Million Dollar Miracle
December 5, 2011 3 Comments
Yesterday I had the wonderful experience of seeing the original, 1947 verison of Miracle on 34th Street in the Million Dollar Theater — Sid Grauman’s original movie palace that is even 29 years older than the film.
Most of my black and white movie watching experience is from my days in film school and consists largely of analyzing things and learning the history of filmmaking at a deeper level than I ever really wanted. This was something completely different. When you hear someone speak of the magic of movies, this was the experience they’re talking about. This was the reminiscent of that first-day speech you hear in film school, before the classes, papers, and studies start, of the way movies bring people together in a dark room and yet take them far away to another city, another time, or another world. And even though it’s dark, somehow the experience is better when that room is a beautiful one.
The Million Dollar Theater finished a million dollar renovation within the last few years and is one of the most recent movie palaces to be added to the list of operating theaters on Broadway. Almost all of these buildings were originally built as “movie palaces” to show first-run films and movie premieres. In today’s world, however, many are finding life more as live entertainment venues.
As a live entertainment guy (I made the transition from filmmaker to show producer in the last few years and my heart seems really to be in the live entertainment area now), I love the fact that these theaters can be used for concerts, plays, and other live shows. However, the experience of seeing a film in one made me yearn for more like it.
The economics of running a single-screen theater are very difficult, no doubt, but I hope more of the Broadway movie-palaces can become that again. The advantage these buildings have is that they are built in a way that can accommodate a variety of performances, so one will not have to rely solely on film screenings.
The Million Dollar seems to be leading the pack so far. While the LA Conservancy hosts its Last Remaining Seats series in a number of the theaters each summer, the Million Dollar has partnered with UCLA’s film archives (as a USC School of Cinematic Arts grad, I wish we had more to do with this, but I appreciate it nonetheless) to present a number of classic films every Wednesday throughout the fall. Plus, the LA Conservancy used the space for this weekend’s holiday screening of Miracle on 34th Street.
A theater like this will have to compete in price with the multiplexes (but with tickets at $12 around most of LA that can’t be too hard) if it really wants to get the business. Unfortunately, many audiences won’t go just for the experience, but once inside a palace that seats 2,000 they will surely find themselves swept up together like never before.
The movie will become a community experience like no other. During Miracle, the audience cheered in the happy times, booed the protagonist, and participated together in the experience. Imagine seeing the latest blockbuster in a similar fashion. So much in our world today stresses the importance of individual experiences, and it’s so easy to make a movie watching experience an individual one. For some reason, however, it’s almost impossible in a classic movie palace. These places breathe community into the experience.
With careful selection of films and scheduling, plus competitive ticket prices and concessions, I do believe these theaters can once again succeed at showing first-run movies.
After the film, groups of attendees stood near the stage, admiring the beauty of the inside of the theater — something many of them had never seen before in a venue. I look forward to the day when guests will no longer do this. Not because the beauty won’t be there and certainly not because it won’t be appreciated, but because the last movie they saw was in the same venue, and the next concert they’ll see will be there too.
The venue’s beauty will be part of the experience, the part they are familiar with, before the lights dim and they are taken to an unfamiliar, faraway world. I look forward to the day when Broadway and its movie palaces are once again familiar to all Angelenos and their visitors.