The Passing of the Movie Palace

        I was talking to a young man in his early twenties who is in love with the movies. We were discussing the technical aspects of 70mm projection. The discussion moved to how theatres were operated years ago and why theatres have moved so far away from the kind of quality presentation that was so engaging for me when I was his age - when I also was falling in love with the movies. I realized that to a youngster who has grown up in a video world where the majesty and size of those grand movie palaces have been replaced with the smallish, uninspiring movie screens of the multiplexes (you know, the “theatre-in-a-closet” concept of theatre design) and where even the most acclaimed film of the day is destined to be minimized to the video screen and even to 4in iPod screen within a few months, it is hard to explain what seeing a film like Camelot in a Brooklyn Paramount, or an RKO Keiths, or the Loews Kings (ah, the Loews Kings) - great movie palaces of a past generation was like.  The power, the undeniable impact those movie theatres and movies like Camelot had on us as youngsters seems difficult to convey to a younger person who has never been given the chance to experience what I like to call "movie rapture."  Baby Boomers know of what I speak.  In those days you never EVER heard what today seems like a mantra,  “I really hate to go to the movies.”  What they really means is, “I hate going to the movie theatre!”

           The irony is that it is almost as if Camelot, with its abundant pageantry and rich visuals was a symbol of those soon-to-become-history theatre palaces. By 1967 the spectacular movie musical, like the film industry itself, was slowly, inexorably changing to a more utilitarian look, a more practical approach to movie exhibition and a very different kind of artistic sensibility. Just as the Arthurian court facade which was the architectural design motif for the RKO Keiths (Flushing, Queens), with its two-story marble water fountain in the grand lobby, was simply painted over with flat black paint in a futile stab at conversion to a triplex before giving way to condos, so too the epic musical as a vehicle of artistic expression quickly becoming a relic. Yet despite its demise as a profit-generating investment, a film such as Camelot represents all the very best elements of American film-making. Richard Cormack said in a review, "Camelot...won six Oscars and was the most honored film of that year (1967). Without doubt, the musical reached new dramatic heights in (this) film and is one of the finest examples of the art form, surpassing [our emphasis] perhaps even West Side Story (1961), My Fair Lady (1964) and The Sound of Music (1965)."

         Less than seven years after its release, this writer went to see it again at the RKO Keith’s on Northern Blvd in Flushing. I sat in theatre # 3. (What used to be the upper balcony.) As I sat waiting for the film to start, I could see behind the new, all-purpose, one-size-fits-all naked screen, about 1/4th the size of the original, and it was perched in front of what would have been the left top portion of the original proscenium arch -- the stately  character of the original façade refusing to be dismissed.  Behind the new screen, I could see the arch with its fresco inlays and carved gargoyles and cherubs.  The old facing was there, standing silent, all painted flat black - the marble, the wood, even the stain-glass sophits - a feeble attempt, I suppose, to obscure history, perhaps to make sure younger generations don't know what they are missing.  But even though the walls were painted over, and the massive screen shrunk to a fraction of its original size, anyone who chanced to look carefully could still see the nobility of purpose in what used to be an architectural marvel what was actually referred to as a Wonder Theatre, the grand movie palace theatres of a generation ago. And just like the RKO Keith's, Camelot too still shines with an undeniable nobility. Even the most ardent, hard-rock-loving teenager will be able to see and relate to the artistic power of this long abandoned art-form.

        And whicl the youngsters will never sit in any of these movie palaces, we can show them Camelot, as it would have been shown in the Loew’s Kings, undiminished by a tv screen and unencumbered by the compromises that are continually being made in movie presentation today. This is not to say that the studio moguls of twenty years ago were saints. As you are well aware, this film is long, even by 1967 standards. Theatre owners screamed that they could not get as many shows in per day as they wanted. So in its second re-issue in 1973, the studio conspired to the demands of greedy and cut almost thirty minutes of expositional dialogue that was needed to have the film make sense.  And as if that were not enough, worse, they chopped out bars of music and full choruses from some of the songs. This back-fired right in the theatre owner's faces as enraged patrons who had seen the film years before and purchased the soundtrack LP and who had memorized every note of every song backwards and forwards, demanded to know why an entire chorus of the title song was missing and why the explanation that the reason Merlyn knows the future is because he lives backwards (he "youthens") was not there. The critics railed at the cut version. But to no avail, the problem was not easily corrected because the people at Warner did not just make new, shortened versions and store the full length prints - they actually went to the originals and cut the footage out!  This footage was not saved.  In order to add one extra show to the theatre schedule, a large number of the stereophonic print inventory was ruined.

