Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The Biograph Theatre, Washington, D.C.

Brian posted a link that had a bit about a list of the best films of the 1930s and the comments section of that post got me thinking of the old Biograph Theatre, in Washington, D.C..

The theatre was perched on the very edge of Georgetown and I was lucky enough to go there a few times when I was a kid.

Given where I lived up until the age of 10, the drive into the city would have taken my parents about 30 minutes with traffic and parking and all that.

My biological father took me there a few times. I tend to have a superb memory when it comes to stuff like movies and music. I am sure that I went there a few times but the screenings that come to mind now are a double feature of Things to Come (1936) and King Kong (1933), and another double feature of Singin' in the Rain (1952) and An American in Paris (1951).

I am pretty sure that I had seen all of those films on television already -- Kong for sure -- but, in a pre-VCR world, it was maddening to have to wait for a showing maybe once a year.

And it gave me the chance to see those films on a big screen.

I also vaguely recall another Kong screening there where the "uncut" edition was billed.

I do remember being delighted at seeing this version of my favorite film as a kid, the scenes of Kong's violence -- trampling-and-then-chewing-on natives, dropping a woman out of a building -- and the extended striptease of Ann Darrow just thrilling me as a 9-year-old.

This poster reminds me that it was on a double bill with 1932's The Most Dangerous Game and I do vaguely recall seeing that double feature there as well.

This link is wonderful! There is a bit of the movie poster collage visible in one photo.

The main theater had a side entrance that was covered just by a curtain so you could duck out to go to the restroom without making too much noise. And I can recall every trip to the restroom for me as a kid would take extra time as I studied and scanned that wall mural!

My stepfather took me to the Biograph in the fall of 1982 for my first taste of Kurosawa: a double feature of Yojimbo (1961) and Sanjuro (1962).

I probably went into that screening with visions of more action in my mind, having read so many interviews with George Lucas where he name-checked Akira Kurosawa as being an influence on Star Wars.

However, that kind of action was not what Kurosawa was after and those two films required a bit more attention. I had seen a few foreign films on TV as a kid but I felt like a bigshot at 15 going to see those Japanese films in the city with my stepfather.

What's most vivid about that visit to the Biograph was the resounding cheer from the Saturday afternoon audience when the trailer for 1970's Zatoichi meets Yojimbo came on screen.

That's the film the 15-year-old me wanted to see! (No offense to the genius of Kurosawa.)

About a year before that, I was getting heavily into Sherlock Holmes. As I was -- and am -- a huge fan of the 1979 film Time After Time, I was immediately smitten by The Seven-Per-Cent Solution (1976), based on a book by Nicholas Meyer.

I saw the film on TV in 1981 but dragged my parents to a screening that fall when it was on a double bill with The Hound of the Baskervilles (1939) at the Biograph.

Another case of paying money to see two films I had seen on TV already!

I remember that my parents went to have dinner at a nearby Vietnamese restaurant while I sat through first feature, Hound of the Baskervilles, my dinner being snack bar hot dogs and soda, until they joined me for The Seven-Per-Cent Solution.

I regret not seeing Todd Haynes' Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story (1987) at the Biograph -- it played there for quite some time I recall before legal issues forced its removal -- but I was lucky enough to see something memorable for my final visit to the Biograph (though I didn't know at the time that the place was to close a year later to be turned into a drugstore):

Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! (1965).