Los Angeles Cinema Feature: LAST REMAINING SEATS (Los Angeles Conservancy)

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by Tony Frankel on May 25, 2012

in Film,Theater-Los Angeles


25 years ago, a handful of volunteers from The Los Angeles Conservancy, a nonprofit that recognizes, preserves, and revitalizes the historic architectural of L.A. County, dreamt up Last Remaining Seats, a summertime program which presents classic films and live entertainment in historic movie palaces. The brilliantly simple plan was a way to draw attention to the often-neglected historic theatres on downtown’s Broadway (the largest theatre district listed in the National Register of Historic Places). While the Conservancy offers walking tours, they mainly cover the theatres’ exteriors, so this was an extremely rare chance to see the glorious interiors of these ornate and spectacular movie palaces (unless you rent them for a movie shoot or private function, and I assure you that doing so will cost slightly more than twenty bucks).

Tony Frankel’s Los Angeles Film Feature on the Last Remaining SeatsOn May 30, 2012, the Los Angeles Conservancy will launch the twenty-sixth season of Last Remaining Seats, presenting classic films as they were meant to be seen: on the big screen, in a beautiful theatre, surrounded by fellow fans. Attending these screenings is a communal experience unlike any other movie-going adventure you will ever have (including that Drive-In Movie date you may have had with the football team). In the last twenty-plus years that I have attended these events, I have been hard-pressed to find a more friendly, lively, and joyous crowd anywhere else. The act of collectively watching a classic comedy is an infectious, natural high. This is why people attend from around the world, and why Last Remaining Seats sells out every year. The good news is that there are still some tickets left for most of the programs, which begin next week at the Los Angeles Theatre on Broadway (pictured left), a theatre which was partly funded by Charlie Chaplin so that it would be ready to open with the premiere of his film City Lights in 1931.

Tony Frankel’s Los Angeles Film Feature on the Last Remaining Seats

Two other theatres on Broadway will also house screenings this year: the beautifully restored Orpheum Theatre (1926, above) and the renovated Million Dollar Theatre (1918), Sid Grauman’s first Los Angeles venue. The historic “Broadway corridor” is the birthplace of vaudeville and cinematic entertainment in Los Angeles. It features one of the largest concentrations of historic theatres on one street in the nation with twelve stunning theatres located within nine blocks. Behind their misleadingly humble exteriors, Broadway’s theatres feature sweeping marble staircases, star-sprinkled ceilings, elaborately crafted interiors, gilded rococo designs and a wide range of flamboyant architectural styles. As Vaudeville died out, the theatres were mostly converted into grand movie palaces. With postwar suburbanization, attendance declined, and many of the theatres were either converted into retail space or shut down completely. Were it not for efforts of organizations such as The Conservancy, these theatres would become parking lots.

And now for the 2012 Last Remaining Seats schedule.

Tony Frankel’s Los Angeles Film Feature on the Last Remaining SeatsWednesday, May 30 – Paper Moon (1973)
Los Angeles Theatre (1931), 615 S. Broadway
Introduced by director Peter Bogdanovich

This recent classic stars father and daughter Ryan and Tatum O’Neal as a Depression-era con man and the street-smart girl who may or may not be his daughter. Tatum O’Neal may have won a Best Supporting Actress Academy Award for her role as Addie, but co-star Madeline Kahn (also nominated) gave us one of the greatest performances caught on film as the floozy Trixie Delight. And can we just talk about the crew? Gorgeous black-and-white cinematography by László Kovács, who (purportedly at the advice of Orson Welles) used a red filter on the camera; astounding casting by Gary Chason, who also used locals from Kansas and Missouri; flawless editing by the ever-brilliant Verna Fields; and screenwriter Alvin Sargent, whose quotable script has lines that make me laugh out loud just thinking of them. My favorite belongs to Trixie’s maid Imogene (the deadpan P.J. Johnson), who describes her boss thusly: “You know the little white speck on top chicken doo-doo? Well, that’s the kind of white l think Miss Trixie is. She’s just like that little white speck on top of old chicken shit.”

