Anyone who lives in the City of the Angels come to know the area that is Hollywood. The district has always been a Mecca for people who dream about movies. It attracts tourists and people from all walks of life. The affluent and the desperate in equal measure, seemingly, and everything in-between. And if you are aware of Hollywood, then you know what anchors the west end of the stretch known as The Boulevard. The iconic Chinese Theatre.
It’s a treasure of a structure for anyone who has ever visited it. As the current owners remind us:
“IT WAS ONCE STATED THAT “ TO VISIT LOS ANGELES AND NOT SEE THE CHINESE IS LIKE VISITING CHINA AND NOT SEEING THE GREAT WALL.” GRAUMAN’ S OPULENT, AWE-INSPIRING PRESENCE AND HISTORY HAS BEEN A CORNERSTONE OF HOLLYWOOD FOR OVER 75 YEARS.”
For about a year now, movie patrons and long-time admirers of this palace, here and abroad, have fretted. Why? Because the former proprietor had done little for this cinema in the last few years, and the new landlord, China’s biggest electronics manufacturers, TCL, was going to make this their flagship venue by renovating the venerable main auditorium as an IMAX theater. The cries arose sharply, that’s for sure.
Still, paraphrasing members of The Los Angeles Historic Theatre Foundation and others interesting in preservation (something that this ever-changing city of ours hasn’t been so good at), “Not one hammer would be swung without a number of folks making sure all that made this movie house historic was preserved and protected.” Quite a challenge, especially given what it took to bring this off, as the following showed what happened after the 2013 TCM Film Festival ended:
Changing the rake of the theater, situating new seating, and installing the largest IMAX screen found anywhere made it no mean feat. And, they had to make sure it maintained and restored all of the significant design aspects that made Sid Grauman’s vision for “…a “palace type theatre” of Chinese design” the treasure it has remained over the decades for movie-goers the world over. Did they pull it off?
Two big thumbs up, I’d say, as my family would agree.
This was one of those events I wasn’t going to miss. I pre-bought the tickets shortly after online sales became available months ago. Plus, I purchased them before asking any of my brood if they’d like to go. In my mind, they had no choice. If that wasn’t enough, it was announced the opening film was…wait for it… The Wizard of Oz. Not the film you would imagine they would showcase on an IMAX screen. And in 3-D for chrissakes!!! Yep, even more concern to be had.
We all would arrive a tad early on Saturday afternoon to judge it all for ourselves.
If you’ve not walked onto the Hollywood Walk of Fame, on a weekend, not a lot can prepare you for it. The sights, the people, and the atmosphere is one to be ‘experienced’. One has to get over their fear of crowds rapidly to cope. Quickly gathering our tickets from Will Call, we made our way onto the famed forecourt. The theater’s most distinctive feature, outside of its distinct Chinese exterior motif, are the concrete blocks set in the courtyard.
None of the signatures, footprints, and handprints of many of the most popular motion picture personalities, from the 1920s to the present day, were disturbed. Still, none of those features was what we were concerned about anyway. TCL was even offering guided tours inside the theater to view the famous venue and all their renovation work. That’s confidence, I tell you, and all in-between movie screenings.
They began to let in the 4:30 PM ticket holders at four sharp. That’s when all that worry began to diminish, and rather at full-tilt once we walked down to our seats (row N, if anyone wants to know). This certainly was the same place I’d visited often beginning in the 60s, but, whoa, it wasn’t exactly the same. I and my family couldn’t take our eyes off our surroundings. Believe me, the pictures I shot don’t really do it justice.
This movie palace, one that had filled my eyes and ears over the decades (where, oh where did my youth go!), had exceeded all of my memories of screenings past by the creation of a new one. I say this without regret, the old girl never looked so good. I know I wasn’t the only one dazzled in that packed house.
The Wizard of Oz
I was thinking about trying to describe this umpteenth film viewing, and its conversion to 3-D, one that succeeded beyond my expectations. However, someone beat me to it, and did it better than I could have anyway. Kurt Wahler‘s wonderful piece on his experience on opening day is definitely worth a read:
“Most of us encounter the film, one way or another, on television, replete with commercials, interruptions, and everything else. I know I did. The Yuletide tradition.
But then, there is encountering the film the way it was originally designed to be seen: in a theatrical setting, probably on a screen about 18 feet (or less) tall. And now, at the Chinese anyway, you have the film playing on a screen 46 feet tall and 61 feet wide, watching it from what you might consider to be a theatre balcony with no orchestra floor and shoved closer and lower to the screen: you are right there in the middle of it.
This is what the IMAX format was designed to do. Every IMAX theatre duplicates this approach. The large screen, the cliff of seats, the surround sound — it admittedly is very good at providing the viewer with an immersive experience. In fact, Oz was preceded with one of those short clips telling you about how great IMAX is — computerized space-graphics of chromed letters zooming and bobbing around, accompanied by sound effects meant to suggest speed and impact. All very calculated, all very dimensional.”
Certainly, audiences and Variety agreed, care of the excitement and reactions this theater and movie have generated. All I know is that I’m going to be coming back for whatever The Chinese Theatre has in store for me in the near future. I know for a fact, the new friends I met at last Spring’s TCM Film Festival will have a tremendous treat in store for them when we gather once again to worship at this cinema cathedral come the 2014 version. Especially, for those who visited the iconic theater before this.