Things change, and sometimes change is hard to accept. Part of the reason I spent years keeping a journal on Hollywood was to record the transformations that were taking place. One of the biggest upheavals was in the way films were exhibited. Hollywood is home to a handful of movie palaces, all of them built over the course of a decade starting in the early twenties. Up through the eighties, those palaces were still playing first run movies, and on opening weekend you might see lines going down the block.
But in the eighties multi-plexes started springing up, and the huge Hollywood theatres couldn’t compete. They either had to change or die. The Egyptian Theatre was shuttered in 1992. I was really upset. I’d seen so many movies there, including 2001, Alien and Point Break. When it suffered major damage in the 1994 Northridge quake, I was sure the next step was demolition. So I was overjoyed when I heard the American Cinematheque had bought the building and was going to renovate it.
Overjoyed, that is, until the theatre reopened and I saw the results. The auditorium was less than half its original size and the screen was significantly smaller. Plus, there were a number of minor changes that bugged me. I wrote it all down in the journal entry below. I was ticked off.
On the plus side, though, the Cinematheque was on Hollywood Boulevard and they were showing some great stuff. I eventually signed on as a volunteer, and ended up giving tours of the theatre, which made me look at the changes in a whole new light. In the first place, there was no way the Cinematheque could run the Egyptian as a 2,000 seat house. It just wasn’t possible to fill an auditorium that big on a regular basis. They had to find a way to solve that problem, and the solution was building two smaller theatres inside the original structure. Second, the theatre I remembered was very different from the theatre Sid Grauman had built in nineteen twenty two. He created a silent movie palace. As soon as sound came in, the theatre had to start adapting to stay viable, and numerous changes had been made over the years. In the process of renovating the Egyptian, the Cinematheque actually revealed parts of the original structure that had been concealed for decades. Third, the process of renovating a historic building is incredibly complex and costly. The Cinematheque had to follow the City’s code for historic preservation and find the money to pay for everything. They were lucky to connect with a couple of very talented architects, Craig Hodgetts and Ming Fung. The team came up with a number of innovative and elegant solutions to some difficult problems.
I love seeing movies at the Egyptian these days. If the screen isn’t quite as big as it used to be, it’s still one of the largest you’ll find in LA. And the sound is way better than it was when the Egyptian was operating as a commercial movie theatre. So while the journal entry below shows my initial disappointment, as the politicians say, my views have evolved. When the theatre first reopened, I wanted it to be the way I remembered it in years past. That wasn’t possible. Things change.
Here’s a link to a page on the American Cinematheque web site that shows images of the Egyptian over the years.
And here’s a link to the Hodgetts and Fung web site that shows images of their renovation/restoration.
January, Nineteen Ninety Nine
Well, last night I finally made it over to the American Cinematheque. And I’ve gotta say I’m pretty disappointed with what they’ve done to the Egyptian. I mean, if you just want to look at it as a modern, mid-sized theatre it’s fine. But, aside from preserving some of the decorative elements, it has nothing to do with what the Egyptian was. It seems like the auditorium is about half its original size. The screen is considerably smaller. The seats are cozy but narrow, and there’s very little leg room. I was more comfortable the other night at the Beverly. Why do they have that sign up that says it’s Grauman’s Egyptian? It’s not. Did any of the people involved seriously think they were restoring or renovating the original theatre? All they’ve done is build a mid-sized auditorium inside the shell of a movie palace. They’ve completely changed the interior and the exterior of the building. The experience of going to this new Egyptian Theatre is totally different, and it’s certainly not a change for the better.
Now that I’ve got that out of my system, I also have to say I’m really glad to have the American Cinematheque on Hollywood Boulevard. I’m pretty impressed by their programming so far. It seems like they really want to offer all kinds of films. In spite of what they’ve done to the Egyptian, I look forward to going back.
Last night we saw Cruising, and Friedkin was there to talk about it. I really liked the film. It was interesting to hear the director’s comments, too.