Why It’s Great to Be a Media Buff in LA (Part Two)

The Velaslavasay Panorama — The 19th century Panoramas were astonishing mixtures of painting, music, sound effects, and spoken narration, important ancestors of the cinema and other immersive media of our century. This facility is dedicated to preserving the memory of these great spectacles. We saw a great re-enactment from the original script of a narrative about a journey from South America up the coast of California last summer and throughout the year, they have hosted periodic lectures on 19th century showmanship and popular art.

The Hollywood Museum – Inside the old Max Factor Factory, this collection of movie memorabilia is full of treasures. For example, it turns out that Pee-Wee’s bicycle is not in the basement of the Alamo as he suspects, but rather, here is the heart of old Hollywood. There are also the death masks which Forest Ackerman collected of Karloff, Lagosi, Chaney, Price, and other great horror actors alongside the set from Hannibal Lecter’s cell in Silence of the Lambs, costumes from Theda Bara, Mae West, Marilyn Monroe, W.C. Fields, and Lucille Ball, alongside materials from this year’s hot releases. The signage is pathetic, the display is more or less random except for a downstairs area organized by the hair color of leading ladies (so red for Lucile Ball and Rita Haywood, blond for Shirley Temple and Jean Harlow). This is less a museum than a romp through someone’s attic. Glance through a window into the storage area and you can see a Maltese Falcon, heaven only knows if it is real. This is truly the stuff that dreams are made of.

The Cinefamily at the Silent Movie Theater – A LA tradition, this is an all purpose retrohouse with strong emphasis on camp and cult cinema during much of the week, but I love it for two great ongoing series. First, there’s The Silent Treatment the first Wednesday of every month, which is when the theater lives up to its name, and shares both classic and obscure silent films to a packed house of folks who love what they are seeing. They do Chaplin, Keaton, Griffith, and Eisenstein, to be sure, but they also do titles there I have never seen showing anywhere else. So, coming up this summer are W.C. Fields in So’s Your Old Man and Lilian Gish in The Scarlet Letter. My other favorite are the animation screenings currated and hosted by Jerry Beck. I was really happy to see a showcase of the works of Cartoon Modernist Gene Deitch, including an appearance of the great man himself.

Arclight Cinerama Dome: Arclight promises us a “state of the art” exhibition experience and it provides it, but what I am most interested in is the Cinerama Dome itself, one of the few surviving theaters with this configuration in the world. It’s wasted, for the most part, on contemporary movies which are not designed to exploit the screen’s surround-vision features, but I was lucky enough to catch part of a Cinerama Festival the theater hosted shortly after I arrived. I was awestruck to see How the West Was Won shown through three projectors simultaneously on a screen that completely engulfs your peripheral vision. I had seen the movie on television, but nothing prepared me for the actual Cinerama experience. I can only wish they would show more Cinerama movies there.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences — I will admit that I have so far underutilized the remarkable lecture and screening series hosted by the Academy, but I hope to make up for it this summer. All summer long, the Academy is showing films from the 1920s, which won Photoplay’s Medal of Honor (a kind of People’s Choice award). The films include many which have fallen into relative obscurity, including Humoresque, Four Sons, The Covered Wagon, Seventh Heaven, and Beau Geste.

The Hollywood Heritage Museum — Across the street from the Hollywood Bowl, this ramshackled old facility would be easy to overlook. Built in 1913 by Jesse Laske and Cecil B. Demille to shoot The Squaw Man, this was the first major film studio in Hollywood. A few times a year, they open the facility and screen movies there. The screenings are technically poor but the sense of history of watching silent movies within these walls more than makes up for the periodic blackouts and the folding chair seating, making for a memorable occasion. My favorite experience here so far was a lecture and screening by a Three Stooges fan group which was trying to track down the locations where their silent comedies were shot.

The Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising: Only a few blocks from my apartment, the FIDM was host to the LA season of Project Runaway, but more immediately pertinent, it hosts an ongoing series of exhibits of costume designs, including annual showcases for the Acadamy Awards and Emmy Award nominees and showcases of specific projects (Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland, being a personal fave) and designers.

California Artists Radio Theater — A recent discovery of mine, though a long-time Los Angeles institution, a group of veteran actors get together once a month and publically perform radio drama inside the Beverly Garland Holiday Inn’s conference room. We discovered it because they were doing one of Norman Corwin’s historical dramas in honor of my USC colleague’s 101st Birthday. Corwin was there amongst us, enjoying Birthday Cake, thank you very much, and his gifted friends shared an hour of high entertainment. Take a look at the list of actors who have performed here through the years, and you will see why I plan to come back as often as I can.

The Magic Castle — This is where all the magic geeks go to hang out. There are typically six or more different magicians performing each night in different showrooms embedded in this meandering Victorian mansion, and there are many more magicians, professional and amateur, in the audience, many of whom will also break out a deck of cards and show you a few tricks while you are awaiting the next performance, and the space is crammed with artifacts reflecting the history of prestidigitation, including stuff from Houdini and W.C. Fields.

And of course, the one truth about media in LA, above all others, is that no matter where you go to watch an old movie in this town, the odds are high that it is going to be introduced by Leonard Maltin. :-)

These are some of my favorite media experiences in Los Angeles. There are a few things I know about like the summer movie screenings inside the Hollywood Forever graveyard which I have yet to see and I am leaving off the big amusement parks, the research archives, university film screenings, and some of the live shootings for network television here. But what else am I missing? Share your favorite media experiences in Los Angeles with me via email at hjenkins@usc.edu