Thursday, June 6, 2013

Denver in 2020 - a Renaissance City

In thinking about my own vision for Denver’s cultural, artistic and creative future, I realized that what I ‘imagined’ was Denver as a renaissance city. Not renaissance in the sense of being reborn but renaissance in the sense of the elements that symbolized the Renaissance age: a diversity of creative endeavors in the arts, language, architecture, sciences and math.

Developments in these individual endeavors became synergistically interrelated. The invention of the Guttenberg Press, for instance furthered learning and progressive development in a wide variety of other fields. Some of the great artists of the times also pursued knowledge and development of mathematics and science.

When I think of Denver culturally, artistically and creatively in 2020, I think of Denver as a home to not only painters, musicians, writers, filmmakers, ballets, orchestras, theatres etc. but also of persons, organizations and companies creatively developing new technologies; new ways of thinking; ways to improve the human condition. I imagine Denver as a place where arts, culture and creativity positively stimulate every segment and enterprise in our city in all its diversity.

So as I seek to hear from our city in its diversity, I am also seeking to hear from app developers, video-game developers, the entrepreneurial community, creative thinkers in every endeavor.

I imagine Denver in 2020 as a true Renaissance City populated with Renaissance Men and Women.

We need your imagination

Yesterday saw a very productive work session with those of us involved in developing Denver’s new cultural plan: Imagine Denver 2020. As is often the case, we sought answers to questions, which then prompted even more questions. The process entailed a lively and enlightening discussion. It was good.

What we are striving to do is develop the key elements of a plan that will guide Denver’s artistic, cultural and creative life and environment to the year 2020. Imagine Denver 2020 means imagine what this city could and should look like at the end of this decade and create the road map to get us there.

Part of this work has been posing questions to as wide a variety of people as possible. Not just artists or those involved in the arts and culture but the public at large. This is a diverse city and diverse voices must be heard as this plan is developed. I see the future through my own eyes, but I want and need to know what others see through their eyes; how do others of differing backgrounds, ages, ethnicities, and cultural influences see Denver and its artistic, cultural and creative future; how do they see its present?

I also want to know how others - others who may not think of themselves as caring about or knowledgeable about ‘culture’ or even intimidated by the word – do see Denver’s artistic, cultural and creative present and future.

So, we are reaching out. We want to hear from you, all of you; Denver in all its diversity. We have had a great response to our online survey, and that can still be taken, however we have other means to hear your voices and communicate with you regarding this endeavor. Do you have a group we could come and speak with? Is there information we can share with you or your group? Are you just an individual who wants to know more and would like share your thoughts about this? Follow up with me here, or go to the website:

Friday, May 10, 2013

Alan Cummings as Lady Macbeth and Female Hamlets – role reversal in Shakespeare

Alan Cummings is currently playing Lady Macbeth on Broadway – actually he is playing all the characters. Cummings’ plays a lone patient housed in a clinical room deep within a dark psychiatric unit. He relives the Macbeth story playing each character himself as a closed circuit television camera watches.

Wild, right?


However, the gender reversal part (a man as Lady Macbeth) in Shakespeare is nothing new. Of course in Shakespeare’s time female roles (his and others) were never played by women but by boys. As time went on, though, women on stage became acceptable and female roles were actually played by females. Then the gender reversal took on a new twist. Women playing the male roles.

Hamlet is considered one of the great roles, not just in Shakespeare but in all drama. So it is not surprising that women as well as men would want to play the Prince. And they have and not just in the modern era.

Sarah Siddons, the great British (she was actually born in Wales) actress of the 18th Century played all the great Shakespearean women – she was particularly noted for her Lady Macbeths – but also played Hamlet 200 years ago. To my knowledge she is the first woman to do so in a public performance. (Unless you are a student of theatre history, you may not be familiar with Siddons, but if you are a film buff, you will be. The opening scene of the wonderful All About Eve, is the presentation to Anne Baxter as Eve Harrington of the Sarah Siddons Award.)

Sarah Bernhardt also played Hamlet in 1899 London. There have been many others up to our own time including a tremendous performance by Judith Anderson on a national tour and at Carnegie Hall in 1970.

These performances involved the women playing Hamlet as a man. However there are instances in which the character is actually played as if a woman. Scholars have long commented on the male/female nature of Hamlet.

Of course, Shakespeare also wrote female characters that spent most of their time on stage pretending to be boys: As You Like It
and Twelfth Night.

There is a lot of discussion in the theatre today regarding color-blind and gender-blind casting. And indeed we have seen productions of Neil Simon’s The Odd Couple with the male roles played by women, as women. There was also a tremendous production of Twelve Angry Women, the all-female version of the classic courtroom drama.

So far, most of the proponents of gender-blind casting have advocated for women being able to play men’s roles. But interestingly, there is a bit of a flap now being raised about some all-male casts of Shakespearean plays. Apparently in some circles the notion of gender-blind casting only goes one way.

But that is a subject for another day.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Imagine Denver 2020, Swallow Hill, Harry Tuft, Denver Folklore Center, Denver Folk Music in the 60s

Last night, I did another Community Forum for the Imagine Denver 2020 cultural plan.

The Forum was at Swallow Hill and being there I couldn’t help but think of Harry Tuft, the Godfather of Denver Folk Music. Swallow Hill Music grew out of the Denver Folklore Center, which Harry started in 1962. Harry and the Denver Folklore Center are still around though the location has changed.

Originally, the Folklore Center was at 17th and Pearl. It was ostensibly a guitar shop but was really a hangout and home away from home for folk musicians of the 60s. I was one and wandered in to the Folklore center in 1967. I remember it being funky, a bit dark and dusty with wood walls – I thought it was perfect. Next door, or maybe a couple doors down (my memory fades, it was, after all nearly 50 years ago) was the Green Spider Coffee House where many musicians who frequented the Folklore Center played. It was a typical 60s coffee house. Long and narrow with candles in bottles, etc. I played there with the string band of which I was part – The New Mobile Strugglers – quaint, huh? We were two guitars (six-string and 12-string) a bass and banjo.

Harry eventually took over the space and expanded it into a concert hall – yes the beginnings of Swallow Hill. Playing in the Hall or hanging out in the Folklore Center you would see the likes of Judy Collins, Joan Baez, Utah Phillips, Ramblin’ Jack Elliot, Doc Watson, Denver’s own Walt Conley, the list goes on.

Steven Fromholz was there as well. He wrote I’d Have To Be Crazy, which Willie Nelson recorded (you can hear Steven singing back up). I first met Steven at the Irish Pub and Grill, in Pueblo, when he was singing with Dan McCrimmon as Frummox. They recorded an album titled Here To There. There are some great songs on that album including The Man With The Big Hat. In the background of the song is some bar noise, glasses clinking, voices, etc. One of those voices is Harry Tuft.

The Folklore Center eventually moved to south Pearl Street where it remains today.

So, back to the Community Forum: I noted last night that the Folklore Center was and is the kind of creative business that supports arts and culture and which is supported by arts and culture; it represents the synergy that has a positive impact on the community as a whole.

The Imagine Denver 2020 cultural plan needs to reflect how that synergy can occur in a diverse and wide spread way.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Make your voice heard - Make Denver's Cultural and Arts Scene Better - Imagine Denver 2020

For the past year, as a member of Denver's Commission on Cultural Affairs, I have been involved in the creation of a new cultural plan for Denver.

Why you say?

Because it is necessary. The arts contribute so much to the vibrancy and economy of a community and it is so important that those communities foster a healthy arts environment. World class theatre and other performing arts, film/filmmakers, visual art and of course the written word. To that end a road map needs to be created that informs governmental and civic leadership as well as the general public - and artists and creative individuals themselves - what is needed and how to get there.

Denver's last cultural plan was written in 1989. Denver and the world are very different from that time. Today we have creative technologies that didn't exist then. We have smart phones and Facebook and Twitter, and the like. We have also seen a decline in arts education and other elements that support a vibrant arts environment.

So we are creating that road map, that cultural plan that will take us into the next decade. It is called Imagine Denver 2020.

But regardless of the efforts of those of us who have been working on this for over a year, it will not be successful, or useful, if many others are not involved. Make your voice heard. We need to hear from everyone, every neighborhood, every person who cares about Denver and the arts and creativity; we need to hear from those concerned about economic development and how the arts contribute to that.

There are many ways to be involved and to contribute and the easiest is to simply take the survey regarding Denver and its arts and cultural present and future. Go to the website and take the survey. It is easy and doesn't take very long. It is critical that we hear from as diverse a population as possible - we need to hear from you.

Okay, I am off my soap box. Just go to the website and take the survey.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

St. Patrick's Day - How about a Movie?

Ahh, St. Patrick’s Day, when everyone becomes a little more Irish. My friend, Italian-American Ted Calantino, who owned and operated the Irish Pub in Pueblo, Colorado, adopted the moniker, Ted O’Calantino. So, yes, St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated by those Irish or not.

Of course, much of the celebration involves Pubs and drinking, in addition to pipe bands and step dancing.

But here’s a thought, in addition to whatever else you may do to celebrate, watch an Irish movie. There is no shortage of good ones to choose from. Here are some suggestions:

"The Quiet Man"

This is one of those films that I will watch over and over again. If it is on TCM, you can count on the fact that I will turn it on. John Ford, John Wayne, Maureen O’Hara, Ward Bond as a fly-fishing priest and the rest of the Ford Acting Company. John Wayne as Sean Thornton, a boxer with a past relocates to Ireland and falls for O’Hara as Mary Kate Daneher. The marriage is complicated because of Mary Kate’s dowry and her intransigent brother, played by Victor McGlaglen. The Irish scenery is great and there is that horse race and the running fist fight between Wayne and McGlaglen.

