Among the few things I know I’ll miss when I leave Los Angeles is Grauman’s Chinese Theater. (The Mann Corporation took it over some years back, but only cads with no sense of history call it Mann’s Chinese Theater.) It’s a venerable old warhorse of oldtime palatial theaters, among the last such in Los Angeles. The Orpheum is even bigger and more plush, but in disrepair and not used much. There’s an L.A. Theater Conservancy, Last Remaining Seats, dedicated to trying to preserve these grand dames — a losing battle, I’m afraid, as they are steadily being converted into swap meets and retail space, but a noble battle nonetheless.
Because I’m moving after being here for over half my life, I have been making a point to visit my favorite spots these last few weeks. I saw The Lovely Bones and The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus at the Hollywood Arclight (though I haven’t actually seen Avatar at the glorious Cinerama Dome (the anchor of the Arclight complex) because quite frankly it’s on the bottom of my list of movies to see. Yesterday I went to see The Book of Eli at the Chinese.
The Chinese was the first theater I went to when I moved to Los Angeles in 1984. I saw Children of the Corn there. Most of the cast showed up, and so I also got my first taste of spoiled little child actors. But having come from Gainesville, Florida, seeing a movie in a theater the size of a county where the people in the movie were also in the theater was — well, not cool, and not surreal. The word that comes to mind is enframing.
Even more enframing, I saw Speed at the Chinese. The scene where the Red Line car breaks through the street and screeches to a halt outside the theater was especially fun because the theater it slides in front of is the theater I was sitting in. You couldn’t help turning your head back toward the lobby, as if trying to hear the ruckus. (Though even more enframing was Gremlins 2, which I saw at the Vista. There’s a scene where the camera pulls back to show the movie you’re watching on a screen, continues back to include the theater audience, and trucks back as someone gets up and storms out to the lobby to complain to the manager [Paul Bartel] about the film. They shot the scene at the Vista — now that was surreal.)
One of the most fun movie nights I’ve ever had was when a big group of us got together at the Chinese to see Titanic on opening night. The anticipation was huge and the crowd was electric. (Possibly the best movie night I ever had was attending the premiere of 2010 at the Westwood Village with David Gerrold and sitting with Arthur Clarke, Peter Hyams, and Harlan Ellison. Good lord. Shame the movie sucked.)
Even a bad movie is better at the Chinese, and it speaks to a day when moviegoing was an event, a sort of absorbing group ritual, instead of the distraction from cell phone conversations it serves as nowadays. I will definitely miss seeing movies at the Chinese.