Saturday, January 03, 2009 Sensurround

The American Cinematheque is a great local group devoted to the preservation of American films.  They operate out of the restored Egyptian Theater on Hollywood Boulevard.  The theater is a gem of early 20's wackiness; there was quite a vogue for all things Egyptian earlier in the last century started by the search and discovery of King Tut's tomb.  Hollywood's decline was far harder on the Egyptian than it was on the more famous of Sid Graumann's theaters, the Chinese, a few blocks West.  The Egyptian's courtyard was covered by a cheap looking and poorly maintained metal facade.  The building itself was badly damaged in the '94 Northridge Earthquake, and the Cinematheque was allowed to buy the property for the sum of $1 with the proviso that it be restored.  As you can see, restore it they did.

Starting this week, they've been showing a series called "The Masters of Disaster", which are showing such big-screen blowouts as "The Hindenberg", "Black Sunday", "The Towering Inferno" and "Earthquake".

"Earthquake" was the one that I went to see tonight. Not that I hadn't seen it before, or for that matter, lived it.  More than once.  But I hadn't seen it in Hollywood, and I'd never seen it in Sensurround.  Sensurround was basically big-ass speakers that emitted low frequency sound that literally rumbled the theater during the big scenes.  It didn't really work in the nascent world of the multiplex, where the shimmying and shaking that thrilled audiences of "Earthquake" in theater 3 really annoyed the people trying to watch "The Life and Times of Grizzly Adams" in theater 2 and "Murder on the Orient Express" in theater 4.  At it's premiere at the Chinese, a nervous management strung nets between the ceiling and the patrons when the system cracked the decorative plaster in the ceiling and in Chicago, the Building and Safety department wanted it turned off.

The movie?  Better than I remember it.  Genevieve Bujold was there and made a charming speech.  Audience members applauded at the appearance of the actors, chuckled fondly at some of the loonier moments (like, what's the point of having a medical triage center in the depths of the underground garage of a clearly damaged skyscraper?) and generally enjoyed the heck out of the whole experience.  Sensurround came through, rocking the house enough to make the experience slightly uncomfortable, what with watching special effects knock down the Capitol Records, Security Pacific and First National Bank buildings blocks outside the theater, and the collapse of the Mulholland Dam right up the street.

"The Towering Inferno" is on Friday.  Who wants to go?

Egyptian Theater Photo Credit: American Cinematheque
Earthquake Photo Credit:


Olfacta said...

I would if I was there! I loved the Egyptian, even when it was old, dumpy and smelly. Saw "Alien" there. I'm so happy to hear about this restoration. Egypt-mania was one of the more interesting periods of old Hollywood, and I'm so glad they didn't turn it into a multiplex.

I also remember seeing "Earthquake" at the Chinese, with the Sensusurround and the nets.

Thanks for this post!

ScentScelf said...

Be might get hooked...

I'm lucky to live in a city where there are a couple of restored theaters...with maybe one or two more on the way...and another, small scale one which has been turned into a nightclub featuring live music.

Would be fun to have a week or ten days of progressive movie viewing--start with some nickleodeon quickies on the first day, moving through silents w/organ, talkies, Technicolor, Cinerama, 3-D, SniffORama (is that what that was called?), ThX, IMAX, the whole bit. A display out front with pieces of the different sizes of film stock, recording equipment, blah blah.

I was once at the home of a person with income substantial enough to have rebuilt a small movie theater as part of his home, with a basement full of nickleodeons/automata/other novelties of that era. Quite a something.

Welcome to 2009...hope to see you on these pages regularly!

tmp00 said...


I would have loved to see it at the Chinese! I love going to that theater!

I did love the Egyptian, even when it was down-at-heels. I'm glad it was restored. I wish some of the theaters in my neighborhood had had the same treatment rather than just being torn down..

tmp00 said...


What a great idea; sounds like heaven to me!