"In the Name of the Father"

Daniel Day-Lewis shows up twice on this list. Before he was Lincoln, this amazing actor played Gerry Conlon in this real-life story about the Belfast man wrongly imprisoned for the 1974 IRA bombing of a pub in England. A number of films on this list focus on ‘the troubles’ or the early fight for Irish independence. The film also features the late Pete Postlethwaite.

"Shadow Dancer"

This terrific film is the newest one on the list (2012). I saw it at the Denver Film Festival last November, and in fact it really only had film festival exposure in the US (though it is available on Blu-Ray). This riveting thriller, too deals with ‘the troubles’. Andrea Riseborough as Colette McVeigh plays an IRA sympathizer forced to become an informant for British MI5. Clive Owen is the MI5 agent who may be falling in love with McVeigh.

"The Commitments"

A group of down-and-out Dubliners form a band. Jimmy Rabbitte (Robert Arkins) has dreams of creating the ultimate soul group, and succeeds in bringing together a bunch of talented, eclectic characters. But eventually personalities clash, and the survival of the band is threatened. This adaptation of the Roddy Doyle novel featured a relatively unknown cast at the time, but was welcomed with critical acclaim and a successful box office run.

"My Left Foot"

It really isn’t all Daniel Day-Lewis all the time on this list, nonetheless, here he is again. Another true story and character for him as an Irishman who overcomes his disability to become an amazing painter, poet and writer. The film documents the extraordinary life of Christy Brown, a working class Irishman born with crippling cerebral palsy. With the encouragement of his mother, played by Brenda Fricker, Christy learns to write and draw with his only functional limb - his left foot. Both Day-Lewis and Fricker won Academy Awards for their roles.

"Bloody Sunday"

This is a documentary style re-creation of the events of January 30, 1972 - better known as Bloody Sunday. An attempt by Ivan Cooper (James Nesbitt) to organize a peaceful protest in Londonderry, Northern Ireland over the illegal imprisonment of Catholics in Northern Ireland is torn asunder by more hard-line IRA members and the British military. By the end of the day, the military will fire on the protesters and kill 13 people. More of ‘the troubles’

"Odd Man Out"

This film by Carol Reed goes back to the early days of the struggle for Irish independence. It stars James Mason in his star-making role as IRA operative Johnny McQueen. Breaking out of jail, Johnny takes it on the lam, but idealism forces him out of hiding in order to raise money for the IRA cause he believes in so strongly. He decides to rob a bank, but the hold-up goes bad and Johnny is seriously wounded by the police. Staggering through the streets of Belfast, Johnny meets a succession of people who either want to help him or turn him over to the authorities. Johnny finally stumbles into a pub, where he is taken in by a homosexual artist (Robert Newton) who wants Johnny to pose for him in order to capture the desperation in his eyes. Johnny breaks free from the artist and tries to make his way to the waterfront in a final effort to escape ... but the police are slowly closing in

"The Crying Game"

The controversial film that put Irish director/screenwriter Neil Jordan on the map. Set in rural Ireland and bustling London, IRA member Fergus (Stephen Rea) develops a friendship with his captive, Jody (Forest Whittaker),and promises that he will protect Jody’s girlfriend Dil. Fergus cannot execute Jody, as he has been ordered, but Jody is killed nonetheless in a horrible set of coincidences. Fergus then flees to London, where he seeks out Dil. He becomes romantically involved with her. But the plot becomes more complicated. This is a terrific film not only about ‘the troubles’ but about gender, sexuality, race and nationality.

"The Magdalene Sisters"

Away from ‘the troubles’ to a different and disturbing kind of trouble. The Magdalene Sisters is a 2002 film, written and directed by Peter Mullan, about four teenage girls who were sent to Magdalene Asylums (also known as 'Magdalene Laundries'), homes for women who were labeled as "fallen" by their families or society. The homes were maintained by individual religious orders in the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland. The Magdalene Sisters is a bold, shocking and powerful film.

"Ryan’s Daughter"

This David Lean film takes place during World War I against the backdrop of the Irish Nationalist Movement and the recent Easter Uprising in Dublin. The film has all the hallmarks of a Lean film: sweeping vistas, complicated characters and complicated romances. Sarah Miles plays the title character, Rosy Shaughnessy - nee Ryan - who is unhappy in her life, married to the local schoolmaster played by Robert Mitchum. Into this comes a British Army Officer, commanding the nearby Army base. Rosy becomes involved with him and trouble ensues for her and her father.

On a completely different note:

"Darby O’Gill and the Little People"

This Disney film introduced us to Sean Connery in a very unBond-like role. It is typical Disney fare, which means it doesn’t have much depth but it is fun to watch nonetheless.


Friday, March 15, 2013

Maui Vodka, with 2,000 year old water

So yesterday I wrote about aging wine in the ocean. Today it is about vodka made from aged-water from the bottom of the ocean.

When staying in Hawaii some time ago, I discovered Ocean Vodka.

Ocean Vodka is distilled from organic sugar cane grown on the island of Maui. After distillation it is combined with MaHalo Deep Sea Water from the Big Island. The result is an 80 Proof, very pure, organic vodka (it is also wheat and gluten free, for those that care about that sort of thing).

It is the water that makes this most interesting. The water is drawn from 3,000 feet below the ocean surface just off the Kona coast of the Big Island. It is truly aged-water because the water is nearly 2,000 years old.


That’s right. 2,000 years old and not only that but the water started life in the North Atlantic Ocean and then made its way via the ocean currents to the Hawaiian coast.

It takes from 1,200 to 2,000 years for the water to travel from the North Atlantic, through the Arctic currents, under the glaciers of Greenland where it picks up ancient minerals that have leached down from the ice. Then it flows around and back down toward the deep channels of the Pacific.

The water is gently filtered to remove excess sea salts but preserve the minerals. It is then transferred to Maui where in Ocean Vodka’s facility it is further desalinated and mixed with the distilled sugar cane spirits.


Growing sugar cane in Hawaii is a 1500 year tradition, but making Vodka with it is pretty new.

Ocean Vodka is available in Colorado.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Forget the cave or the cellar, it’s the ocean.

Mira Winery of St. Helena, California has submerged forty eight bottles of Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon somewhere in Charleston, South Carolina Harbor.

What, you say?

Then you say, why?

Then secondly, why Charleston Harbor, three thousand miles from the winery? Don’t they have an ocean closer? They don’t like the Pacific, they like the Atlantic better?

In answer to the second why, the winery is actually owned by a Charleston resident, Jim Dyke Jr. I guess he wanted to keep a figurative eye on the wine.

The first why is that he wants to see how the wine ‘aged’ (it will just be under water for three months) in comparison to wine aged on dry land.

The bottles are enclosed in yellow steel-mesh cages equipped with GPS, so that when the winemaker is ready, he can find the bottles. At the end of the test period, the bottles will be opened and tasted. The wine will also be subjected to chemical analysis.

Stay tuned.

This aging in the ocean is not actually new, though this one may be a first in the United States.

Some European vintners have experimented with ocean-aged wine.

Bruno Lemoine runs Chateau Larrive Haut-Brion in Bordeaux. He had two 56-liter wooden barrels built in which to age his 2009 vintage wine an extra six months. One was to be kept in the chateau cellars, the other sunk underwater among the prized oyster beds of the Bay of Arcachon, north of Bordeaux on the Atlantic coast.

The one in the ocean was chained inside a concrete chamber to keep it from being swept away by the sea.

At the end of six-months both barrels were retrieved and opened, the wine bottled, tasted and analyzed.

Wine experts tasting the two wines thought that the ocean-aged wine was better.

The experiment showed that the process of osmosis helped improve the flavor of the wine aged in a barrel submerged in seawater, by adding trace amounts of salt to the wine.

Winemakers have long known that wine recovered from sunken ships has a unique taste and the ocean is thought to have something to do with that.

In 2010 two bottles of champagne that were salvaged from a ship sunk 200 years earlier in the Baltic Sea, were uncorked. One of the bottles was from the House of Vueve-Clicqout. Richard Juhlin, one of the tasters said that “Bottles kept at the bottom of the sea are better kept than in the finest wine cellars.” That is if the bottles and corks are intact. He said that the Vueve-Clicquot was very chardonnay-like with notes of linden blossoms and lime peels.

11 other bottles from the salvage were auctioned off for $136,000.

So there you go, ocean aging.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Palindrome, Palindrome Where Do You Roam?

I am a big fan of Riders in the Sky, a group in the tradition of the Sons of the Pioneers with a humorous bent and a fixture on many public radio stations. One of the sketches they did on their radio show was The Ballad of Palindrome, which featured a song lead-in much like the Johnny Western song The Ballad of Paladin used on the 50s TV western, Have Gun Will Travel, starring Richard Boone.

Some of the lyrics:

(to the tune of the Ballad of Paladin)
There are campfire legends that the plains men spin
Of a man who was nothing like Paladin
Couldn't ride couldn't shoot but he won his fame
Cause everything he said, said backwards was the same
Palindrome Palindrome what's in a name
Palindrome Palindrome backwards the same

From there, the sketch dialogue involved palindromes.

I mention this because I am also a fan of palindromes and Sunday, March 10 (3/10/2013 – a palindrome date) the first annual SymmyS (a palindrome) were awarded for the best palindromes of 2012. The awards were announced at a
ceremony at the Funhouse Art & Beer Cabaret (sounds like fun) in Portland, OR. The competition featured all of the contestants in last year's World Palindrome Championships plus several talented newcomers.

There were four categories, with 10 finalists in each:
Short Palindromes, Long Palindromes, Word-Unit Palindromes, and Poetry.

A palindrome is not, as has been suggested, an unmanned aircraft flown by Sarah Palin. It is a word or phrase or date that reads the same forwards as backwards. Some common palindrome words are civic, level, rotor, and kayak.

