Viewing Star Wars

Just wanted to reblog this post to mark the 40th Anniversary #StarWars40

Viewing Star Wars

Star Wars opened to the public on May 25th 1977 – the Wednesday before Memorial weekend. But I saw it before the public did, because that was my job.

At that time I worked for the Saffle Theater Service in Seattle, WA, and had been for a year. Part of my job was to attend the screenings of upcoming films and report back whether in my judgment the film would “play” or “not play” in the venues we negotiated for. If it were an art film or a documentary more than likely it was not for us, unless the boss deemed it a candidate for our theaters in the Moscow, ID/Pullman, WA area (homes respectively for the University of Idaho and Washington State University). If it were a saturation booking like “Sky Riders” from Fox, and if it was slated to have a massive TV advertising campaign, then, of course the answer was a resounding yes. We had quite a few drive ins and tank towns that wanted to get in on that action.

When the screening for a sci-fi fantasy film from Fox was announced in May of 1977 there was no buzz, no excitement going around among the denizens of Seattle’s film row. In fact, I don’t think there was any interest at all. I, however, was very interested.

Around Christmas of 1976, Fox had put out a brochure for their upcoming titles for 1977. I perused it as I did for similar offerings from the other distributors. Here Fox was touting the likes of The Other Side of Midnight, Julia, The Turning Point, and High Anxiety. What riveted my attention was the spread on a sci-fi title called Star Wars. The graphic didn’t mean a thing (of course it didn’t, no one had seen the picture yet – it showed Luke and Leia from the shaft scene on the Death Star). But the “written and directed by” credit did. And that was why I was excited – for it cited a name that I recognized as the director of American Grafitti, George Lucas.

So, it was with great anticipation that I sat with my wife in the UA Cinema 150 to see it unspool for the first time in Seattle. And we were not disappointed. The Cinema 150 sits (or rather did sit) under a dome and has (had) a gigantic screen. That screen filled an 120 degree field of view to your front. The opening scroll and the electrifying score racheted up the anticipation. And I swear that when that Star Destroyer loomed into the scene in pursuit of the other space ship, you felt that it was directly on top of you (I think it had something to do with the sense of space imparted by that dome).

From that moment I knew that this film was going to do fantastic, light years ahead of American Grafitti, but even so I did not know just how epic the grosses were going to be.

[Aside – I did have problem trying to convince one of our clients to play it at their theater. The Olympic theater in Forks, WA., did not want to take a chance on playing it until it was available for their normal two day schedule. They were only open four days a week – with two changes, one bill on Friday and Saturday and the other on Sunday and Monday. I finally convinced him to play it all four days, resulting in a record gross for him. Not surprisingly, he held it over another weekend].

Confessions of an Assistant Theater Manager

Confessions of an Assistant Theater Manager

Early in 1973, I had switched from being a doorman at the single screen theater, the Cinerama, to a job as assistant manager for the UA Cinema 150 and 70 down on Sixth and Blanchard. It was unlike any theater I had worked in up to that time. Yes, I had toiled in twin cinemas before, but the UA was different.

It was a twin theater that was twin everything. Each theater had its own projection booth, and its own concession stand with their own stock rooms. They did share one box office between them. You entered through the box office area, paid for your tickets, and either went right to the Cinema 150 or left to Cinema 70.

The lobby of the 150 was striking. It was lit by chandeliers and the white floors made it brighter. The walls were decorated with white wall paper that was imprinted with a red brocade pattern (this feature always reminded me of an ice cream parlor). Stairs led up from the lobby to the auditorium filled with rocking chair loges. Whereas the ceiling over the 70 was normal, that over the 150 was a high dome structure.

There was something just a bit eerie about walking in this auditorium. You could sense the whole structure move slightly under your tread as you walked up the aisle, for underneath it was all wood construction.

Mr. William Shonk was the manager of the UA (and also the regional manager for the UA circuit). He was a reserved individual, who approached everything with a calm and collected demeanor. He was all business in his relationships, though on certain occasions a wry sense of humor showed through the cracks of his reserve.

Around the time Mr. Shonk hired me, Sounder graced the screen on the 70 side and was doing a bit of business due to its four Oscar nominations. We had quite a few school groups coming in to see it. On the 150 side Harold and Maude shared a bill with Travels with My Aunt.

