Kool Kat of the Week: Where is Love and LAWRENCE OF ARABIA? Scott Hardin Finds Both as Projectionist for the Fabulous Fox Theatre

Posted on: Jul 26th, 2013 By:

Fox Theatre Projectionist Scott Hardin with an original 1929 projector.

By Gretchen Jacobsen
Contributing Writer

While The Fabulous Fox Theatre was not actually conceived as a movie house (it was originally intended to be the headquarters for the Shriners’ organization) and it amazingly almost faced the wrecking ball in the 1970s, its history as the Southeast’s premiere glittering palace of cinema is firmly entrenched.

While The Fox has been transformed from a movie house to a multipurpose arts venue, its storied past in cinema is kept alive by the Coca-Cola Summer Film Festival which kicked off in June. From now through August, The Fox will present seven more features on the biggest screen in Atlanta. Before the movie starts, patrons are treated to a sing-a-long with the “Mighty Mo” organ and a vintage cartoon. This weekend’s features include Quentin Tarantino‘s DJANGO UNCHAINED (2012)[Fri. July 26 at 7:30 p.m.], the animated caveman comedy THE CROODS (2013) [Sat. July 27 at 2 p.m.] and a new digital version of LAWRENCE OF ARABIA (1962) [Sun. July 28 at 4 p.m.]as well as the official Sing-a-Long version of the John Travolta-Olivia Netwon-John ’50s-themed high school movie musical GREASE (1978), which is not part of the official series.

Only in July, the Fox Theater also will present special movie tours before this weekend’s Coca-Cola Summer Film Festival screenings. These tours will take you to the projection booth, screening room, two star dressing rooms and the stage while learning about the history of the movie palace and Mr. William Fox‘s innovations. The Fox also offers behind-the-scenes hour-long tours year-round.

Making this all possible, in a sense, is our Kool Kat of the Week, Scott Hardin. Scott has been the film projectionist at the Fox since 1978, making this his 39th year in the projection booth. We recently caught up with Scott to talk about film, history, the new tours and his own beginnings in “showbiz.”

ATLRetro: How did you become a film projectionist? 

Scott Hardin: I was too old to pretend I was Zorro anymore, even though my grandmother made me a wonderful cape that I got a lot of mileage out of. That, and a friend of mine I had met when he was working for Theater of the Stars – while I was a 14-year-old kid in THE SOUND OF MUSIC – had later joined the projectionists’ union and thought I might like to train to be one, too, given our past “showbiz” affiliations. He was a great friend named Jeb Stewart, who had actually sung on Broadway in the chorus of various shows. My biggest claim to fame had been playing the role of OLIVER at 12 years of age in the summer production at Theater Under the Stars, which was then outdoors at Chastain Park Amphitheater. What does that have to do with your question?  Not a thing, but I can still sing “Where is Love?” for you if you’d like.  Jeb Stewart later became the Business Agent of the Projectionist’s Union and sent me to help with the Fox projector installation those many years ago.

The auditorium and stage of the Fox Theatre. Photo credit: Yukari Umekawa.

When did you start at The Fox? What was the Fox like at that time?

I started in the spring of 1978 helping with the installation of projectors that had been brought over from the Loew’s Grand Theatre [Ed. note: another Atlanta movie palace which had been the site of the world premiere of GONE WITH THE WIND (1939) and tragically was destroyed by fire that year].  I was a young movie projectionist with four years of experience at the time and was sent to fill in for an older projectionist who had to go deal with personal issues for a few days. I remember carrying some of my dad’s tools with me to the job in a Kroger sack. I told them “Don’t worry, I’ll only be here for a few days.”  Well, that was 35 years ago and the other guy’s never returned.  I’m pretty sure he’s not coming back.

The doors to the theatre were locked with chains when I arrived. I was told to knock loudly on the door and ask for Joe Patten. After banging the arcade door as loudly as I could, a young receptionist came over to unlock the door. I told her I was there to work with Joe Patten on the movie projectors, and she just turned around and yelled as loudly as she could towards the auditorium:  “JOE!!! …JOE PATTEN!!!”  (This was before they had walkie-talkies to communicate with.) After no one answered she said, “well, he’s probably backstage.  Just wander back there and see if you can find him.” (Ed: Joe served as The Fox’s technical director from 1974 to 2004. He was granted a lifetime rent free lease in the 1970s and still lives in an apartment at The Fox.)

Scott Hardin with the new digital projection system.

Is there a film you projected at The Fox that you think was terribly overrated? 

I think the film OLIVER [1968] was overrated because I wasn’t in it.