Tony Frankel’s Los Angeles Film Feature on the Last Remaining SeatsWednesday, June 6 – Tootsie (1982)
Orpheum Theatre (1926), 842 S. Broadway
Former L.A. Times film critic Kevin Thomas interviews Geena Davis

This year marks the 30th anniversary of this beloved film, another endlessly quotable movie, thanks to screenwriters Larry Gelbart and Murray Schisgal (story by Don McGuire and Gelbart). Sydney Pollack directed the all-star cast, led by Dustin Hoffman and Jessica Lange, but also plays the agent of Michael Dorsey (Hoffman), an unemployed actor with a dreadful reputation. In order to find work, he dresses as a woman, Dorothy Michaels, and lands the part in a daytime drama.

Tony Frankel’s Los Angeles Film Feature on the Last Remaining SeatsWednesday, June 13 – The Big Sleep (1946) [SOLD OUT]
Los Angeles Theatre
Introduced by Alan Rode, director of the Film Noir Foundation

It doesn’t get better than Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall in this picture, directed by the great Howard Hawks with a screenplay co-written by William Faulkner (which explains why the script is drenched with delicious dialogue). This classic mystery thriller, based on Raymond Chandler’s first novel, finds private detective Philip Marlowe (Bogey) involved with wealthy Bacall and her uncontainable sibling, played by Martha Vickers. Leonard Maltin notes, “So convoluted even Chandler didn’t know who committed one murder, but so incredibly entertaining that no one has ever cared.”

Tony Frankel’s Los Angeles Film Feature on the Last Remaining SeatsWednesday, June 20 – Los Tres Mosqueteros (The Three Musketeers) (Mexico, 1942)
Million Dollar Theatre (1918), 307 S. Broadway
Pre-show panel discussion moderated by Laura Isabel Serna, USC Professor of Film and Critical Studies

Mexican icon Cantinflas stars in this parody of Alexander Dumas’ The Three Musketeers. Cantinflas sneaks into a cabaret where an actress is in the audience. He persuades her to dance with him, but, at the same time, thieves steal her valuable necklace, which Cantinflas retrieves. When the grateful actress invites him to the studio where she is filming The Three Musketeers, he is mistaken for an extra. In Spanish with English subtitles.

Tony Frankel’s Los Angeles Film Feature on the Last Remaining SeatsWednesday, June 27 – Douglas Fairbanks in Robin Hood (1922)
Orpheum Theatre
Introduced by film critic Leonard Maltin

The screening of the 1922 silent Robin Hood, starring Douglas Fairbanks at his acrobatic best, will be accompanied live by Robert Israel on the Orpheum’s Mighty Wurlitzer organ, the last remaining theatre organ on L.A.’s Broadway. Clearly, this isn’t the most quotable movie, but it is certainly a rousing action-adventure wonderment. On display in the Orpheum will be costumes from the 2012 Best Picture Oscar winner The Artist, parts of which were filmed at the Orpheum (Oscar-winning Best Actor Jean Dujardin based his performance on Fairbanks).

STony Frankel’s Los Angeles Film Feature on the Last Remaining Seatsaturday, June 30 – The Wizard of Oz (1939)
Saban Theatre (1930), 8440 Wilshire Boulevard, Beverly Hills – Matinee AND Evening Screenings
Special guest Aljean Harmetz, author of The Making of The Wizard of Oz

So, you’ve seen it dozens of times on TV? Try watching this on the big screen and be prepared to soak up all of the details you missed watching it on the box. The twister effect is still one of my favorite cinematic tricks of all time. I guarantee that every tot in the house will be so spellbound that you won’t have to shush a one of them. L.A. Conservancy members voted this gem as their Fan Favorite film. With these two weekend screenings, Last Remaining Seats makes its first-ever visit to the Saban Theatre in Beverly Hills, which opened as the Fox Wilshire in 1930 and has been beautifully renovated. On top of that, some vintage stage curtains will be on display at the Saban.

Last Remaining Seats
Los Angeles Conservancy
screenings from May 30 through June 30, 2012
for details and tickets, call 213.430.4219 or visit LA Conservancy

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Klara Toth March 13, 2014 at 1:11 pm

I was a member of Conservancy for a long time (since 1964) and my granddaughter also. Now we may come back, I am retired and have more time to explore LA. See you at the Last Remaining seats.

P.S. The above story is from 2012, check the program for this year.


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