I wasn’t much older than the rest of the staff, the box office cashiers, the concession workers, and the ushers – most memorably – Karl, Wendy, Billie, and Fabio. (Add Wendy’s boyfriend Pat and you could not find a crazier bunch of cinephiles).

Given the responsibility to manage workers roughly the same age, was perhaps not the best situation, especially when we had time on our hands and the boss wasn’t around. The one instance along this line that I recall occurred just after putting a matinee show in. Concessions were restocked, the lobby was swept clean and empty of customers, (they were all in their seats, with eyes on the show, and not on us). Our breaks were upcoming for which we would each pour ourselves a small drink and use a similar cup for some popcorn (if you wanted candy or ice cream you had to pay for it). But since it was not yet break time, what else could we do?

That’s when curious minds enquired away. I must have been returning a stack of cups to their case, having misjudged how many were needed to refill the dispensers. That’s when I asked myself – “What would happen to this paper cup, if it were filled within a half inch from the top and set on fire?” Would it continue to burn when it reached the level of the liquid? Or would it continue to consume the outside of the cup where it had a dry surface and oxygen? Why don’t we experiment?

So, we did. We made sure to conduct it in a clear area behind the door to the stock room well away from anything else flammable. We took a small cup, filled it with some water, and set the lip on fire. It caught easily and made a neat ring of flame around the top. And as you may have guessed it extinguished itself when the cup burned down to the level of the water. And we learned another little fact – the wax on the cup had melted and spread across the surface of the water holding it in place.

Although this was an interesting bit of information, I have yet to employ the knowledge gained in any useful way.

Viewing Star Wars

Viewing Star Wars

With “Star Wars the Force Awakens” everywhere in the news and on the brink of its opening this Friday, I thought I’d chime in with a post about my viewing of the first seminal film. It opened to the public on May 25th 1977 – the Wednesday before Memorial weekend. But I saw it before the public did, because that was my job.

At that time I worked for the Saffle Theater Service in Seattle, WA, and had been for a year. Part of my job was to attend the screenings of upcoming films and report back whether in my judgment the film would “play” or “not play” in the venues we negotiated for. If it were an art film or a documentary more than likely it was not for us, unless the boss deemed it a candidate for our theaters in the Moscow, ID/Pullman, WA area (homes respectively for the University of Idaho and Washington State University). If it were a saturation booking like “Sky Riders” from Fox, and if it was slated to have a massive TV advertising campaign, then, of course the answer was a resounding yes. We had quite a few drive ins and tank towns that wanted to get in on that action.

When the screening for a sci-fi fantasy film from Fox was announced in May of 1977 there was no buzz, no excitement going around among the denizens of Seattle’s film row. In fact, I don’t think there was any interest at all. I, however, was very interested.

Around Christmas of 1976, Fox had put out a brochure for their upcoming titles for 1977. I perused it as I did for similar offerings from the other distributors. Here Fox was touting the likes of The Other Side of Midnight, Julia, The Turning Point, and High Anxiety. What riveted my attention was the spread on a sci-fi title called Star Wars. The graphic didn’t mean a thing (of course it didn’t, no one had seen the picture yet – it showed Luke and Leia from the shaft scene on the Death Star). But the “written and directed by” credit did. And that was why I was excited – for it cited a name that I recognized as the director of American Grafitti, George Lucas.

So, it was with great anticipation that I sat with my wife in the UA Cinema 150 to see it unspool for the first time in Seattle. And we were not disappointed. The Cinema 150 sits (or rather did sit) under a dome and has (had) a gigantic screen. That screen filled an 120 degree field of view to your front. The opening scroll and the electrifying score racheted up the anticipation. And I swear that when that Star Destroyer loomed into the scene in pursuit of the other space ship, you felt that it was directly on top of you (I think it had something to do with the sense of space imparted by that dome).

From that moment I knew that this film was going to do fantastic, light years ahead of American Grafitti, but even so I did not know just how epic the grosses were going to be.

[Aside – I did have problem trying to convince one of our clients to play it at their theater. The Olympic theater in Forks, WA., did not want to take a chance on playing it until it was available for their normal two day schedule. They were only open four days a week – with two changes, one bill on Friday and Saturday and the other on Sunday and Monday. I finally convinced him to play it all four days, resulting in a record gross for him. Not surprisingly, he held it over another weekend].