What about underrated?

THE ADVENTURES OF ROCKY AND BULLWINKLE (2001) was terribly underrated.  How can you get more poignant than that?

One of the exciting films of this year’s Coca-Cola Film Festival is a new digital print of David Lean’s masterpiece LAWRENCE OF ARABIA. What can viewers expect out of this release?

They will see a beautiful rendition of the original negative of the 70mm film print, this time shown in Digital Cinema with no fading of color, no scratches, no splices, no interruptions of sound.  They can also expect camels.

Another film on the docket is the sing-a-long version of GREASE. Will you be singing along with the audience?

I’ll be sitting in a seat in the balcony using a remote volume fader to turn the sound levels up and down while following a script that has my sound cues in it.  I’ll be singing loudly at the same time too, except I’ll be singing “Where Is Love?”

Sing-a-Long Grease at Prince Charles Theatre, Leicester Square. Photo courtesy of Fox Theatre.

Before this weekend’s screenings, moviegoers can book special Movie Tours at The Fox. What’s your favorite “secret” place people will see on the tour?

My office door backstage that has my name and the word “Propmaster” above it.  It’s my secret, because even though I do double duty as the Props Department Head, I’m not really a “master” at it – I barely have a green belt – but if somebody paints “master” above your name, you have to keep up appearances.

Will you be in the projection room during the tours?

Yes, in all probability, along with my assistant Mike.

How has The Fox changed over your 35 years?

There have been so many changes it’s hard to enumerate them all. There’s a general trend in technology from analog to digital, and from simple to complex. I’ve also noticed people I’ve worked with for years gradually start to look older and wonder why I still look 28.

What do you think about the change in film from celluloid to digital? Is projection easier? More difficult?

Digital Cinema projection is easier because you don’t have to inspect and repair each frame of film by hand, and it looks and sounds great when everything works. However, you’re relying on computers to always work perfectly, which everyone knows is fraught with folly, and [that] will make it less reliable than film in the long run, in my opinion.

The original 1929 projectors at the Fox Theatre. Photo courtesy of the Fox Theatre.

Finally, which film have you projected the most? And how many times?

I have projected GONE WITH THE WIND on 11 different occasions in my 35 years at the Fox. One time in 1989 was for a 50th anniversary re-premiere with some of the surviving cast members on the stage. The most prominent was Butterfly McQueen, who played Prissy. My friend Jeb Stewart, who was responsible for first sending me to the Fox, helped me project the movie that night.

This Weekend’s Movie Details:

DJANGO UNCHAINED (2012); Dir. Quentin Tarantino; Starring Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio, Kerry Washington and Samuel L. Jackson; Friday, July 26 @ 7:30 PM; Fox Theatre; Tickets here; Trailer here.

GREASE SING-A-LONG (1978); Dir. Randal Kleiser; Starring John Travolta, Olivia Newton-John and Stockard Channing; Saturday, July 27 @ 7:30 PM; Fox Theatre; Tickets here; Trailer here.

LAWRENCE OF ARABIA (1963); Dir. David Lean; Starring Peter O’Toole, Alec Guinness and Anthony Quinn; Sunday, July 28 @ 4:00 PM; Fox Theatre; Tickets here; Trailer here.

Gretchen Jacobsen is freelance producer, writer, costumer and film school graduate. She is also widely know by her Steampunk nom de internet, Wilhelmina Frame, and serves as the Editrix de Mode for the website Steampunk Chronicle.

 

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Kool Kat of the Week: Rediscovering the Magic of the Fabulous Fox Theatre Through the Atlanta Preservation Center’s Walking Tour.

Posted on: Jun 19th, 2012 By:

This ornate lamp is just one of the 1000 magical design details in the Fox Theatre. Photo Credit: Jaclyn Cook.

By Lisa Stock
Contributing Writer

Can a building be a Kool Kat? If you know the Fabulous Fox Theatre as intimately as we do, we think you’ll say a resounding “yes!” After writing, directing and producing several fairy tale-inspired films (TITANIA, THE JULES VERNE PROJECT) and an unique experiential play of Neil Gaiman’s SNOW, GLASS, APPLES, we figured contributing writer Lisa Stock knows something about stage magic, so we asked her to take one of the Atlanta Preservation Center‘s walking tours and report back… 

As locals we’ve all been to the Fox Theatre, whether to see movies, concerts, or to show it off to visiting relatives. We love to sit under its starry sky and touch the wheel of the nautical ticket chomper as we enter. We drive past it every day, it’s always been there, and after almost losing it in the 1970s, we hope it always will be.