A familiar palindrome phrase is Madam I’m Adam. One of my favorites is party booby trap.

These are simple compared to what the came out of the SymmyS Sunday.

For instance in the Short Palindrome category, Jon Agee won for Igloo Dialogue:
An igloo costs a lot, Ed!
Amen. One made to last! So cool, Gina!

In the Word Unit category Aric Maddux to first with:

You swallow pills for anxious days and nights,
and days, anxious for pills, swallow you.

And in second place John Connett offered:
Fishing for excuses? No need. You need no excuses for fishing.

I love words and word play, but this is way out of my league.

A last thought about Have Gun Will Travel. It was very popular in the 50s and I watched it avidly. There seemed to be a lot of curiosity about Paladin’s first name as he didn’t use it, however if one paid attention it was quite obvious what Paladin’s first name was: Wire. His business card read “Have Gun Will Travel” and below that his name, “Wire Paladin”

Monday, March 11, 2013

Burt Lancaster, George Clooney, Stolen Art and Monuments Men

The Train with Burt Lancaster is one of my favorite films. This 1964 black and white beauty directed by John Frankheimer and also starring Paul Schofield tells of an attempt by the Germans to transport art masterpieces stolen from French museums and private collections to Germany in August of 1944.

Lancaster plays Labiche, a railroad stationmaster, who is also a member of the French resistance. Initially he is reluctant to join an attempt to stop the train but after a friend of his is executed (for trying to stop the train) by the German’s he joins the effort.

He is to try to stop the train with the stolen art from leaving France, but to do so without destroying it. As we have seen, even recently, one of the casualties of war and conflict is art and cultural and historical artifacts.

Schofield plays Colonel von Waldheim, who is trying to get the paintings to Germany.

The plot involves an elaborate ruse of misidentifying railroad stations so that it appears the train is headed to Germany when in fact it is not.

The film is fiction but is based on a real event. On August 1, 1944, the Germans did indeed attempt to take some of France’s greatest paintings back to Germany by train. They did not succeed as the French resistance through the use bureaucratic red tape and paperwork delayed the train until Paris was liberated. What actually happened was not as dramatic as the film.

This was not the only historical event involving art and World War II and not the only one to be depicted in film.

George Clooney is currently in Germany filming The Monuments Men.

At the same time that the French Resistance was trying to prevent stolen art masterpieces from being transported to Germany a group of allied military men who were also museum directors, curators, art historians and other art professionals were seeking to preserve and safeguard as much of the historic and cultural monuments from war damage, and as the conflict came to a close, to find and return works of art and other items of cultural importance that had been stolen by the Nazis or hidden for safekeeping.

These amazing volunteers came to be known as The Monuments Men, working in small numbers at the front lines or even behind enemy lines to do their job.

Countless monuments, churches, and works of art were saved or protected by these dedicated men.

The film is based on a book by Robert Edsel, which chronicles some of these men and their efforts. The film is set for release in December of this year – yes in time to qualify for Oscar consideration.

In addition to starring in the film, Clooney co-wrote the screenplay and is producing and directing. It also features a powerhouse cast: Matt Damon, Bill Murray, John Goodman, Jean Dujardin (of The Artist), Bob Balaban and Cate Blanchett. She plays Rose Valland who was a French art historian and an amazing person as well.

Valland, at great risk to herself, secretly catalogued the art the Nazis were stealing and was the one that notified the French Resistance of the train that was to transport much of the art to Germany in August 1944 – the event that prompted the above referenced film, The Train. In addition to being a member of the French Resistance, she was a captain in the French Army and was one of the most highly decorated women in French History.

Okay, I can’t wait to see this one.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Paramount - It can make and broadcast TV but not own a movie theatre

Paramount Studios has announced that it will once again produce product for television. An initial project will be based on the Beverly Hills Cop series of films that starred Eddie Murphy. This is the first time in eight years that Paramount has been involved in developing product for TV.

Paramount was once a major player producing TV series. In the 60s, it often partnered with Desilu (the production company started by Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz) which was headquartered on the Paramount lot. In the 70s, 80s and 90s it produced huge hits on television: Star Trek (and its subsequent spinoffs), Taxi, The Odd Couple, Happy Days, Mork and Mindy (which gave Robin Williams his start), Cheers, MacGyver (on which I worked and which was produced by Henry Winkler) and Frasier.

For a time Paramount not only produced for television but broadcast it as well as a part of CBS (and for a time as the short-lived UPN).

This is interesting, because…

From the beginning, the broadcast networks, while purchasing some product from studios, particularly Universal, also produced their own shows. CBS still has its own studio with 18 sound stages in Studio City in the San Fernando Valley. That means that CBS and the other networks could not only own the product but the vehicle through which the product was distributed.

The networks could do this but studios like Paramount could not with their feature films.

As I have written about the great movie palaces of the first half of the 20th Century, it is noted that many of the movie theatres were part of chains owned by the studios: Fox, Warner Brothers, Paramount, etc.

That came to an end in 1948 with a court decision – the Paramount Decree, ironically – that required the studios to divest themselves of their movie theatre chains.

The U.S. Justice Department had sued the studios under terms of the Sherman Anti-Trust Act, claiming restraint of trade, etc and won with the decision of 1948.

Studios are still prohibited from owning movie theatres, but not from ownership or co-ownership of television distribution outlets, which arguably is much more lucrative.

The most conspicuous example is that of Comcast/NBC Universal. Universal Studios had produced product for NBC beginning in 1950 through its television production arm Revue. Overtime Universal went through a series of ownership changes. It had been built by the Laemmle brothers, was eventually acquired by MCA, a Chicago entertainment management and theatrical booking agency. In 2000, Universal was acquired by the French media company Vivendi. In 2003 Vivendi sold 80% of Universal to NBC’s parent company General Electric.

In 2009 the cable giant, Comcast bought out 51% of Universal from Vivendi and GE. Comcast is now buying the other 49%.

So now, Comcast, makes movies, operates theme parks, makes television programs and distributes them through its cable networks.

But they can’t own movie theatres – yet.

Media consolidation, indeed

Monday, March 4, 2013

Historic Santa Fe Movie Theatres

I am still ferreting out old movie theatres as I travel. Latest stop: Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Santa Fe doesn’t have many historic movie theatres. In the movie palace heyday, Santa Fe only had a population of around 20,000 people. It was only 30,000 by 1940, so it was difficult to support many movie theatres, particularly the grand movie palaces found in Hollywood and other places.

The Lensic, 211 W. San Francisco Street, was/is the closest Santa Fe came. Built in 1931, in the ‘Spanish-Moorish style’ (similar to that of Denver’s Mayan) with 1,000 seats and ornate decoration in the lobby and auditorium, the theatre served as a movie theatre – and vaudeville house in the thirties - until 1999. Since, it has been remodeled (with an expansion of the stage area and the building of a scene house to accommodate flying scenery) and is now the Lensic Performing Arts Center specializing in a variety of live performances including theatre, music and dance. The old triangular marquee has also been replaced by a ‘boxier’ one.

The name? Nathan Salman, the original builder of the theatre offered a prize for a name for the new theatre, one that might incorporate the initials of his grandchildren. The grandchildren’s names? Lila, Elias, Nathan, Sarah, Mary Irene, and Charles.

El Onate, at the corner of Palace and Lincoln, predates the Lensic, opening in 1921. It was built on the site of the old Capitol Hotel, in the Pueblo style with the distinctive twin church bell towers. The building, now housing a bank, looks much as it did when it was built, though the bell towers are gone.

Paris Theatre, 123 W. San Francisco. There were two theatres at one time or another at 123 W San Francisco. Initially the site was occupied by the Paris Theatre, also owned by Nathan Salman. Built in 1914, and showing silent films it eventually converted to sound, showing the first ‘talkie’ to be screened in Santa Fe, Carl Laemmle's Universal Picture’s Broadway in 1929. It also featured a Wurlitzer organ. Unfortunately it burned down in 1948. It was replaced by El Paseo.

El Paseo, also at 123 W. San Francisco was built in 1948. This was not a remodel of the Paris, but was brand new construction as a result of the fire. The theatre closed in the 1980s. The building now houses a Coldwater Creek retail store.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Benediction - Haruf's latest about Holt

Dad Lewis is dying. The cancer is all over him. By September he will be gone.

Benediction (Knopf), is Kent Haruf’s latest novel about life and lives in the eastern Colorado town of Holt. Holt is a fictional town but Haruf creates for us such a strong sense of place and authenticity that for us - particularly those of us who have spent anytime in the small towns of eastern Colorado or western Kansas - Holt is very real.

Haruf’s narrative about Holt began with The Tie that Binds and continued through Eventide. Benediction takes place over a couple of hot summer months as Dad Lewis moves closer and closer to death. We spend time with him and his wife Mary and daughter Lorraine as the inevitable moves closer, day by day; we learn about their present lives and things about their past - the past, is indeed prologue - and the son who is no longer there. As with Haruf’s other books, we meet other residents of Holt, neighbors, friends even casual acquaintances. We learn about their lives and past.

Dad and Mary met and were married in 1948. Dad eventually purchased the hardware store where he worked; "he was a known man in town by then, the bankers knew him, and gave him the loan without question." He ran it successfully up until the present.

Lorraine, their daughter, now lives in Denver but has come home to be with her father and mother as the end draws near. She has already had tragedy in her life. We don’t know whether she will stay.

Their neighbor, Berta May is now raising her granddaughter, 8-year old Alice. Alice doesn’t know where her dad is and her mother, Berta May’s daughter, has died of breast cancer.

There is 60-year old Alene, a retired school teacher who has returned to Holt to live with her mother Willa. Alene never married but was terribly in love once.

