Wonder why it’s spelled Theatre instead of the American way…Anyway, Gordon and I went downtown last night to see a re-mastered version of the silent film, Wings, at the Theatre at the Ace Hotel. I’d never seen Wings before so I wasn’t sure what to expect, especially when I saw there was no organ in the pit. As a matter of act, there was no pit. Leonard Maltin, the historian and critic, interviewed the son of the director and the VP in charge of Paramount’s archives and all was explained. According to the Paramount VP, Andrea Kalas, the original score was reproduced (which was performed by a full symphony!) when a Paramount sound editor volunteered to do the sound editing. The film maker’s son explained that the original production was budgeted at $1.2 million and eventually cost over $2 million…and this was back in 1927 when $2 million was a lot of money. But Paramount got it all back. The film ran as a first run picture for over 2 years. It got the Best Picture Oscar in 1929 (I think that’s what he said); the first movie to ever win a Best Picture Oscar. Gary Cooper had about 2 minutes of screen time before they killed him off but it made him a huge star. He reminded me of Gordon in his coltish years. The archivist explained that the original film was hand-painted (all those frames!) to make the machine-gun fire and the dying plane exhaust look orange. Gordon commented that if the film ran for two years all over the country, it must have kept artists employed painting in all those reels of frames. No wonder the movie cost so much. But I enjoyed it. Wings ran for 144 minutes with a ten-minute intermission. Even after all these years it’s still an involving, emotional war movie. The son said his father had been a pilot for the USA in WWI so he knew what he was making a movie about. I’m glad I saw it.
Also glad we got back into the Theatre. Maltin commented that he hadn’t been in it for years until the LA Conservancy started the Last Remaining Seats program. It’s a magnificent theater that’s finally making money.
Gordon and I were reminded that we’ve going to these events for 31 years. We actually went to the first attempt to exhibit the old theaters five years before the Conservancy got involved. The story goes that AFI put on the first BEST Remaining Seats series. We went to all the Downtown theaters and actually got to go to Catalina, Santa Barbara, and Riverside to see old films at those historic theaters. Actors in the films shown were usually on hand to discuss their part in those films. We saw the last public appearances of Merle Oberon, Ruby Keeler (who was in a wheelchair; all those years of hoofing take a toll on the body), but my best memory is of Lillian Gish. It was so hot in the Wiltern, where The Wind had been presented, that I snuck out early to cool off. I was on hand when Ms. Gish was hustled out of the theater and tucked into a Honda. I looked at Gordon and said, “A Honda? My, Hollywood has fallen.” Apparently, the limo driver missed his time and they had to get the old girl out of there before she was mobbed. I wonder if he got fired. Anyway, the theater/movie series was so successful that the guy in charge embezzled all the money and went to Mexico. Not sure if that’s true but I do know the program was dropped. The Conservancy didn’t get involved until later when the theaters were actually in danger of being demolished. Thank God they’ve been saved. Hope next year is as much fun.