Los Angeles Film Event Preview: LAST REMAINING SEATS (Los Angeles Conservancy)

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by Tony Frankel on April 20, 2015

in Theater-Los Angeles


28 years ago, a handful of volunteers from The Los Angeles Conservancy, a nonprofit that recognizes, preserves, and revitalizes the historic architectural of L.A. County, dreamt up Last Remaining Seats, a summertime program which presents classic films and live entertainment in historic movie palaces. The brilliantly simple plan was a way to draw attention to the often-neglected historic theaters on downtown’s Broadway (the largest theatre district listed in the National Register of Historic Places). While the Conservancy offers walking tours, they mainly cover the theaters’ exteriors, so this is an extremely rare chance to see the glorious interiors of these ornate and spectacular movie palaces (unless you rent them for a movie shoot or private function, and I assure you that doing so will cost slightly more than twenty bucks).

On June 10, 2015, the Los Angeles Conservancy will launch the twenty-ninth season of Last Remaining Seats, presenting classic films as they were meant to be seen: on the big screen, in a beautiful theatre, surrounded by fellow fans. Attending these screenings is a communal experience unlike any other movie-going adventure you will ever have (including that Drive-In Movie date you may have had with the football team). In the last twenty-plus years that I have attended these events, I have been hard-pressed to find a more friendly, lively, and joyous crowd anywhere else. Million_Dollar_Theater_Stephen_RussoThe act of collectively watching a classic film is an infectious, natural high. This is why people attend from around the world, and why Last Remaining Seats sells out every year. The good news is that there are still tickets left for the programs, which were only available to members prior to April 7.

Five of the six screenings this year will be in the historic “Broadway corridor,” the birthplace of vaudeville and cinematic entertainment in Los Angeles. This area features one of the largest concentrations of historic theaters on one street in the nation with twelve stunning show palaces located within nine blocks. Behind their misleadingly humble exteriors, Broadway’s theaters feature sweeping marble staircases, star-sprinkled ceilings, elaborately crafted interiors, gilded rococo designs and a wide range of flamboyant architectural styles. As Vaudeville died out, the theatres were mostly converted into grand movie palaces. With postwar suburbanization, attendance declined, and many of the theatres were either converted into retail space or shut down completely. Were it not for efforts of organizations such as The Conservancy, these theatres would become parking lots.

The 2015 schedule is as follows. All locations, dates, films, and programming are subject to change.

Psycho (1960)
Wednesday, June 10, 2015 at 8pm
Million Dollar Theatre (1918)
PSYCHOAlfred Hitchcock may have already made his mark as the film world’s master of suspense, but he forever changed the shape and tone of the screen thriller when Psycho was released in 1960. From its first scene, in which an unmarried couple balances pleasure and guilt in a lunchtime liaison in a cheap hotel (hardly a common moment in a major studio film in 1960), Psycho announced that it was taking the audience to places it had never been before, and on that score what followed would hardly disappoint. Showers grew scarce after the release of this iconic thriller. Just for opening night, props from the movie will be on display at the theatre (exterior pictured above), courtesy of NBCUniversal Archives & Collections.

City Lights (1931)
Saturday, June 13, 2015 at 8pm
Los Angeles Theatre (1931)
The-spectacular-lobby-of-the-1931-Los-Angeles-Theatre.This screening is sure to sell out. The gorgeous Los Angeles Theatre actually opened with the premiere of this gem. (The photo shows the theater’s lobby.) Charles Chaplin was deep into production of his silent City Lights when Hollywood was overwhelmed by the talkie revolution. After months of anguished contemplation, Chaplin decided to finish the film as it began—in silence, save for a musical score and an occasional sound effect. Once again cast as the Little Tramp, Chaplin makes the acquaintance of a blind flower girl (Virginia Cherrill), who through a series of coincidences has gotten the impression that the shabby tramp is a millionaire. A second storyline begins when the tramp rescues a genuine millionaire (Harry Myers) from committing suicide. When drunk, the millionaire expansively treats the tramp as a friend and equal; when sober, he doesn’t even recognize him. The two plots come together when the tramp attempts to raise enough money for the blind girl to have an eye operation. Chaplin’s decision to release this silent picture three years into the talkie era was partially vindicated when more than one critic singled out this “comedy in pantomime” as the best picture of 1931.