There is also Reverend Lyle, only recently come to Holt, from Denver, as the minister at the Community Church. Lyle has a troubled teenage son, a troubled marriage and a troubled soul.

Haruf interweaves the current with significant scenes from the characters’ past. This flow makes the present more meaningful. The characters are not perfect, they have made mistakes, had tragedy befall them, and had regrets. But they have, for the most part, persevered and tried to do the right thing. While sadness marks their lives in many ways and there is sadness in the novel, there is also a tremendous sense of hope and humanity. Life does go on and sadness is as much a part of the rhythm of life as joy.

Haruf’s style is a strong mix of spare dialogue and prose that nonetheless evokes the time and place and people in an economical but powerful way. He draws us into these characters; he involves us in their lives and their past; we care about them and what may happen to them: there is a tremendous humanity to them.

Haruf is a wonderful writer, with a style well suited to the west.

Plainsong, an earlier novel about Holt was made into a Hallmark Television movie. That, rather glib, adaptation was not very successful in my view; Haruf’s characters became one-dimensional caricatures. Plainsong and its follow-up Eventide also were adapted to the stage by the Denver Center Theatre Company.

I don’t know whether there will be another story coming from Holt, but I hope so.

Kent Haruf will be at the LoDo Tattered Cover Bookstore in Denver, March 6, to read from Benediction and sign copies.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Stop the presses - 90 Proof Maker’s Mark is back

I wrote last week about the move by the distiller of Maker's Mark Bourbon to reduce the alcohol by volume (ABV) content of the bourbon from 45% (90 Proof) to 42% ( 84 Proof) and the firestorm that announcement set off. Well, it didn’t take long for the distiller to understand - like Coca Cola’s faux pas with New Coke - it had made a big mistake. Get the fire extinguishers, 90 Proof is back.

In a letter and emails to their customers from Rob Samuels and Bill Samuels, Jr. the son and grandson of Maker’s Mark founder Bill Samuels, Sr. they announced the reversal of their decision:

“Dear Friends,

Since we announced our decision last week to reduce the alcohol content (ABV) of Maker’s Mark in response to supply constraints, we have heard many concerns and questions from our ambassadors and brand fans. We’re humbled by your overwhelming response and passion for Maker’s Mark. While we thought we were doing what’s right, this is your brand – and you told us in large numbers to change our decision.

You spoke. We listened. And we’re sincerely sorry we let you down.”

This reversal is not only pleasing to Maker’s Mark fans but it has created a collector’s market.

Some cases of the 84 Proof bourbon had been shipped and while Maker’s Mark was attempting to recall those cases from distributors, some bottles had already made it to store shelves and had been sold. Those 84 Proof bottles are now collectable. In fact some liquor stores are touting the bottles for sale.

Binny’s in Chicago has some and is advertising its collectability and availability. From its website:

“Makers Missed the Mark.
Don’t miss your chance to grab this COLLECTABLE BOTTLE.

If you missed this story, here’s what happened. Maker’s Mark announced that they would lower the alcohol of their beloved bourbon from 90 to 84 proof. It took less than a week for public outrage to reach such a fervor that they doubled back on their decision, promising to stick with the original recipe.

That makes the low proof Maker’s Mark an instant collector’s item for whiskey enthusiasts.
The distillery is busy reclaiming cases from wholesalers, but we’re holding our allocation for you. We want to offer you the chance to buy this bottle of history. Remember, it’s a limited product, production had a life measured in hours instead of days or weeks. Once it’s gone, it’s gone for good.
Available In-Store Only!”

I am not certain where else any of the 84 Proof Maker’s Mark may still be available (don't look for it on EBay, alcohol sales are prohibited there), but I will be keeping my eyes open.

Derby Day Mint Juleps with 90 Proof Maker's Mark are safe.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Hillary Clinton's Husband and Barbara Streisand - Awards season not over for either

Hillary Clinton’s Husband to make another Awards appearance, this time with Barbara Streisand.

The Oscars are Sunday night and are the focus of many people. But there is another award coming in April.

Barbara Streisand who will sing at the Oscars on Sunday is also being honored at the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s 40th annual Chaplin Award Ceremony. The award will be presented by Bill Clinton. Clinton appeared to a standing ovation at the Golden Globes to introduce Stephen Spielberg’s Lincoln. When he finished, co-host Amy Poehler excitedly said, "That was Hillary Clinton's husband!" Then, the other co-host Tina Fey, added, “That was Bill Rodham Clinton!"

Streisand whose career started on the Broadway stage has had an impressive recording career but has also played an important role in film. Among other things she is the first woman artist to receive credit as writer, director, producer and star of a major motion picture: Yentl.

She is the only artist to receive an Oscar, Tony, Grammy, Emmy, DGA Award, Golden Globe, and National Medal of Arts Award.

Preceding the presentation of the award will be film and video clips of her films and interviews.

Streisand supported Clinton in his successful runs for the presidency and as I noted in an earlier posting performed at the end of the 2000 Democratic national Convention in Los Angeles on behalf of Oscar winner Al Gore.

The Chaplin Award began in 1972 honoring Charlie Chaplin himself. Other honorees include some of Hollywood’s best: Martin Scorsese, Diane Keaton, Sidney Poitier, Betty Davis, Elizabeth Taylor, Laurence Olivier, Meryl Streep and Jimmy Stewart.

The award ceremony is part of a gala at Lincoln Center on April 22.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Maker's Mark bucking the high-proof trend in bourbon

I bought a bottle of Maker’s Mark yesterday and checked the label. It still stated that the bourbon in the bottle is 45% alcohol by volume. That however is apparently going to change. The alcohol content of bourbon and other spirits is stated as either a percentage or as a proof. 45% alcohol is the same as 90 Proof. Maker’s Mark has announced that in an effort to meet rising demand it is going to reduce that alcohol content to 42% or 84 Proof.

In October I wrote of the trend to increase the proof of alcohol content in spirits, particularly bourbon. In the sixties a typical bottle of bourbon would be 86 Proof or 43% alcohol but over subsequent years proof was lowered to a fairly consistent 80 Proof. Now, as I noted, many distillers have increased proof to 90 or above.

Maker’s Mark now seems to buck that trend.

In a letter to customers, Rob Samuels, the company’s Chief Operating Officer stated: “Fact is, demand for our bourbon is exceeding our ability to make it, which means we’re running very low on supply.”

That proof reduction will be accomplished by watering the whiskey – fighting words in the saloons of the old west and also in Kentucky where Maker’s Mark is distilled. There has been an outcry from residents of the Bluegrass state and elsewhere. The Twittersphere exploded with the news.

However, all bourbon or other whiskey is watered. Bourbon is distilled at up to 160 proof (80% alcohol) and then has water added to arrive at the desired alcohol by volume content. The amount of alcohol is important not just because it gives bourbon its ‘kick’ but because alcohol is significant carrier of flavor. Finding the right balance makes all the difference in how enjoyable the bourbon is to the drinker. Many of us actually add some water to the whiskies we drink. A bit of water to a glass of Scotch or Bourbon can actually help release the flavor. Lyndon Johnson was famous for liking 'Bourbon and Branch Water'. Branch water is theoretically water from the same stream that the bourbon was distilled from.

Samuels states that he does not believe that the reduction in proof will negatively impact the flavor. He says that taste tests confirm that.

Global demand for bourbon has been increasing, particularly in India. Who knew? Part of that is the sweetness of bourbon when compared to other whiskies – Scotch or Irish whiskey, for instance. That sweetness is apparently favored by consumers in India.

We will see whether any other high-end bourbon distillers will follow suit.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The Show that Won't Stop and the Movie that Can't be Stopped.

The show that won't stop.

Like the Energizer Bunny, Les Miserables just keeps going and going. Not only is the film version nominated for the Best Picture Oscar (I don’t think it will win) but now it will be coming back to Broadway. Producer Cameron Mackintosh said Tuesday, that he will remount it in March of 2014. I guess he believes that all the attention being paid to the film will last for a year and encourage attendance at the new revival. Or he may be trying to exorcise the ghost of the last revival in 2006. It was a critical disaster but it did run for a little over a year. He clearly hopes/expects the revival to last more than 15 months. Mounting, even a revival is an expensive process and needs significant ticket sales to recoup costs.

The revival will be the version that has been touring the United States for the last couple of years. That version doesn’t use the revolving turntable that was part of the original design. The revival won’t use the turntable either. The revival will also feature redesigned scenery based on paintings from the original novel as the touring version does.

Regardless of how the film fares at the Oscars, Sunday, the Broadway revival will likely do quite well if it is good. The film has grossed nearly $400 Million world-wide. Over exposure does not seem to be the problem.

The movie that can't be stopped.

Argo continues its awards march. It won Best Adapted Screenplay at the Writer’s Guild Awards Sunday night. It won over Life of Pi, Lincoln, Silver Linings Playbook and The Perks of Being a Wallflower. As I have noted before, it is difficult to see how it does not win Best Picture at the Oscars next Sunday.

The WGA had good news for Zero Dark Thirty, as well. It won Best Original Screenplay. Others nominated in that category were: Flight, The Master, Moonrise Kingdom and Looper.

The other seemingly sure fire winner at Sunday's Oscars will be Searching for Sugar Man. This documentary has been sweeping awards this season as well. It won the WGA Award for Documentary screenplay.

Oscar voting closed yesterday, so now we just wait until the 24th.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Streisand, Bassey, Jones and Adele at the Oscars - wow.

A woman who has not sung at the Oscars in 36 years and one who has never sung but should have, will be front and center – and providing some powerful vocals – in a Diva-studded line-up.

Two-time Oscar winner Barbra Streisand, who has sung on the Oscars only once before, will perform Sunday night. Streisand last sang the love theme from A Star Is Born on the March 28, 1977 show, winning the Best Original Song Oscar for Evergreen that same night.

