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cinema film history Los Angeles

Reanimating Movie Theatres


Recognise The Palace Theatre? Picture it with Michael Jackson at the the top of his game skipping down the road taunting his date after a scary movie… Perhaps you didn’t watch ‘The Making of Thriller’ a million times on betamax when you were little but, er, I did. Before moving to LA, I had no idea the cinema in the seminal music video even existed, so I was excited to see that this one and many others were taking their cue from the breakdancing zombies and coming back from the dead to entertain us.

The Last Remaining Seats programme in Downtown LA is amongst a number of initiatives to reopen the doors of long closed and woefully neglected theatres on Broadway. In their heyday places like the 100 year old Palace or 1918 Million Dollar Theatre were celebrated landmarks but the decline of downtown led to their demise and closure. The efforts of the Los Angeles Conservancy, the Bring Back Broadway initiative and new buildings such as the Walt Disney Concert Hall have contributed to the regeneration of the area as more banks and historic buildings are gentrified into apartments, bars and shops. Many of the theatres are being renovated, opening for special events and available for hire.

The lure of historical uniqueness and some clever programming means more film-saturated Angelenos, used to high tech THX or IMAX 3D cinemas, are leaving their flat screens at home to rediscover the thrill of a night at the flicks, in some of the most amazing original environments.

So far I have been to events hosted at The Orpheum, The Los Angeles and The Million Dollar Theatre to see some classic films with Q and A sessions, and presentations by actors and producers – such a great way to make going to the cinema even more special in Tinseltown. It’s also good for the odd bit of celeb spotting, including Hugh Hefner who is in fact a big sponsor of the events. The theatre interiors themselves have starred in countless TV shows and films, doubling as European opera houses and the vaudeville stages some of them originally were built as.

The interiors are really something to behold, some a little more shabby chic than others, with lavish detailing such as rococo pink bathrooms, heavy velvet and brocade curtains,  monstrous chandeliers, and mirrored ballrooms.

Every Saturday there is a walking tour of the downtown area run by the LA Conservancy , I’m looking forward to booking one of those to learn more about the history of the area.

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