When I worked at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Annenberg Collection had acquired Van Gogh’s “Wheatfield with Crows.” It was exceptional. I ran past it every day on my way from one office to another, directed tourists to its gallery, confirmed that—yes it had been sold for $53 million and went on my way. Until one day at lunch I went in the gallery and sat in front of it—for about an hour. One of the curators was there and told me its story: where it had been painted, at what point in Van Gogh’s life, that there were several other versions, but this one had not been seen for 100 years because it had been in private ownership. Its thousand words spoke out, and suddenly the painting took on a new life and a new appreciation for me.

The nautical ticket chomper at the Fox Theatre. Photo Credit: Jaclyn Cook.

Similarly, on a rainy Saturday morning at the end of January, I had the chance to hear the thousand words of the Fox Theatre. It is a masterpiece of its own, and has quite a tale (or 200) to tell. If you haven’t been on the tour yet—GO! They’re led by knowledgeable volunteers who give individualized tours depending on how they love the theater.

We were taken around by Vic Jester, who focused on the extraordinary architectural details of the building. He wove tales of gatherings, performances and parties, of eras gone by and a landmark rising up from the cold days of almost being closed forever. I was intrigued by the design of the theater influenced by the Taj Mahal and the 1920s discovery of King Tut’s tomb—all stemming from a contest by its original owners, the Shriners, to “Out Baghdad Baghdad.” As you walk through the Egyptian Ballroom and the Grand Salon, you feel like a character in CASABLANCA or expect to see Pepe Le Moko come around the corner. There are hidden repetitions in the Islamic art of the stained glass ceiling and opulent chairs in the Men’s and Ladies lounges (which were designed to emulate the room structure of a Middle Eastern harem). It’s not just the ancient epochs that greet you here, but the decades of the 20th century and its inhabitants, too. A door leads to the old infirmary where in case one felt faint, a nurse was onsite to care for you. Private telephone booths in the lounges are available to make personal calls. The Mighty Mo, a grand Moller organ rises up from the orchestra pit to lend music to the show.

You even learn about how the starry ceiling is created, from paint to lights—just in case you’d like to do that to your own house. There’s a lot to be noticed and appreciated on the walls and floors, too. Just about every inch of the Fox has a story behind it. Going to the theater used to be an experience, one you saved up for, dressed up for, and looked forward to for weeks. There are few of these atmosphere theaters still standing in America of this caliber—but how lucky we are to have one here in our very own city that is still hosting performances and films, and welcoming you like member of royalty.

The stained glass ceiling of the Fox Theatre's Grand Salon. Photo credit: Jaclyn Cook.

This weekend there are several great Retro reasons to return to the Fox. Norah Jones will be jazzing it up on the Fox’s magnificent stage Saturday night June 17 Or sing-a-long with Julie Andrews and the Trapp Family children during a special screening of THE SOUND OF MUSIC (1965) at 2 p.m. on Sunday June 18 in The Fox Theatre’s Coca-Cola Summer Film Festival.  But to really get to know the history and tales of this wonderful local landmark for just $10, consider taking an Atlanta Preservation Center walking tour of the Fox or a historic Atlanta neighborhood such as Sweet Auburn, InmanPark and Grant Park.  While you’re there, keep an eye out for all the scarabs!

See more photos of the Fox Theater by photographer Jaclyn Cook, who took the shots included in this article, here.

 

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Kool Kat of the Week: Silent No More: Organist Ron Carter Restores the Music to Garbo’s FLESH AND THE DEVIL and More at Marietta’s Strand Theatre

Posted on: Aug 24th, 2011 By:

One might almost think it was the 1920s this week in Atlanta. This city is lucky to have two vintage movie palaces with mighty organs, and both are playing classic silent movies this week with live accompaniment. First at the Fabulous Fox on Thurs. Aug. 25 at 7:30 p.m.  is THE MARK OF ZORRO (1920), one of the final three features in this year’s Coca-Cola Summer Film Festival. Then on Sunday at 2:30 p.m., the Earl Smith Strand Theatre in Marietta presents FLESH AND THE DEVIL (1926), a dramatic romantic gem fraught with passion and betrayal that stars Greta Garbo in her first appearance in an American movie.

And just a few weeks from now on Sun. Sept. 11 at 3 p.m., Callanwolde is going to be hosting PIPES ON PEACHTREE, a program by the Atlanta Chapter of the American Theatre Organ Society (ACATOS) on Atlanta’s movie palaces of the 1920s, ‘30s and 40s, and their organs including Joe Patten, Atlanta’s “Phantom of the Fox”; noted organist technician and teacher John Tanner; and John Clark McCall, author of ATLANTA FOX ALBUM and other articles about Atlanta’s theatres. Highlights include a pictorial tour, playing of Callanwolde’s own 60-rank Aeolian residence pipe organ and the opportunity to tour the 1920s Gothic-Tudor mansion.