Joining Streisand will be the immortal Shirley Bassey in what is being called a ‘special appearance’ by the Academy. I am assuming that Bassey will perform as part of the 50th anniversary of the James Bond films. She did three Bond films: Goldfinger, Diamonds Are Forever and Moonraker. Oh to hear her do any of those again.

Streisand won an Oscar for 1968’s Funny Girl. She was also nominated for Best Actress again for her role in The Way We Were (one of those films that I can watch over and over and thoroughly enjoy). She lost that year to Glenda Jackson in a Touch of Class. However the theme from The Way We Were, did win best song for Alan and Marilyn Bergman.

I once saw Streisand live. Terry and I were delegates to the Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles in 2000. Streisand helped close the Convention with a performance at the Shrine Auditorium. Terry and I were thrilled even if we were in the nose-bleed seats.

In addition to fifty years of Bond films, Shirley Bassey has her own “Diamond Jubilee” with a career spanning over six decades. She has recorded over 44 albums, sold over 135 million records and has sold out concert halls across the world. In June 2012, she was one of a number of esteemed artists, including Elton John, Paul McCartney and Annie Lennox, who performed at the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Concert.

Streisand and Bassey will be joined by a couple of other impressive singers: Adele (the theme from Skyfall is nominated and she will sing it - it is the only Bond song to ever have been nominated) and Norah Jones.

This is more musical sizzle than the Oscars have had in a long time. In fact many other performers who take the stage Sunday night with this impressive line-up may feel as George Gobel once said that he did: In making an appearance on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson in the company of Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra, Gobel said that he felt like the world was a tuxedo and he was a pair of brown shoes.

Monday, February 18, 2013

George Washington - A Great President So Modestly Treated On Film

Today is President’s Day. As I noted in an earlier post this is the generic holiday we use to celebrate the birth of two of our greatest presidents – Abraham Lincoln on February 12 and George Washington on February 22.

That earlier post was in relation to the movie Lincoln which is nominated for numerous Oscars at the upcoming Academy Awards. This Spielberg film is just the latest in a long line of films about the 16th President; but what about the Father of our Country, our first President, George Washington? How often has he been the subject of a film?

Lincoln has had eight including the latest Spielberg film. George Washington has had four. And while Lincoln has been portrayed on the big screen, our first President has only been seen on TV. Does this mean, as with Rodney Dangerfield, ‘he don’t get no respect?’

George Washington. This was a 1984 TV Mini-series with Barry Bostwick as George and Patty Duke as Martha.

George Washington II: Forging A Nation. This was a 1986 TV Movie follow-up to the Mini-series. Bostwick and Duke reprise their roles.

The Crossing. This 2000 TV movie has Jeff Daniels portraying Washington in a dramatization of the gamble the future President took in crossing the Delaware River to attack British forces in Trenton, New Jersey. Other than a hatchet and a cherry tree, the painting of Washington in the prow of a boat in the ice-floed river is one of the most iconic images of Washington. (There is a wonderful Stan Freberg routine, on his Stan Freberg Presents the United States of America recording, about Washington trying to decide which boat to take for the crossing – ‘how about the one named Donald Duck’ – you really have to hear it, to appreciate it.)

Washington the Warrior. This was a History Channel reenactment portraying how Washington acquired his military skills. Jackson Bolt portrays Washington and Stacy Keats narrates.

(This list does not include George Washington Slept Here with Jack Benny – George is featured only in the title.)

So why has Washington been the subject of so few films and none on the big screen or before 1984? There was no Young Mr. Lincoln or Abe Lincoln in Illinois as there was with the 16th President.

Is it because he wasn’t killed in office?

Or, maybe the film projects have been so modest because we may view him so modestly. While in truth he had a dynamic personality that is not how we remember him – to us he seems more a father figure or perhaps a kindly uncle.

Lincoln saved the Union but there would have been no Union, no United States but for Washington. Washington deserves a film as powerful as the current Lincoln.

Friday, February 15, 2013

John Kerr - Lt. Cable - has died

John Kerr died two weeks ago. Hard core movie and theatre buffs will know the name, but many others will not.

The film version of South Pacific has been playing lately on the cable channel Starz. If you’ve seen it, you’ve seen John Kerr. He plays Lt. Joseph Cable, the Marine officer whose racial prejudice conflicts with his love of Liat, played by France Nuyen – the prejudice wins out. It wasn’t just Lt. Cable’s prejudice; racial prejudice underlies all of South Pacific.

As with many movie musicals, Kerr did not do his own singing; that was done by Bill Lee.

Kerr was also noted for his Tony-Award winning role in Tea and Sympathy on Broadway. He played opposite Deborah Kerr (no relation) as the sensitive student, tormented by his classmates because they think he is gay. He also starred in the film version in 1956 but the issue or suggestion of homosexuality was suppressed by MGM.

I think Kerr is also notable for a film he did not do. He was originally offered the role of Charles Lindbergh in Warner Brother’s Spirit of St. Louis. He turned the role down because of his feelings toward Charles Lindbergh. He believed Lindbergh to be a Nazi sympathizer. Jimmy Stewart went on to do the film.

While Kerr did other films and television, his career never again reached the heights it had with Tea and Sympathy and South Pacific.

Interestingly, in 1966, he entered UCLA, graduating in 1969 with a law degree and was admitted to the California bar in 1970.

John Kerr was 81 when he died on February 2 in Los Angeles.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Fix your sweetheart a romantic meal at home for Valentine's Day

Valentine’s Day and you haven’t done anything for your valentine. Forget running to the store for a box of candy, or making last minute reservations at a restaurant. Fix a romantic dinner at home, with wine, the candles, the works.

Not sure what to fix? Try this menu.

Start the evening with a Champagne, of course. I am partial to Vueve Clicquot but a Rose Champagne can be pleasant as well. The Champagne will work well with the Bisque.

A good Cabernet Sauvignon or Syrah will make a nice accompaniment to the steak, and a nice port finishes the meal.

And don't forget to turn on the music, Sinatra, of course.

The food:
Roast Carrot and Lobster Bisque
Filet of beef with raisin, pepper and Armagnac sauce
Saffron potatoes
Raspberries Jubilee with Kahlua

Roast Carrot and Lobster Bisque
4 teaspoons butter
1 ¼ cups peeled diced carrot
¼ cup minced onion
1 tablespoon flour
3 cups lobster stock (you can use fish stock if lobster is not available)
Four 5oz lobster tails (or 20oz of cooked lobster meat)
2 tablespoons fresh orange juice
Sour cream

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F

In an oven proof sauté pan or skillet melt the butter over medium-high heat and sauté the carrots and onion until soft. Cover the pan and place it in the preheated oven and roast the vegetables for 30 to 40 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from the oven and sprinkle the flour over the vegetables, stirring well. Slowly add the stock and simmer the bisque for 5 minutes. Remove from the stove and puree the bisque in a blender or food processor. When adding the bisque to the blender, do so a little at a time so as not to end up with hot bisque all over you when you blend. Season the bisque as needed.

While the vegetables are roasting put the lobster tails in a bowl and toss with the orange juice. Let stand for 15 minutes. In a heavy pan heat a small amount of olive oil over high heat. Add the lobster tails and cook until the shells turn orange, about 4 minutes. Remove and when cool enough to handle cut away the shell from the meat. Chop the meat into small chunks.

Ladle the bisque into two bowls and add lobster meat to each and top with a dollop of sour cream.

Saffron Potatoes
2 cups chicken stock
Pinch of saffron
6 small new red or Yukon Gold potatoes, scrubbed

In a medium saucepan, bring the chicken stock to a boil, then add the saffron. Remove the pan from the heat and let stand for 5 minutes. Return the pan to the heat and bring the stock to a boil. Add the potatoes and cook for about 15 minutes or until you can just pierce them with a fork.

12 spears, about1 lb. green asparagus
1 tablespoon of olive oil
Balsamic vinegar
Shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.

Wash the asparagus and snap off the tough ends. Toss with olive oil and spread on a baking sheet. Roast in the same oven as the carrots and onions for 15 minutes. Remove from oven and drizzle with Balsamic vinegar. When serving with the steak Shave the cheese over the asparagus.

Fillets of beef with Raisin, Pepper and Armagnac sauce
¼ cup golden raisins
1 cup boiling water
3 tablespoons Armagnac (or brandy)
1 tablespoon peppercorns
2 8oz beef tenderloin steaks
2 tablespoons butter
1/3 cup chicken broth.

In a small bowl soak the raisins in the boiling water for 5 minutes, then drain. Add two tablespoons of the Armagnac to the raisins and set aside.

Spread the peppercorns on a sheet of wax paper and crush with a rolling pin. Press each side of the steaks into the peppercorns. In a sauté pan or skillet (I prefer cast iron) melt one tablespoons of butter and cook the steaks over medium-high heat, 3 minutes on each side. Remove from heat and tent with aluminum foil.

Deglaze the pan with the remaining Armagnac. Add the raisins and their liquid and cook over medium heat to reduce the liquid by half. Add the chicken broth and reduce by half again. Fold in the remaining 1 tablespoon of butter, stirring occasionally until the sauce thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon. Season to taste.

Place each steak on a plate, top with some sauce and serve with the potatoes and Asparagus.

Raspberries Jubilee with Kahlua
2oz of puff pastry (frozen works just fine)
1 egg white, beaten
1 tablespoon sifted powdered sugar
2 tablespoons Grand Marnier
2 tablespoons Kahlua
1 tablespoon raspberry liqueur
1 basket of raspberries or one 10 oz package of unsweetened frozen raspberries, defrosted.
2 scoops vanilla ice cream.

