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Saturday, July 27, 2013

When Dinosaur Movie Palaces Ruled The Earth


A Lost Cleveland Theatre Presents The Lost World in 1925

Jack Pickford and Norman Shearer were fine, I suppose, and Anita Stewart would do, but whoa, how did Clevelanders react to sight of a brontosaurus on Now Playing pages? Movies were news in 1925, many papers devoting pages ... sections ... to programming tendered by temples of the shadowplay (to borrow verbiage of that era). Didn't Joni Mitchell lament paving paradise to put up a parking lot? Well, that was fate of the Stillman, a Loew's venue seating 1,800 that was torn to rubble so that apartment dwellers could be closer to their cars. How long are periods of mourning for a great theatre sacrificed to the heavy ball? I've not yet had to endure the Liberty's wreckage, and could visit its bisected-since-70's remnant any time, though said change to the auditorium keeps me at bay. Still, I wouldn't want to see it wrecked. The Stillman lasted till 1965, and like many a monolith, had flirtation with 70mm and even Cinerama before value of real estate tempted fate. Old theatres everywhere have fallen like so many dinosaurs of a past century, but ad art survives to tell what a long-lost Stillman did with The Lost World and others we call classic. Imagination alone  tells us what the stop-motion masterpiece was like in 1925 when brand new and truly a fresh thrill. Dinosaurs on screen? Impossible!


So this raises my question: Had moviegoers seen prehistoric animals before? There was The Ghost Of Slumber Mountain in 1919, with effects by Willis O' Brien, but that was a short subject. Certainly The Lost World was a first big production with dinosaurs. How did 1,800 patrons at the Stillman react? Was it like French folk in 1895 whooping it up over trains that rushed toward them from a hung sheet? Did youngsters think the creatures were real? (one of these days I'd like to get around to answering some of endless questions asked here) We're running out of people who'd know. In fact, I'd say it's already too late. What lore surrounds The Lost World in earlier incarnation is limited to memory of Kodascope prints in 16mm, home movie reels like what I had in 1964, and Eastman House dig that turned up footage gone missing since 1925. It's a lot like recover of dinosaur bones constructed to semblance of how the monster appeared a million years ago. Cleveland's crowd might as well have lived in primordial time for access they had to a Lost World so nitrate-clear as to look like stone-age documentary. For myself and others who care, 8mm was grand, and digital reconstruction is better, but they'll not approach "The One Kind Of Photoplay YOU Never Saw Before" at Leow's Stillman.

More of The Lost World HERE at Greenbriar Archive, and another vanished Cleveland venue, the New Lyceum, HERE.

2 Comments:

Blogger Dave K said...

THE GHOST OF SLUMBER MOUNTAIN has most assuredly survived... was a favorite for 8mm collectors back in the 60's. You can find several postings on YouTube.

11:07 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Donald Benson considers tricks of the Hollywood trade:


A big thing to remember is not just the novelty of dinosaurs in 1925, but the general unawareness of how many ways film could lie. Nobody questioned when a Keystone film was edited to imply a row of seedy storefronts were directly across the street from a mansion with acres of lawn. Or when a low-budget movie asserted we were in London.


Today even a casual viewer knows what trickery is available. We also have an idea of what's technically and financially rational (Did anybody believe the 1970's Kong was the heavily hyped giant robot and not a guy in a suit?). At the same time we can still be fooled by artful use of stock footage as well as painted mattes and detailed miniatures, even in old films. Careful, plausible lies still convince us.


In 1925, a sophisticated adult might well believe that Hollywood had at least built full-sized robots, just as he might assume Doug Fairbanks' "Robin Hood" castle was as tall as it looked. After all, Hollywood pushed the idea that money and moderation were no object in the manufacture of dreams.


For the more innocent, it was real because you could see it was real, period. It's not as if they had other dino footage -- or even that much exposure to, say, elephants -- to question how it looked.

4:54 PM  

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