I don’t take to change readily or easily. In recent weeks we’ve lost several local establishments in my area of Los Angeles: a couple of longtime neighborhood restaurants and a wonderful independent bookstore. It hurts. Meanwhile, on the other side of town, Laemmle Theatres has announced the imminent demise of its distinctive marquee at the Royal Theatre on Santa Monica Boulevard.
The specialty theater chain’s president, Greg Laemmle, said, “Financially, it is just too difficult to make a go of it with a single screen theatre. But in addition to this, having three screens instead of just one will give us more flexibility in opening and extending runs on the more ‘artistic’ films which Los Angeles audiences have come to expect at the Royal. As for the marquee, the old marquee is great, and we’re proud to see it graced with Paul Davis’ Grand Illusion images. But the cost of creating custom marquee panels is prohibitive, especially for some of the small, independent distributors whose films we regularly show here. Distributors often end up spending more on the marquee panels than they do on display advertising. That just doesn't make sense. And from an architectural standpoint, we have photos of the theatre from the 40's (and before) which show the theatre (then named the Rialto) with a smaller, square marquee with a vertical blade sign. We believe that something like this will be more in keeping with the theatre's original Neo-Classic architecture."
All of this does make sense, of course, but it’s still another sign (no pun intended) of change in the air. Last December, Laemmle Theatres opened its spacious, up-to-date NoHo 7 complex in North Hollywood, near my neck of the woods, and this too signals a sea change: there are no 35mm projectors in the complex. Greg Laemmle, who genuinely cares about movies (and proves it week after week, booking and supporting independent films, documentaries and foreign imports), pointed out something to me that I’d never thought about in all the discussion of digital presentation. Not only is there no longer a need for projectionists: there’s no need for projection booths! If there are no prints to stack and store, no reels to rewind, and no splices to make, the space is no longer necessary.
How can there be a movie theater without a projection booth and a beam of light emanating from it, through a square pane of glass? Mark that as one more facet of the moviegoing experience that’s fading fast. Going, going, gone.