Cut the puff pastry into two 4-inch rounds Brush the top of each with the beaten egg white and sprinkle with powdered sugar. Put in the freezer and chill for about 30 minutes. Meanwhile preheat the oven 425 degrees F. Place the pastry on a baking sheet greased with butter. Bake for 4 minutes then reduce the temperature to 375 degrees F and cook for another 5 to 10 minutes, until the pastry turns golden brown. Let cool.

In a small saucepan cook the Grand Marnier, Kahlua and raspberry liqueur over medium heat to reduce the liquid by half. Remove from the heat and fold in the raspberries to just heat through.

Slice off the top of each cooled pastry round. Spoon ice cream into each round, and pour the warm raspberry mixture over the ice cream. Cover with the pastry top and serve.

What comes next is up to your imagination.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Searching for Sugar Man - A BAFTA win and probably an Oscar

There is another film surging out of the BAFTA Awards to what seems to be an inevitable Oscar – Searching for Sugar man. Sugar Man won the BAFTA award for documentary on Sunday. This coming on the heels of wins at the PGA Awards, the DGA Awards, the International Documentary Association Awards and the Critic’s Choice Awards. It has also been nominated for a Writer’s Guild Award, but winners will not be announced until next Monday.

Searching for Sugar Man is a Swedish/British production directed by Malik Bendjelloul. It deals with a search or really an investigation by two South Africans, Stephen Segerman (called Sugarman by friends) and music journalist Craig Bartholomew Strydom, to find out what happened to Rodriguez, an American Folk Singer from the early 70s: did he really die by committing suicide on stage? The tone of his songs was often bleak (he was living in Detroit and the times were bleak) and so some of those who heard them could easily believe that he would commit suicide.

Rodriguez was a somewhat mysterious singer/songwriter who produced two albums, one in 1970 and another in 1971 and then disappeared. Saying, he disappeared is almost a misstatement. His albums did not sell in the United States and he was basically unknown. The albums were released by Sussex Records (now out of business) and in December of 1971, they dropped him – two weeks before Christmas.

However, through a strange set of circumstances (and without him knowing it) he developed a huge fan base in South Africa – including Segerman who decided he wanted to find out what had actually happened to Rodriguez.

Rodriguez is Sixto Rodriguez, who still lives and works (construction) in Detroit. The documentary has resurrected his career as a musician.

Searching for Sugarman screened at the 2012 Starz Denver Film Festival.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Lincoln - the movie, not the man - comes to 8 towns named Lincoln today.

Abraham Lincoln would be 204 years old today (he was a classic Aquarian). His birthday used to be a holiday, as was that of George Washington on February 22, but I guess two presidential birthdays/holidays in the same month was too much - forget that these were two of our greatest presidents – so now we just have the generic President’s Day.

Nonetheless, today is Lincoln’s birthday and that along with the impact of Stephen Spielberg’s film about the last few months of his life and the battle to ban slavery, means his profile has never been higher in modern times. In celebration of that, Spielberg, DreamWorks Pictures/Twentieth Century Fox and Participant Media are having special screenings today of Lincoln in 8 towns that bear his name. Interestingly, Lincoln, Nebraska is not one of them, though the film is still in theatres there. The towns are small towns that don’t have multiplexes for the most part and the opportunity to see the film is more limited.

In mid-March the film will be screened at 15 Lincoln high schools across the country in underserved areas. Lincoln high school in Denver is likely not one of them.

Moreover, when the film becomes available on home video DVDs of the film will be distributed, free of charge to all middle and high schools both public and private throughout the United States.

In a statement about the project, Spielberg said, “As more and more people began to see the film, we received letters from teachers asking if it could be available in their classrooms,” says Spielberg in a statement. “We realized that the educational value that Lincoln could have was not only for the adult audiences -- who have studied his life in history books -- but for the young students in the classroom as well.”

The screenings and DVD distribution are part of a social media campaign by Participant Media called Stand Tall: Live Like Lincoln.

There has been a small controversy that has arisen over the film. You may know that Representative Joe Courtney, a four-term Congressman from Connecticut has asked Spielberg to make one change to the film before it comes out on DVD. He notes, correctly, that while two representatives from Connecticut are shown in the film as voting against the anti-slavery amendment, when in point of fact all of Connecticut’s representatives at the time voted in favor of the constitutional amendment to ban slavery.

The film’s screenwriter, Tony Kushner acknowledges that Courtney is correct, and that the film changed the historical record. He responded to Courtney with a statement: “Rep. Courtney is correct that the four members of the Connecticut delegation voted for the amendment. We changed two of the delegation’s votes, and we made up new names for the men casting those votes, so as not to ascribe any actions to actual persons who didn’t perform them.”

He went on to say, “In making changes to the voting sequence, we adhered to time-honored and completely legitimate standards for the creation of historical drama, which is what Lincoln is. I hope nobody is shocked to learn that I also made up dialogue and imagined encounters and invented characters.”

I don’t expect Spielberg to make any changes to the film for its DVD release. I also don’t expect anyone to win the Academy Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role, other than Daniel Day-Lewis, he really does bring Abraham Lincoln to life.

Oh, and the Lincoln towns where the movie is screening today are in Arkansas, Indiana, Kansas, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, North Dakota and New Mexico.

Monday, February 11, 2013

The Arts News Story that Isn't - The Blue Mustang

Imagine my surprise this morning, while listening to the TV news, to hear that I was part of a group considering moving or getting rid of the Blue Mustang at DIA. I was surprised because no such consideration is taking place. But hey, never let the facts get in the way of creating a news story where none exists.

I serve on the Denver Commission on Cultural Affairs which is responsible for approving Public Art and also, when necessary or appropriate relocating or deaccessing Public Art. Despite recent, persistent and inaccurate news stories to the contrary there is no plan from DIA, or Arts and Venues Denver (the agency responsible for Public Art) or the Commission - nor is any process underway - to move or get rid of the Mustang.

The Mustang by Luis Jimenez was officially installed five years ago today. That anniversary is apparently what has prompted these specious stories.

The art work has been controversial and members of the public have often been quite vocal in their attitude toward the Mustang – some vehemently hating it and others as vehemently liking it. Over the years this has prompted some to call for its removal. In 2009 when there were calls to move the artwork the former director of the Denver Office of Cultural Affairs (now part of Arts and Venues Denver) said that the city would not consider relocating the sculpture before 2013, when it will have been installed for five years. The “five year” threshold is mentioned in the city’s Public Art Policy. That policy reads:

“On rare occasions, unusual circumstances warrant the removal, relocation or disposal of a work of art from the City’s collection. The Denver Commission on Cultural Affairs follows established procedures for deaccesssion or relocation to insure that the integrity of public art, artists, and the public is respected. Generally, artwork will not be removed from public display sooner than five years after its installation. A request for deaccession or relocation involves careful consideration of public opinion, professional judgment and legal advice.”

It is exceedingly rare for a public art piece to be moved or removed from the city’s collection. A long and comprehensive process is involved in acquiring and locating Public Art and a deaccession or move of a piece is not to be undertaken lightly an equally comprehensive process would be followed for any move or removal of a piece.

The Mustang is still there - Frankly, it has become as iconic to DIA as the signature roof of the terminal - there are no plans to move it or get rid of it; and there has been no formal requests for removal or relocation.

So, what you may be hearing is a news story that is not a story. But then, it is Sweeps Month for TV ratings.

Is the Argo juggernaut unstoppable?

The Ben Affleck film won best picture at the British Academy Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) Awards, Sunday. This coming on top of similar awards from the Producers Guild, Director’s Guild, Screen Actors Guild and the Golden Globes.

Will the Best Picture Oscar go to a film other than Argo? At this point it doesn’t seem likely.

The Academy Awards are only two weeks from now and voting got underway Friday: Argo’s awards momentum can impact Academy voters. More importantly the film has bested the other Oscar nominated films head to head.

It is one hell of a picture.

In addition to being named BAFTA’s Best Picture, Affleck won as Best Director and William Goldenberg won for editing (he was also nominated for the editing award for Zero Dark Thirty).

85-year old Emmanuelle Riva won in the Leading Actress category for Amour. The award is well deserved, she gives an amazing performance. However, her co-star Jean-Louis Trintignant gives an equally moving performance and frankly deserves some awards recognition himself.

Riva has a legitimate shot at the Oscar as well.

The other nominees were Helen Mirren for Hitchcock, Jennifer Lawrence for Silver Linings Playbook, Jessica Chastain for Zero Dark Thirty and Marion Cottilard for Rust and Bone.

Amour also won Best Picture in the ‘Not in the English Language’ category. This also bodes well for its win for the Best Foreign Language Oscar. It is also nominated for the Best Picture Oscar, but as I said, it is difficult to see any winner other than Argo. I think it highly likely that Amour will take the Foreign Language Oscar.
It, too, is a hell of a picture.

Daniel Day-Lewis won the Leading Actor award. It was the only award Lincoln received from 10 nominations. The other nominees were Ben Affleck for Argo, Bradley Cooper for Silver Linings Playbook, Hugh Jackman for Les Miserables and Joaquin Phoenix for The Master.

Anne Hathaway won Supporting Actress for Les Miserables and seems destined to win the Oscar as well. Also nominated were Amy Adams for The Master, Judi Dench for Skyfall, Sally Field for Lincoln and my personal choice and favorite Helen Hunt for The Sessions.

Christoph Waltz won the Supporting Actor award for Django Unchained. Also nominated were Philip Seymour Hoffman for The Master, Alan Arkin for Argo, Javier Bardem for Skyfall and Tommy Lee Jones for Lincoln. I continue to believe that Jones will win the Oscar. He won the Screen Actors Guild Award and the actors branch is the largest voting memberhsip of the Academy.

Friday, February 8, 2013

No Butts, No Boobs, No Bareness – Not at the Grammys! No Causes, either.

