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Let’s Hear It For Showmanship

Leonard Maltin By Leonard Maltin | Leonard Maltin November 6, 2013 at 3:35PM

I’m happy to report that showmanship is not completely dead. Individual theater owners keep it alive in their communities and earn the gratitude of their customers. A friend recently sent me two trailers...
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Holllywood Theatre Marquee-300

I’ve received unprecedented response to my recent YouTube rant about sloppy presentation at a nearby multiplex, but I’m happy to report that showmanship is not completely dead. Individual theater owners keep it alive in their communities and earn the gratitude of their customers. A friend recently sent me two trailers prepared, pro bono, by a Portland, Oregon filmmaker to help support and encourage his local non-profit movie palace, the Hollywood Theatre. One of them profiles an 85-year-old woman who recalls her tenure as an usherette at the Hollywood in the 1940s. The other features a painting contractor who volunteers to help keep the non-profit theater looking fresh. What a lovely way to build audience support for this moviegoing mecca…and how nice that the Hollywood has been able to restore its original 1926 marquee.

No one knows more about the history of exhibition, particularly in the South, than John McElwee, who has a loyal readership at his website, Greenbrier Picture Shows If you haven’t latched onto this entertaining and informative site, or even if you’ve enjoyed John’s colorful posts over the years, you’ll want to own a copy of the handsome new hardcover collection of his columns, Showmen, Sell It Hot! (GoodKnight Books). His chapters on the distribution history of such classic films as The Wizard of Oz, Frankenstein, Dracula, and A Night at the Opera illuminate a facet of their history that many others ignore: their long theatrical life through repeated reissues. McElwee doesn’t rely on his memory or anecdotal evidence: he cites trade journals and box-office figures to show that many of these movies found their true audience the second or third time around. Every chapter of this lavishly illustrated volume is packed with information that was new to me and fascinating to learn. (Did you know that in the wake of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, 20th Century Fox made up new 35mm Technicolor prints of 1939’s Jesse James with Tyrone Power and circulated them for years, especially in the South?) I can’t say enough about this entertaining book or the ongoing research John McElwee offers at his site.

One of Joseph O. Holmes’ beautiful photographs from "The Booth: The Final Days of Film Projection," taken at the Kent Theater in Brooklyn, New York
One of Joseph O. Holmes’ beautiful photographs from "The Booth: The Final Days of Film Projection," taken at the Kent Theater in Brooklyn, New York

Finally, if you’re visiting New York City over the winter, you might want to check out a photography exhibit by Joseph O. Holmes at the Museum of the Moving Image. It’s called The Booth: The Last Days of Film Projection, and it chronicles some of the surviving projection booths (and projectionists) in the New York metropolitan area. It may be difficult to grasp but, in modern theaters, booths—a fixture of exhibition for more than a century—are now essentially obsolete. Without bulky prints to store and prepare for showing, or trained operators to splice and rewind reels of film, all a multiplex needs is a shelf to hold a digital projector—which in some cases is operated by remote control from an iPad!

Purists and nostalgists will certainly relate to the environment and equipment so beautifully captured by Holmes in his photo essay, which you can also purchase in book form HERE.

And if you haven’t heard me spout off about a recent encounter I had with non-showmanship, please click HERE.

This article is related to: Journal