Cinema Treasures: A New Look at Classic Movie Theaters
Awesome book! by Roger Katz
This is a great book. It details the history of the motion picture theatre from storefront nickelodeon days to the modern times of the megaplexes. Lots of detailed color photographs are included. (And I'm mentioned in the book as well.)
Wonderful cinemas of today and yesterday by Jim Rankin
It is always a pleasure to welcome any significant contribution to the weal of theatrical lore, and the 208-page volume "Cinema Treasures: A New Look at Classic Movie Theatres" by Ross Melnick and Andreas Fuchs, is certainly a fine 'treasure' of a chronicle of the architectural treasures this book so well covers. In fact, it is really two books in one, for it is first a meticulously researched survey of the eras of movie exhibition, and secondly a series of capsule descriptions of 30 notable examples of those cinema treasures still operating. The two young men who bring us this handsome, hardbound volume reflect some 35 years between them of theatre research and operation, and thus their heartfelt devotion to the genre is sincere, accurately related, and enthusiastically delivered. The quality of prose shows skill beyond their years.
The large book (12x10-1/2 inches) is printed on heavy, glossy paper within black cloth covers with only the spine stamped in gold, but the heavy paper jacket over it is a fitting cover since its full front color image behind the title is of the Grand Lake Theatre of Oakland, California, and this alone warrants one applying a plastic film wrap in order to protect it. The image there shows the auditorium of one of the survivors of the glorious days of the movie palace and ironically shows on its stage a portion of the grand house curtain of the long-lost and lamented Fox Theatre once of San Francisco, and is thus a visual summation of the tumult of loss and survival of two significant theatres into our day. This sturdily bound coffee table book is heavy on illustrations with at least one visual on each page, and most are in color, but this is far more than a picture book!
The Preface and nine chapters describe in great and fascinating detail the progress of the cinema in the USA in terms of the technological, sociological, and economic timeline of this art form, and the consequent effect of these factors upon the architecture of theatres and cinemas that we have come to love. This is not a book about theatre architecture per se, but its extensive research in related topics is reflected in the 12 columns of fine print on three pages which comprises the 550 end Notes. Such a large total is unusual in a scholarly university publication, but in a general market book like this, it is astonishing, especially when coupled with the 148 entries in the Resources listing. The only disappointment with this scholarly aspect is the somewhat insufficient Index in which the absence of many proper nouns, such as names of people and theatres mentioned, can lead one to assume they are not to be found, and the careful listing of all such is a basic for any volume wanting to be regarded as serious research material. For example, the little-known curiosity of "Screeno" is described on page 99, but not listed in the Index. A theatre not insignificant to the lineage of exhibition is the Alhambra in Milwaukee, which is discussed in some detail on pages 19-21, but neither it, the location, nor its proprietor, Herman Fehr (identified as "Howard Fehr," at first, but later corrected to "Herman" on page 33) are mentioned anywhere in their 138-line Index. These are but a few of many such examples. Given the careful end Notes and Resources listings, this reviewer can only conclude that a more complete Index was offered, but the publisher (accustomed to hobby books for the motor vehicle market) declined to spend for more such supposedly nonessential pages.
In a sense, this work picks up where that landmark book of 1961: "The Best Remaining Seats, The Story of the Golden Age of the Movie Palace" by the late Ben M. Hall, leaves off. It repeats with additions the survey of theatres that Mr. Hall did, but also continues to our day through the eras of post war, single large-format screens, the arrival of the multiplex, then the megaplex and a discussion of a new trend that is starting to bring a version of the luxurious movie palace back to us! Each of these is given a chapter with a well-written introduction and essay, and concluded with a box titled "Curtain Call" which is a needed necrology of sorts that tells us the outcome of most of the theatres mentioned in the text, some of which are listed there as still with us in one form or another, along with their dates of operation, addresses, and ID numbers on the CinemaTreasures web site, for future reference.
Aside from the nine well written chapter heads, are the 30 profiles of notable "cinema treasures" with us today, and these constitute more than a travelogue to help one find a good place to see a movie -- vintage or otherwise. Each one has several photos, modern and antique if possible, arranged on facing buff color pages with the notable history, features, and lore of each described and their CT IDs given along with their web page addresses (URLs). Several movie palaces are included here, such as the Fox in Atlanta, the Music Box in Chicago, and the Palace in Canton, Ohio (where there is the unfortunate mistake of characterizing the Organ Screens as "fake box seats" on either side of the proscenium, and the Vertical Sign on the facade as a "blade sign," a term unknown to those who designed them). Mostly, however, the pages are about individual theatres/cinemas that reflect the smaller venues across the nation, and thereby bring to light the often surprisingly good features and designs of places we would all like to visit and may not have known of but for their fine expositions here.
The only real flaw I can find in this opus is that it is not longer, with more theatres profiled, or at least a listing of those they knew were worthy, but were forced to leave out. This comprehensive effort will not soon be equaled, especially in light of its being a treasure twice over.
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