According to the Hollywood Reporter, a memo the Grammys sent to performers and/or their representatives on Wednesday, reminds them to cover up for the show Sunday night.

Among other things it says: Please be sure that buttocks and female breasts are adequately covered. Please avoid exposing bare fleshy under curves of the buttocks and buttock crack.

Buttock crack?!

CBS is broadcasting the Grammys and understandably they are sensitive to any exposed skin that might be problematic. You may remember that they were fined over $500,000 by the FCC for Janet Jackson’s infamous ‘wardrobe malfunction’ at the 2004 Super Bowl. That fine was eventually overturned, but I am guessing CBS is still nervous.

Exposing all or part of one’s body in public is not new at public events. It started with Lady Godiva.
Then there is ‘streaking’ – running naked at a public venue. It has occurred at a variety of sporting events and famously at the 1974 Academy Awards when a young man ran naked across the stage flashing the peace sign. David Niven, on stage at the time, said "Isn't it fascinating to think that probably the only laugh that man will ever get in his life is by stripping off and showing his shortcomings?" Believed at the time to be an ad lib, there is some evidence that the ‘streak’ was actually planned and the line had been prepared.

So, Beyonce, you can lip-sync, but make certain you keep all your flesh unexposed. Oh, and make certain that any cause you or any of your compatriots might be supporting is also not on display. “The Network requests that any organized cause visibly spelled out on talent’s wardrobe be avoided. This would include lapel pins or any other form of accessory.”

Here is the full text of the memo:

CBS Program Practices advises that all talent appearing on camera please adhere to Network policy concerning wardrobe.

Please be sure that buttocks and female breasts are adequately covered. Thong type costumes are problematic. Please avoid exposing bare fleshy under curves of the buttocks and buttock crack. Bare sides or under curvature of the breasts is also problematic. Please avoid sheer see-through clothing that could possibly expose female breast nipples. Please be sure the genital region is adequately covered so that there is no visible “puffy” bare skin exposure.

Please avoid commercial identification of actual brand name products on T-shirts. Foreign language on wardrobe will need to be cleared. OBSCENITY OR PARTIALLY SEEN OBSCENITY ON WARDROBE IS UNACCEPTABLE FOR BROADCAST. This as well, pertains to audience members that appear on camera.

Finally, The Network requests that any organized cause visibly spelled out on talent’s wardrobe be avoided. This would include lapel pins or any other form of accessory.

The Grammys are Sunday night 6pm Mountain Time, on CBS.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Food trucks, great art, a mild winter - Hey, it's McNichols in Denver

Looking for a food truck in Denver in the winter time? The McNichols Civic Center Building has the answer – and more.

If you work downtown or have a reason to be downtown or maybe you are visiting and want a taste of Denver’s vibrant food truck and cultural scene, then get thee to McNichols. Every Thursday during the lunch hour from now through May, food trucks will be parked and at your service on the Promenade in the park, near McNichols. But it gets better. When you have your victuals, you can venture into McNichols to partake of not only your lunch but the cultural and arts exhibits on display. And every third Thursday, you get jazz with artists from Denver’s Five Points Jazz Festival. The best part? Except for your food (there ain’t no free lunch, don’t you know), admission to McNichols, the art and the jazz are free.

For the last couple of years during the summer months, food trucks have been in the park at lunch time, Tuesdays and Thursdays. But with Denver’s mild winters there’s no reason to leave winter out.

So whether it’s sliders, burgers, Argentinean food, cupcakes, Asian cuisine or something else you will enjoy your visit to this wonderful park and building – try it today. Food trucks are there from 11am to 1pm.

For those who may visit from out of town or for those from the Denver area who may not know, McNichols reopened as public space last year.

Originally built as a Carnegie Library it was the first building to be constructed in the new Civic Center Park at the corner of 14th and Bannock. The Greek Revival building was dedicated in 1910. It ceased being Denver’s main library with the opening of the new Denver library in 1956.

Subsequently it served a variety of governmental purposes. In 1999, it was renamed the McNichols Building in honor of Colorado Governor Stephen McNichols. Unfortunately right after that renaming the building became vacant and remained so until 2010 when after some remodeling it opened briefly for the Biennial of the Americas. It again became vacant until 2012 when enough money was raised to finish the remodel and it opened again as an arts, cultural and public meeting space in November of that year.

A visit to McNichols (whether for lunch or otherwise) is rewarding. In addition to the building itself and its cultural exhibitions, there is the park. At the south end is the Greek Theatre, at the north, the Voorhies Memorial with it water feature and fountain. Connecting the two is the Promenade with the Bronco Buster and On the Trail statues nearby.

Great food, great art, a mild winter – hey, it’s Denver. Come and enjoy.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Director's and Art Dirctor's Guild Awards

The big story coming out of the Director's Guild of America awards, Saturday night in Hollywood was Ben Affleck becoming only the third person in history to win the DGA but not get an Oscar nomination. When the Oscar nominations were announced last month I noted the curious fact that three directors of films considered to be contenders for the Best Picture Oscar did not receive Oscar nominations for their directors despite the fact that those directors had received DGA nominations. Ben Affleck was one of them.

Nonetheless, give all that has happened, including this DGA win for Affleck bodes well for Argo to be named Best Picture at the Oscars in a couple of weeks - the first since Driving Miss Daisy won Best Picture in 1990 without a director nomination (Bruce Beresford).

Malik Bedjelloul won for the documentary Searching For Sugarman. This picture too is getting a lot of awards and buzz.

Lena Dunham won for the television comedy series Girls, Rian Johnson won for the television drama series Breaking Bad, and Jay Roach won for the HBO movie Game Change.

The Art Director's Guild also had their awards ceremony Saturday night. I know because they were at the Beverly Hilton, where I was staying the same night for the SAG-AFTRA National Board meeting. Lot's of Tuxedos and other formal wear in the bar.

In case you are interested, here are the winners for Excellence in Production Design:

Period Film - Anna Karenina, Sarah Greenwood, Production Designer

Fantasy Film - Life of Pi, David Gropman Production Designer

Contemporary Film - Skyfall, Dennis Gassner Production Designer

Friday, February 1, 2013

Stand Up Guys - a lot of fun

Stand Up Guys, Which opens today in Denver is pure entertainment. There are under lying themes of family, friendship, love, loyalty and living by a code - whatever that code may be - but in the end this is laugh-out-loud funny and entertaining.

The film stars Al Pacino (can Pacino get any scruffier looking) as Val, Christopher Walken as Doc and Alan Arkin as Hirsch, three aging ‘bad guys’ who through a series of circumstances are reunited for a night of shoot-outs, robberies, car-theft, car-chases, debauchery (Pacino’s character consumes an entire bottle of Viagra, which a brothel madam calls ‘boner pills’) and Galahad-like chivalry.

These are three terrific actors - though I am happy to see Walken play a bit understated; his character is slow and quiet, instead of his often over the top performances. The three actors, who have never appeared together in a film, are what make this film so enjoyable.

Val has just been released from prison, after 28 years, for a crime he likely did not commit, but, as he says, he served his time and kept his mouth shut.

He is picked up outside the prison gate by his long-time friend, Doc, who it turns out is being pressured to kill Val. Doc has until 10 AM the following morning to accomplish this or suffer some very dire consequences. Will he? Won’t he? You have to get to the end of the picture to find out.

Val says he wants to party (he has been in prison for 28 years after all) and so they do, though Doc is a reluctant participant, often just a bystander.

There is a wonderful scene in a disco (do they still call those kind of clubs discos?) in which Pacino pays the DJ to play a slow song (“oh, one of those old time songs”) and persuades an attractive young woman to dance with him. It is so reminiscent of the tango scene in Scent of a Woman as Pacino (Val) gracefully swings the young woman out onto the dance floor.

The film evolves over the next few cinematic hours as Val and Doc hook up with Hirsch, their former getaway car driver, rescuing him from a nursing home. They make a return trip to the brothel, steal a car, get involved in a car chase (Hirsch still has his chops as a driver) confront some bad guys (not stand up guys at all) and save a woman.

The ending and some events that lead up to it are a bit contrived, some of the jokes are obvious and telegraphed but funny nonetheless and there is a some necessary willing suspension of disbelief with this film but don’t worry about making sense of it, just sit back and enjoy the ride.

Stand Up Guys from Lionsgate, is directed by Fisher Stevens and written by Noah Haidle. It previously played in Denver at the Starz Denver Film Festival last November.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Key West Old Movie Theatres.

One of the things I’ve taken to doing in my travels recently is seek out old movie palaces or just old movie theatres. Most every town or city has them, though most are not used as theatres any longer if they even still exist.

I started doing this after thinking and writing about the great movie palaces in Hollywood and then in Denver. So why not check out other places?

Key West.
There is certainly lots to do in Key West – I addition to frequenting all the bars on Duval Street – and seeking out old movie theatres may not seem a high priority but I enjoyed it, it was right up there with visiting Hemingway’s house, Harry Truman’s Winter White house and the other rich historical places in this southernmost place in the United States.

The Strand
This is perhaps the most recognizable as a movie theatre, though it is now a Walgreen’s Drugstore. The Theatre at 527

Duval Street, may have opened as early as 1920 but was certainly showing films by 1922. In 1993, it became a Ripley’s Believe it or Not but closed in April 2002. It is now, as noted, a Walgreens. The drugstore chain has done a good job of maintaining the building’s façade and its ornate flourishes as well as the marquee. They even have movie references on the marquee. You will note in the photo a reference to the Golden Globes on the marquee. The Globes were being broadcast while I was in Key West and took the photo.