Dios se lo pague/God Bless You (1948)
Wednesday, June 17, 2015 at 8pm
Palace Theatre (1911)
Palace-Theatre-Interior-Image-Courtesy-of-Berger-Conser-Photography-from-the-book-The-Last-Remaining-Seats-Movie-Palaces-of-Tonseltown.Directed by Luis César Amadori, this Argentinian classic—co-presented with the Latin American Cinemateca of Los Angeles—was the first film in Argentina eligible for an Oscar. Adapted from the play, God Bless You, written by Brazilian Joracy Camargo in 1934 we find a reasonably successful laborer named Juca (Arturo de Córdova), who has come up with an idea for an invention that could very well make him wealthy, only to find that his supervisor has made off with the plans. Breaking the news to his wife, she kills herself out of despair, prompting Juca to vow revenge upon his now former boss. To this end, he dresses up as a beggar and takes to the streets, only to find that his success as a beggar threatens to make him very wealthy. While working the streets, he meets the beautiful Nancy (Zully Moreno), and sex, love, and vengeance soon follow. The Palace opened in 1911 as the third home of the Orpheum vaudeville circuit in Los Angeles. It is one of the oldest theatrers in Los Angeles and the oldest remaining original Orpheum theatre in the U.S.

How to Marry a Millionaire (1953)
Saturday, June 20, 2015 at 8pm
The Music Center’s Dorothy Chandler Pavilion (1964)
marrymillionaireWritten by Zoë Akins and the great Nunnally Johnson, this comedy finds Lauren Bacall, Betty Grable, and Marilyn Monroe as three models of modest means who rent an expensive Manhattan penthouse apartment and pose as women of wealth. It’s all part of a scheme hatched by Bacall to snare rich husbands for herself and her roommates. Under Jean Negulesco’s direction, the gals sparkle in their quest for monied matrimony. Special guest for this event is David Newman, an accomplished film composer and son of Oscar©-winning composer Howard Newman. Also, just for this screening, a selection of fine reproduced vintage clothing, courtesy of reVamp Vintage, will be on display in the lobby.

Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971)
Wednesday, June 24, 2015 at 8pm
Orpheum Theatre (1926)
Orpheum-Theatre-InteriorSeemingly set in England, this classic musical film was actually shot in Germany. While promoted by Paramount as a family musical (great songs by Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley), Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory is more of a black comedy, following the spirit of Roald Dahl’s original book Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Enigmatic candy manufacturer Willy Wonka (Gene Wilder in one of his best performances) stages a contest by hiding golden tickets in five of his scrumptious candy bars. Whoever discovers these tickets will win a free tour of the Wonka factory, as well as a lifetime supply of candy. Four of the five winning children are insufferable brats: the fifth is a likeable young lad named Charlie Bucket (Peter Ostrum), who takes the tour in the company of his equally amiable grandfather (Jack Albertson). In the course of the tour, Willy Wonka offers punishments to misbehaving children. All movie goers at the Orpheum (pictured here) will receive a $10 Candy Card on the night of the show, courtesy of an astoundingly original local candy boutique, Sugarfina.

Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
Saturday, June 27, 2015 at 2pm and 8pm
The Theatre at Ace Hotel (1927)
Theater at Ace HotelA seminal movie for me. Steven Spielberg’s blockbuster not only introduced a slew of original characters, but they all seemed familiar on sight. Renowned archeologist and expert in the occult, Dr. Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford), is hired by the U.S. Government to find the Ark of the Covenant, which is believed to still hold the ten commandments. Unfortunately, agents of Hitler are also after the Ark. “Indy” and his ex-flame Marion (Karen Allen) escape from various close scrapes in a quest that takes them from Nepal to Cairo. Comedy, action, adventure, and great tongue-in-cheek dialogue. Film critic and historian Leonard Maltin will introduce the evening’s screening. This is a great way to discover The Theatre at Ace Hotel (previously United Artists Theater), built in 1927 in a Spanish Gothic style. The photo here, taken from the balcony, shows the ceiling, which is decorated as an enormous sunburst, with the oval dome at the center tiled with mirrors and hung with thousands of crystal drops. The sides of the dome are encircled with angels.

marquee photo by Douglas Hill

Last Remaining Seats
Los Angeles Conservancy
screenings from June 10 through June 27, 2015
for tickets, visit www.laconservancy.org

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