Back To The Future—With Mary Pickford Looking On

Back To The Future—With Mary Pickford Looking On

This year’s
edition of the Los Angeles Conservancy’s Last
Remaining Seats
series—now in its 28th successful year—marked a
milestone this weekend by returning to the long-unavailable United Artists
Theatre on Broadway. I was delighted to host a screening of Back to the Future in this celebrated
movie palace, which has been brought back to life as part of the trendy Ace
Hotel chain. While hipsters waited for admission to its restaurant and club,
Angelenos of all demographics packed the 1,600 seat theater to see a modern
favorite, a mere 29 years old, that was the most popular movie of 1985. (It far
outpaced other hits that year, which included Rocky IV, Out of Africa, and
The Goonies

Three of the
film’s actors joined me onstage: Lea Thompson, who plays Michael J. Fox’s
mother, Claudia Wells, who plays his girlfriend, and Don Fullilove, who plays
the future mayor of Hill Valley. They delighted the packed crowd with their
upbeat memories of making the film—even when six weeks’ of production were
scrapped to recast the leading role. (Wells had been shooting a TV series the
first time around, so she never got to work with the original star, Eric
Stoltz.) Thompson said that a day doesn’t go by when someone doesn’t talk to
her about Back to the Future.

The film
looked great on the giant United Artists screen, and played well, too—proving
that ingenuity and imagination did exist even before CGI.

Adding to the
fun was the fact that the original DeLorean used in the movie was parked right
in front of the theater on Broadway, with its memorable OUTATIME license plate.
No one missed an opportunity to take pictures of the time-traveling car. (Special
effects supervisor Kevin Pike, whose Filmtrix company built the “prop,” was
also in attendance.)

As to the
theater itself, which was closed to the general public during the long period
when televangelist Rev. Gene Scott used it as his church, it is a marvel to
behold. Inspired by Mary Pickford’s reaction to the 16th century cathedral
at Segovia, Spain, it was designed by architect C. Howard Crane and completed
in 1927.

Quoting the
Ace Hotel’s web page, “The grand entrance, intricate detail and awe-inspiring
craftsmanship illustrate Pickford’s prescient instinct to house cinema in
devotional dress. the ornately decorated open balcony and mezzanine overlook
the expansive theater, orchestra and proscenium arch, while thousands of tiny
mirrors glimmer in the vaulted ceilings.” You can read more HERE.

Not on
display Saturday night was a surviving fire curtain which bears the theater’s
official motto: “The film’s the thing.” In time, I hope the good folks at Ace
Hotel will be inspired to restore the badly-faded frescoes on the walls that
depict Pickford, Fairbanks, and Chaplin. Perhaps a year of successful concerts
will fund such an endeavor.

What a thrill
to be part of a sold-out crowd watching a Hollywood movie in this palatial
setting. If you don’t know about the Los Angeles Conservancy and its good
works, which extend far beyond this annual festival, you can learn more HERE. There
are three more screenings to go in this year’s Last Remaining Seats: Luis Bunuel’s El Gran Cavalera (The Great Madcap) at the opulent Los Angeles
Theatre on Wednesday, June 25, and Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane at the Orpheum on Saturday, June 28.  

Finally, if
you’d like to see Greg Laemmle’s conversation with Tom Sturges and Preston
Sturges, Jr. following the opening-night showing of The Lady Eve, click HERE. Greg presides over Los Angeles’ treasured Laemmle Theatre chain and is a
supporter of The Last Remaining Seats,
which tells you what kind of guy he is.



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