The San Carlos
This theatre, at 516 Duval is across the street from The Strand. It opened in 1924 as the home of the San Carlos
Institute but operated as a movie theatre for many years known variously as The San Carlos and The Palace. In 1953 the theatre was given a grand remodel and renamed the San Carlos, by Milton Frackman and his partners, A.W. Castro and Gerald Abreu. The had leased the building from its owner, the Cuban government and had been operating it as a movie theatre under the Palace name until the remodel. Ernest Hemingway apparently attended a movie there. He reportedly told Frackman, just before the filming of The Old Man and the Sea began, that if Frackman would book the film when it was finished, he would make a personal appearance. I don’t know if that ever happened.

The San Carlos is no longer a commercial movie house, though the auditorium is intact, the marquee is missing from the front façade. It is once again the home of the San Carlos Institute.

The Lincoln Theatre
This theatre was also operated by Frackman and his partners. The name Lincoln Theatre is appropriate as it was the

African-American theatre in Key West. The building at 813 Emma Street is now an artist’s studio and gallery. The building façade looks much as it did when it was a movie theatre with the exception that a marquee that once existed is gone.

Monday, January 28, 2013

SAG Awards - my picks and thoughts on the outcome.

SAG Awards are over for another year. As usual, some of my selections matched the actual winners and some didn’t. This was a year in which the selections were particularly difficult – the performances were uniformly strong.

In the Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture

I voted for The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel – it was a sentimental favorite of mine and I guess my age/generation is showing. Argo won and I can hardly quibble about that. It is a powerful film with a happy ending. Ben Affleck as both actor and director deserves tremendous credit. Argo also won the Producer’s Guild Award on Saturday night. Between these two wins, it has to be the odds on favorite to win the best Picture Oscar, moreover in the past 23 years the winner of the PGA award goes onto win the Oscar – but a note of caution: Ben Affleck was passed over by the Academy for a Best Director nomination and history tells us that a film usually does not win the Best Picture Oscar if the Director has not also been nominated for a Best Director award; Lincoln is still out there – Spielberg is nominated for Best Director; Amour, is getting a lot of buzz but could not compete in either the PGA awards or the SAG Awards (it did not qualify under either of the respective Guild rules).

While I voted for Marigold Hotel, I actually thought that Lincoln would win. As Jim Nabors used to say: “Surprise, Surprise!”

Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Leading Role

I voted for John Hawkes in The Sessions, but again, not surprisingly, Daniel Day-Lewis won for his magnificent portrayal of Abraham Lincoln. I voted for Hawkes, because I thought it was the more difficult acting assignment and he pulled it off wonderfully. He engaged us and made us care about him; he was funny and sad and cranky and at times melancholic and he did this all with nothing but his voice and his face. He did not have the luxury of using all of an actor’s tools, his body was immobile. As an aside, I though William H Macy was wonderful as a very unorthodox Catholic priest. He was not nominated for a SAG award (or for an Oscar)

Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Leading Role

Helen Mirren in Hitchcock was my choice but I was torn between Naomi Watts in The Impossible and the eventual winner Jennifer Lawrence in Silver Linings Playbook: Lawrence because her performance was spot on and Watts because her role in The Impossible seems almost impossible (the stories of the ordeal she underwent in shooting are harrowing).

Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Supporting Role

Until I saw Lincoln, I was certain that I would vote for Alan Arkin. But then, I did see Lincoln and Tommy Lee Jones’ performance and there was no question. Wow. It is far and away the best thing he has ever done. Another aside, it was fun to see Denver Center Theatre Company’s John Hutton in a brief scene as Senator Charles Sumner and former DCTC member Jamie Horton as Giles Stuart.

Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Supporting Role

Anne Hathaway in Les Miserables won in what was a very strong field, but my choice was Helen Hunt in The Sessions, who I think really deserved it. Did the subject matter of the film and the nudity play a role in some members voting (both for Hunt and Hawkes)? I don’t know but the Guild has a very large membership in the older demographic. Hunt and Hawkes are also nominated for Oscars.

LIFE ACHIEVEMENT AWARD went to Dick Van Dyke. This award was not a matter of a vote, but if it had been I certainly would have voted for Van Dyke. Carl Reiner, who was set to introduce Van Dyke and give him the award was sick and could not make it, so Alec Baldwin filled in.

Tommy Lee Jones too was ill and that is why he was not in attendance to receive his award.

There were television awards Sunday night as well, but space doesn't permit going into them at this time.

Okay, now it is on to the Oscars.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Quartet - four times the pleasure.

There were three films at last year’s Starz Denver Film Festival with the word quartet in the title. Quartet, the best of those, returns to Denver today.

Making his directorial debut with this charming film, Dustin Hoffman shows us that he can not only act, he can direct.

Beecham House is a very opulent ‘retirement’ home for musicians and other performers. And right now it is buzzing with the rumor that a ‘star’ performer is imminently to take up residence. Who can it be?

The residents are also in the midst of preparing their annual gala: it is a bit like the Mickey Rooney/Judy Garland musicals – ‘let’s get a barn and put on a show!’ In this case the barn looks like the manor house in Downton Abbey and ‘kids’ are replaced by superannuated performers, among them Reginald Paget (Tom Courtney), Wilfred Bond (Billy Connolly) and Cecily Robson (Pauline Collins).

Into this mix arrives the ‘star’ Jean Horton (Maggie Smith). The arrival is a thunderbolt to Wilfred and Cecily but particularly to Reginald – Reggie. The four had formed a quartet in the past until Jean moved on to a solo career (with accompanying ego) that left behind hard feelings and more in the case of Reggie. He and Jean had been married and the breakup of the quartet also saw the breakup of the marriage.
Ahh, but the plot thickens even more.

It is proposed by the gala director, the wonderful Michael Gambon, that now that Jean is in residence the quartet should reform and perform one of their signature works, Verdi’s Quartet.

The film is a lovely and charming work. Just as I find those old Rooney/Garland movies entertaining so too did I enjoy Quartet. It is enjoyable for the performances, not just of Courtney, Smith Connolly and Collins but everyone else in the film.

Hoffman as an actor understands that as a director he can let good actors do their work – point them in the right direction and get out of the way. All of the residents are portrayed by performers actually playing themselves and they are all quite good.

A fun and rewarding device in the end credits is the showing of then and now photos of the performers.

The screenplay by Ronald Harwood is based on his play of the same name that ran in the West End.

This is a wonderful ensemble piece in the spirit of one of my favorite films from last year: The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. oh, and we do get to hear the Verdi Quartet. Lovely.

Quartet opens an exclusive engagement at the Esquire.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Denver's Historic Movie Palaces

Hollywood isn’t the only location with a history of wonderful Movie Palaces. I wrote recently about Grauman’s Chinese and other theatres in Hollywood but Denver also had its share of exotic theatres during the first half of the 20th Century. Some have survived, some even continue to exhibit films.

Unfortunately, though, the magnificent Movie Palaces that lined Denver’s Great White Way – Curtis Street from 14th to 18th Streets – are all gone. The Empress, the Paris, the Iris, the Princess (later renamed the Victory), and the Rialto once thrived along the ‘theatre row’ that was Curtis Street. But Denver’s Movie Palaces were not restricted to Curtis Street. There were theatres elsewhere in the downtown area and in Denver’s neighborhood.

Perhaps the most recognizable is the Mayan on Broadway. Built in 1930 with its

wonderful central-American themed décor and architecture, it was a first run movie house for many years, but then as is often the case it fell on hard times and closed. It was also nearly demolished until a public campaign saved it in the mid-80s and

Landmark Theatres took over its operation. It still shows films but now on three screens. The balcony was remodeled into two small theatres with the downstairs auditorium making the third screen.

The Paramount Theatre also opened in 1930 and also was saved by a public campaign in the 80s. This wonderful Art Deco theatre opened originally as a silent movie theatre operated by the Paramount Pictures/Publix theatre chain. It soon switched over to sound as that became the norm. It still retains the Wurlitzer Organ that was installed to accompany the silent films. It no longer screens films but is primarily a concert venue. The current entrance to the theatre is on Glenarm but the original entrance was on 16th Street.

The Denver theatre was another great theatre downtown. It was across 16th Street from the Paramount. It was built in 1927 and operated by the Fox Movie Theatre Chain (part of what eventually became 20th Century Fox). This theatre was not able to be saved at the same time as the Mayan and Paramount. It was demolished – thank you Urban Renewal – and a new building built in its place.

Also gone is the Aladdin. It opened in 1926 with a Moorish design on east Colfax at Race. As with many of the theatres noted here, declining audiences and ticket sales in the 1970s forced its closure (it did operate for a short time as a legitimate theatre). By the mid-80s it was doomed to be destroyed. There is a Walgreen’s drugstore on the site now.

Another theatre that still operates is the Esquire at 6th and Downing. It was built in 1927and opened originally as the Hiawatha. It was remodeled in 1966. As with the Mayan, there now is the larger auditorium on the main floor and the balcony has been converted into a separate screening room.

The Oriental Theater, at 44th and Tennyson, opened on Christmas Eve, 1927 as one of Denver’s original movie palaces. It is now a multi-media event facility periodically showing movies but also operating as a concert venue.

Nearby in North Denver is the Holiday on West 32nd Ave. It originally opened in 1914 as the Egyptian. In the 1960s and 70s it survived by screening Spanish-language films. However by the 80s that was not enough and it closed. The building housed a restaurant for a time. The screen is apparently still intact.

The Roxy in Five Points opened as the only non-segregated movie theatre in Denver, in 1934. The building is still there but it no longer operates as a movie theatre.

The Ogden opened in 1917. It is now a concert venue but in the 80s it was still showing films and was the site of the Denver Film Festival.

The Bluebird, likewise is now primarily a concert venue. It opened in 1915 as the Thompson theatre. In the 70s and 80s it became a porn house.

Other historic theatres in Denver include the Denham, the Orpheum, the Federal, the Aztlan, the Centre, the York, The Webber and the Vogue.