UNITED STATES—A dismal jolt shook L.A.’s cinephilic community last week when the Pacific Theater Corporation announced that it had choked during the locked-down as a result of the COVID economy. It was a bracing jolt of reality, a reflection of families and individuals beyond measure, who endure unimaginable pain in silence due to the unprecedented pandemic shutdown, in the midst of a giddy reawakening. Now to their pain is added the betrayal felt by film lovers and the Los Angeles based movie theater chain’s employees, who have been terminated.
“This was not the outcome anyone wanted,” a corporate bulletin drily announced.
Among the upended were Mary McNamara, Los Angeles Times columnist, who bemoans the regional loss of the ArcLight chain which elevated movie culture, with special Q&As, reserved seating, live greeting/introductions by the Arclight staff before the Main presentation.
“I’m emotionally bent double, as if someone had kicked me in the stomach.”
The stay-sane image of McNamara during the masked months of social distancing was seeing herself “settling once again into one of those high-backed stadium seats at the Pasadena ArcLight…relaxing in glorious anticipation of at least 15 minutes worth of trailers.”
The fate of the Cinerama Dome is a personal one, since I live a few blocks from there. It’s a neighborhood fixture, and I enjoy a ritual route through the parking garage and into the esplanade, past the ply-boarded doors of the ArcLight, above which the giant illuminated-clock and it’s ever moving hands are still visible. Time, as Jorge Luis Borges argues, does not exist, but it sure helps for movie dates and getting there on time.
Now I will feel tristesse rather than anticipation when passing this secret, special way to Sunset Blvd. LA Historic Monument No. 259 (otherwise known as The Dome) was built expressly for the premiere of Stanley Kramer’s “It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World,” the first movie ever shot in single-strip Cinerama held at the geodesic Dome.
Stanley Kubrick’s “2001, A Space Odyssey” had its American premiere in this totally apt setting. (Funny thing, Malcolm McDowell, when first contacted to act in “A Clockwork Orange” thought he was going to see Stanley Kramer). Kramer, known as the Message Man, and producer of films such as “The Wild One” (with funding from Salinas Valley lettuce growers), and “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” has never been exactly a darling of critics, and yet it was a British lampooner of Kramer’s courtroom-holocaust drama, “Judgement at Nuremberg” who idly mused in 1960, “I wonder what a comedy by Mr. Kramer, the message man, look like?”
That was the seed. That’s all it took, according to Stanley Kramer’s widow, the idea got under Kramer’s skin. And it led to this 2:30 minute film, a repository of bygone comedians and comic styles, a cavalcade of stars. From Jack Benny to Jonathan Winters, and sui generis Ethel Merman as the mother-in-law to end all-mother-in-laws. (Who the heck else could reduce son-in-law Milton Berle to quivering jelly?)
Among big Hollywood comedy’s, it is the biggest. And it is the Rodney Dangerfield of them, getting No Respect from a lot of people. Like a kid bored in school posted, it’s an absolute masterpiece, two and a half hours of laughs.
(Part 2 next week)
Graydon Miller is the author of “Later Bloomer: Tales of Darkest Hollywood,” https://amzn.to/2Ljky3v.Ci