Inside The Earl Smith Strand Theatre. Photo courtesy of The Strand.

ATLRetro caught up with Ron Carter, who’ll be playing the Mighty Allen Theatre Organ at The Strand on Sun. for a sneak preview of all these upcoming events and why in the digital age, it’s still an amazing experience to see a movie in a vintage venue with live musical accompaniment. And frankly it gives us chills that Ron also be accompanying DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE (1920), starring John Barrymore, on Oct. 30, at The Strand, closing out what has been a four-film silent series.

Let’s start with your take on what’s so special about seeing a classic movie at The Earl Smith Strand Theatre? Why should people in 2011 want to spend a summer Sunday afternoon watching a silent movie in a vintage cinema?

The Strand is a very unique venue. It was built in 1935 and at that time was the largest neighborhood movie theatre in the Atlanta metro area. Now it is the only neighborhood theatre in the Atlanta area which has been restored (I call it an adaptive restoration) to what it was originally intended to be and more! Our marquee is an exact replica (except for the state-of-the-art digital reader board) of the art deco one with real neon that was installed when the theatre opened in 1935 but then replaced with a “modern” one in 1964 during a remodeling by the Georgia Theatre Company. UGH—it was ugly!

Then when one walks into our outer art deco lobby and views the etched glass above our entrance doors, the ceramic tile floors and granite countertops, and the metal ceiling, you are transported back into a time when a theater was more than just four walls with some curtains hanging to cover up the cement block. Then you reach the inner lobby with its grand staircase, copper-painted ceiling, ornate chandelier and mosaic-covered lighting fixtures. All of this creates an expectation and wonder of what lies beyond the ornate auditorium doors! Samuel Rothafel (aka “Roxy”), who built the largest movie palace in the world in New York’s Times Square (over 6000 seats), had a famous quote. He said “The show starts on the sidewalk.” He felt that the building, the environment, the overall experience  was just as important to the patron as the show on the stage.

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This Week in Retro Atlanta, July 11-17, 2011

Posted on: Jul 12th, 2011 By:

Monday July 11

From 3 PM on, savor tropical sounds and libations, as well as a Polynesian dinner during Mai Tai Monday at Smith’s Olde BarKingsized and Tongo Hiti lead singer Big Mike Geier is Monday night’s celebrity bartender at Sister Louisa’s Church of the Living Room and Ping Pong ParlorNorthside Tavern hosts its weekly Blues Jam.

Tuesday July 12

It’s a full moon movie Tuesday as two 35 mm classics featuring creatures on the prowl return to the big screens of Atlanta two most Retro cinemas. Elizabeth Taylor slinks like A CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF at the Fabulous Fox Theatre. Read Dean Treadway‘s review of the 1958 film based on the Tennessee Williams play of the same title, also starring Paul Newman and Burl Ives here, and be sure to be there by 7 p.m. for the Mighty Mo‘ organ singalong, cartoon and vintage newsreel. Then at 9:30 p.m. at The Plaza, Splatter Cinema presents AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON, the 1981 John Landis-directed cult favorite that introduced audiences to the full-body monster transformation with special make-up effects. Read Philip Nutman‘s review here.

Sultry and sexy ’80s torch-singer Sade performs with John Legend at Philips Arena. Grab your horn and head to Twain’s in Decatur for a Joe Gransden jazz jam session starting at 9 PM. JT Speed plays the blues at Fat Matt’s Rib Shack. Notorious DJ Romeo Cologne spins the best ‘70s funk and disco at 10 High in Virginia-Highland. Catch Tuesday Retro in the Metro nights at Midtown’s Deadwood Saloon, featuring live video mixes of ’80s, ’90s, and 2Ks hits.

Wednesday  July 13

Sade plays a second night with John Legend at Philips Arena. Vocalist Boz Scaggs sings American classics from Gershwin to Rodgers and Hart at Classic Chastain with former Doobie Brother Michael McDonald. Get ready to rumba, cha-cha and jitterbug at the weekly Swing Night at Graveyard Tavern. Deacon Brandon Reeves bring the blues to Fat Matt’s Rib Shack and Danny “Mudcat” Dudeck blues it down at Northside Tavernrespectively. Dance to ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s hits during Retro in the Metro Wednesdays presented by Godiva Vodka, at Pub 71 in Brookhaven.

