Jonathan Melville: States can do classic theatre

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I’VE been on a busman’s holiday this past fortnight, sampling some of the finest cinemas Los Angeles and San Francisco have to offer before my return to Edinburgh.

I have a fondness for cinemas with style and character, something Hollywood’s Egyptian Theatre and Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, built in 1922 and 1927 respectively, have in spades.

Seating 618 and 1100 people, these are the equivalent of royalty in American cinema circles, their interiors boasting ornate surroundings and giant screens.

The Egyptian may have hosted Hollywood’s first movie premiere in the shape of Douglas Fairbanks’ Robin Hood in 1922, but it’s the Chinese that is today’s favourite venue for studios launching their latest titles.

In those cinemas I listened to Kirk Douglas introduce 1954’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and Rhonda Fleming, the star of 1951 film noir Cry Danger, recall how much her home town of LA had changed since the film had been made

Up in San Francisco, my arrival coincided with a weekend of James Bond films at the Castro Theatre, each screened from 35mm prints rather than the new digital versions.

I saw For Your Eyes Only and Thunderball, the gap between films filled with the sound of a Wurlitzer organ as it rose from beneath the screen. In Edinburgh we don’t have anything as large as the Egyptian, Chinese or Castro, but we do have great variety, from the Dominion to the Filmhouse to Vue.

Most importantly, none of us needs to travel thousands of miles for a good night at the pictures.


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