        For a long time afterward, the only stereo prints that Warner Brothers showed in its inventory were the shortened, 154 minute versions. Only by chance were four full-length, magnetic stereo prints saved from the editor’s splicing knife in 1973; they were studio prints and missed the chopping block.  From what we can determine, only two of these full-length stereo prints are now left. And that is why it is important for movie-lovers and students of the American Musical and American Cinema see Camelot in this version, in this theatre. On its 25th Anniversary, it is important for us to present the Lerner and Loewe/Joshua Logan crowning jewel the way it was originally shown in its RoadShow Engagement in 1967.  To present this title as it was in its RoadShow premiere when nothing preceded the feature, we will not run any Coming Attractions or our usual Warner Brother cartoon (sorry Merry Melodies lovers; we promise we will run one for our next engagement).  There will be an intermission (even though at this writing we do not know if the Intermission frame is still actually on this print - it was gone on the print we ran in 1987), but we will present the original Entr'acte, Intermission and Exit Music. Camelot and those who love its magic deserve nothing less.

                                                                                                                                                                                              - Frank Angel

Credits for Brooklyn Center Cinema's 25th Anniversary RoadShow Presentation

The 25th Anniversary RoadShow Presentation of
A Joshua Logan Picture

Lerner and Loewe's


Directed by JOSHUA LOGAN
and T.H. WHITE

Based on the book The Once and Future King by T.H. White

Cinematographer - Richard H. Kline
Production Design - JOHN TRUSCOTT
Art Direction - EDWARD CARRERE
Set Direction - JOHN W. BROWN
Costume Design - JOHN TRUSCOTT
Produced by JACK L. WARNER for Seven Arts

Released in 1967 by Warner Brothers

Running Time - 180 minutes with a 15 minute Intermission
Filmed in Panavision with MultiTrack Magnetic Stereo
Projected with Bausch & Lomb CinemaScope 55 Lenses
Presented in 6-Channel Total Surround MegaSound

Academy Awards:
Art Direction: John Truscott, Edward Carrere
John W. Brown
Adapted Score: Alfred Newman, Ken Darby
Costume Design: John Truscott

King Arthur . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . RICHARD HARRIS
Guenevere . . . .. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . VANESSA REDGRAVE
Lancelot du Lac . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . FRANCO NERO
Mordred . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . DAVID HEMMINGS
King Peldnore. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . LIONEL JEFFRIES
Merlvn . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . LAURENCE NAISMITE
Dap. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . PIERRE OLAF
Ladv Clarinda. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ESTELLE WINWOOD
Sir Lionel. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . GARY MARSHALL
Sir Dinadan . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ANTHONY ROGERS
Sir Sagramore . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . PETER BROMILOW
Lady Sybil . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . SUE CASEY
Tom of Warwick . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . GARY MARSH
King Arthur as a boy . . . . . . . . . . . . . . NICOLAS BEAUVY 


Some Notes On Age

        Remember, the print we are running is one of only three existing magnetic stereo prints of this motion picture. It is an original print.  Physically it is twenty-five years old.  This is why it is not facetious for us to say that this may be the last time you may be able this film in stereophonic sound on a full Panavision screen. As the print is passed from theatre to theatre, the normal wear and tear takes its toll and the signs of age begin to show on the screen.  You may notice some jumps as splices run through the projector; at the end and beginning of each reel there may be more noticeable scratches because this is where most of the physical wear occurs (Camelot is mounted on twelve reels). So, if it is showing its age, remember that this print is all we have left, unless Warner Brothers decides to strike new prints. This is very unlikely since they have such little regard for their old titles that they closed down their Classics Department and gave the theatrical rights to a small California company called Kit Parker Films. And while it is good that Kit Parker Films is still renting these old Warner titles, there is not enough rental potential to warrant the very expensive task of striking new Dolby Stereo prints. Very few theatres are still capable of running magnetic stereo prints (we are), so Dolby optical prints would have to made, adding even more cost than usual for a new print.  So in a true sense, we may very well be watching history.

        So, if the film should break because a twenty-five year old splice gives up its life and comes apart in the projector, please be assured that we will be working as fast as possible to get the show back on the screen.   Ah, if only Jack Warner were alive, you know that he would never let a film that he personally had a hand in creating, become close to extinction. -                                                                                                                                  

What Was A "RoadShow Engagement"?

        RoadShow, refers to a type of movie presentation (also long, abandoned) where an important film was released, not "everywhere" or at "a theatre near you," but in a first class, "flagship" theatre.  Reserved Seats were sold in advance. Everything about the RoadShow engagement was special.   Beautifully designed souvenir books with full color stills from the film were sold in the lobby. 

        If such a film was a success with the public and the critics, it was held at these RoadShow engagements for months, even years before it was booked into multiple runs at "popular prices" in neighborhood theatres.  The whole concept was to emphasize the fact that the film was special, that it had its own kind of magic, that it would become a permanent part of our collective artistic history.  The bigger and more important a film was, the more unlikely it would be that you would ever get to see it on television.  Indeed, in those, days, films like Camelot or My Fair Lady were thought to be films that were too important to ever be released to television -- an idea that seems almost like the ravings of a lunatic today.   For years the Disney studio (which was considered the studio most adamant about not releasing its feature films to television) vowed that it would never release its most important animated titles to video, and should somehow it succumb and let the "lesser" titles go to video, it swore that it would never, ever release its crown jewel, FANTASIA to video....uh-huh.

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