviegoing in the UK that we look forward to. We recommend that you read his entries and get into the dialogue.
We do have a lot of things we'd like to cover, but there is the daily challenge of paying the bills, and a constant dilemma over where to focus our limited energy and resources at any given point. It's also becoming more and more clear that the person we hired to build the site over a year ago was not very good at it, and inadequacies in the site's construction are causing all manner of havoc behind (and sometimes in) the scenes. We all have our challenges, some just have more help to handle them.
So for those who are, thanks for noticing us, and stay tuned.
Back Story: Since a very early age, I have been fascinated and passionate about the kind of showmanship, atmosphere, polish and finesse one used to find in real movie theatres.
At 10 years old, I could already recognize and appreciate the difference in presentation and quality from local theatres to those in big cities, where movies opened first. One day, this funny looking kid knocked on the door to a theatre manager's office, and proceeded to tell the man that he liked the theatre, that a couple of the footlights were burned out, and the curtain was hanging off the track at one end. Then he asked if there were any one-sheets or pressbooks leftover from the previous attraction. Unfazed, the man asked for a name and address. A few weeks later, a huge package arrived, and the kid made a friend for life.
Terms like Roadshow, Hard Ticket, and Marquee (the correct spelling of it) were already familiar, and I learned how rows and seats were lettered and numbered in a proper theatre. I once imagined a particular layout for a title on the marquee, drew it out on paper, gave it to a manager, and was enormously pleased when it went up, to see that it looked better than what they would have done. That may have been my first effort at adding what we now call "finesse points" to movie presentation. Okay, I was a weird little kid. Eventually some would call it "creative."
By my early teens, I was collecting movie pressbooks, and regularly reading issues of Boxoffice magazine - especially the issues with the MODERN THEATRE section, featuring articles and pictures of new or newly renovated movie theatres. One article in Boxoffice contained specific instructions for how to present a roadshow picture, emphasizing how important to it was to time curtain movement so you would never show the audience any part of a blank screen. I understood completely. Today, few even have a clue.
Shortly after reaching the legal age of employment, I spent a school vacation as a ticket taker in my favorite theatre. Later, I became a regular usher for hometown Saturday kiddie matinees. I was up on a ladder changing a huge marquee at 16, and halfway through High School I was a projectionist, putting a little extra showmanship into the local movie theatre. As an adult, I've worked and hung out at numerous theatres in NY and LA. I've sold tickets, torn tickets, swept tickets off the floor, popped popcorn, sold popcorn, swept popcorn off the floor, and often actually showed people to their seats.
When I was fairly new to LA, I heard about the Lucasfilm/THX Theatre Alignment Program, which was supposed to ensure top-notch presentation. I became one of their incognito theatre reporters, and covered a few films, including the Special Edition reissue of STAR WARS.
After sitting though the picture in two different rooms at the Beverly Center, I called in my report. Along with required details on the theatre's cleanliness, displays, starting time, trailers, and even the restrooms, I remarked that the prints looked especially grainy, even on the small screens, and that the color was off. (I had seen the picture on its 1977 opening day in NYC) There was an icy pause on the other end of the phone. "Mr. Lucas approved those prints." (all 3500 prints, I wondered, or just the 50 or so showing around LA?) "Well, they look like crap" i said. For some reason, they never called me back. Could it be that I had higher standards than "Mr. Lucas?"
On the staff of a legendary Hollywood movie palace that's now turned legit, I found I had far higher standards for operating a theatre than the manager, who was 20 years younger than me. Apparently, I have higher standards than most people running theatres today.
When most people go out of their way not to mention the elephant in the room, I'll walk over, stroke its trunk, feed it some peanuts and hop on for a ride. And I am not one to figuratively apply my lips to anyone's posterior. Can you imagine how far that's gotten me in Hollywood?