Thursday  July 14

The Craigger White Band bring back the spirit of ’70s rock at Kathmandu Restaurant & Grill in Clarkston. All Thursday shows at the Vietnamese restaurant are free and all-ages. Go Retro-Polynesian to Tongo Hiti’s luxurious live lounge sounds, as well as some trippy takes on iconic pop songs, just about every Thursday night at Trader Vic’s. Party ‘70s style with DJ Romeo Cologneat Aurum LoungeBreeze Kings and Chickenshack bring on the blues respectively at Northside Tavern and Fat Matt’s Rib Shack.Bluegrass Thursday at Red Light Cafe features Hunger Valley Boys.

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Retro Review: Elizabeth Taylor Purrs on the Big Screen in CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF at the Fabulous Fox

Posted on: Jul 10th, 2011 By:

By Dean Treadway
Contributing Blogger

CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF (1965); based on the Tennessee Williams play; Dir: Richard Brooks; Screenplay by Richard Brooks and James Poe; Starring Elizabeth Taylor, Paul Newman, Burl Ives, Judith Anderson; Tues. July 12; pre-show at 7 PM/film at 7:30 p.m.; Coca-Cola Summer Film Festival at Fox Theatre. Trailer here.

Surely, the recent passing of superstar Elizabeth Taylor is behind the programming of 1958’s CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF at the Fabulous Fox on Tuesday, July 12.  And it’s a good choice, too. Taylor’s sultry, skimpily-dressed Maggie The Cat is one of her most iconic performances, and is certainly the definitive filmed (or televised) portrayal of scribe Tennessee Williams’ most cunning heroine.

Still, the film version of Williams’ Pulitzer Prize-winning 1955 play could be better. In it, Paul Newman plays Maggie’s husband Brick, a former football star who’s literally been crippled by booze (he spends the whole film hobbled by crutches). Living on his bloated, bellowing father’s “plantation,” he’s constantly getting jabbed from all sides. His needling father and mother (the excellent Burl Ives and Judith Anderson) are wondering why he and Maggie don’t have any children while his brother Gooper (Jack Carson) has had a whole passel of kids with his woman (Madeleine Sherwood). Meanwhile, Maggie has moved into full seduction mode; the play takes place on a hot summer day, but that’s not the only reason she’s often seen in her skivvies. She’s trying all she can do to put the fire back into their romance. But Brick won’t have any of it; the idea of he and Maggie together has become distasteful to him, because he still blames her for driving his best friend to suicide.

The problem with the film comes with this final detail. In the original play, it was pretty clear that Brick and his friend, Skipper, were engaged in a homosexual relationship, and that Maggie slept with Skipper in order to break the duo up. But none of this is alluded to in the film, because it was 1958 and the studio, MGM, would have none of it. So the central conflict in the film is incapacitated, just like Brick (Williams himself was disappointed with the film version, telling the press that the movies “would set the industry back 50 years“). And yet Paul Newman wisely conveys some pained undertones that let us know what was REALLY going on.

Paul Newman and Elizabeth Taylor in CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF. Copyright MGM Pictures, 1958.

The film bogs down in its middle, too, but it’s always handsome to look at, thanks to the Oscar-nominated color cinematography by William Daniels. And it boasts of one of the finest supporting performances in any Tennessee Williams adaptation: that of Burl Ives, reprising his Broadway triumph as the imposing Big Daddy Tabbitt, bemoaning the family’s danged “mendacity” while suffering, as a terminal case, through what might be his last birthday celebration. Somehow, Ives escaped an Oscar nomination himself, but Taylor and Newman got one, as did the film, its director (Richard Brooks) and its screenplay (by Brooks and James Poe).

In the end, although it’s not entirely successful, the main reason to see CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF is for Ives and for Taylor. Both are forces of nature, but for wildly different reasons, of course.  Ives blusters magnificently, while Taylor slinks around like the beautiful cat she is. The Fabulous Fox is the place to be on Tuesday, July 12 (the pre-show, with the Mighty Mo singalong, cartoon and trailers, starts at 7 p.m.); one cannot miss a chance to see the stunning Elizabeth Taylor writ large on the big screen, where her beauty and talent were always meant to be experienced.

Dean Treadway is a longtime Atlanta film analyst and film festival programmer with more than 25 years of published works. His popular film blog is called filmicability with Dean Treadway and can be perused here at http://www.filmicability.blogspot.com/.  He is also a correspondent for Movie Geeks United, the Internet’s #1 movie-related podcast, at http://www.blogtalkradio.com/moviegeeksunited.

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