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: Dante Stephensen Takes Us Down the Hatch to Discover the Stories Behind the Iconic Atlanta Restaurant’s Interior Treasures

Posted on: Dec 19th, 2012 By:

A broad view of the interior of Dante's Down the Hatch. Photo courtesy of Dante's.

All good things must come to an end, the old saying goes, so it was with a heavy heart that we learned that Dante’s Down the Hatch will be closing its doors at the end of July 2013. One can understand why owner Dante Stephensen would decide to finally sell the property–he’s had a 42-year run living his dream and surely it’s time to allow him a comfortable retirement. In fact, it seems amazing that located on such prime real estate, Dante’s lasted as long as it did; it even survived a fire. What we can be thankful for is that at least, unlike so many Atlanta iconic restaurants from The Mansion (also designed by Dante; building now owned by SCAD) to Dailey’s, we have a chance to say good-bye.

I can remember the first time my dad took me to Dante’s as a child. How cool it was to step inside a coffin and descend even deeper into Underground Atlanta, the restaurant’s original location. Remember, that in the 1970s, Underground wasn’t an Epcotlike tiled shopping center. It was dark, lit only by gaslight, and one really felt transported into a bygone era of turn-of-the-century arcade machines, an old soda counter which even served Moxie, general shops full of those marvelous striped hard stick candies in every flavor you could imagine, a wax museum and a giant “Mighty Mortier” organ at the very end of the street. Its crown jewel was Dante’s, decorated to appear like a old sailing ship with a live jazz band performing and live crocodiles in the moat (you can see the graves of the original Throckmortons as you approach the current restaurant). Even the menu–fondue and cocktails in hurricane glasses–was all about sharing a true drinking and dining experience. It was the epitome of a ’70s theme restaurant, yes, but owner Dante, who was sure to stop by your table (he still does!), ensured it was never tacky or kitschy like so many of today’s attractions.

Photo courtesy of Dante's Down the Hatch.

In 1981, when crime forced the old Underground to close, Dante moved the Hatch north to Buckhead, which was quickly taking over the mantle of Atlanta’s fine restaurant hub from a pre-Olympics increasingly daytime-only downtown. The relocation offered him the opportunity to redesign the restaurant in a larger space and make it even more magical, including outdoor space for his antique car collection. While he did reopen the original Dante’s from 1989-99 when Underground underwent its more mall-like rebirth, the Buckhead restaurant became the flagship and a chance for Dante to be a perfectionist in creating a truly special dining experience.

A while back, Dante gave ATLRetro a private tour of some of the many artifacts that decorate the Hatch, including stories about why they appealed to him and, how he found them–many come from antique auctions in Commerce, California, in the early ’80s. Sometimes the items trigger memories of his colorful life or observations on his passion for animals or the study of the world’s religions. I read a quote recently from author Theodora Goss that some people have adventures and other people are adventures. Dante surely is the latter. We hope you’ll enjoy this candid journey with Dante Stephenson to nine special places around the Hatch and also visit and support this Atlanta landmark treasure as many times as you can before it closes.

A stained glass window made of pieces from different eras. Photo credit: ATLRetro.com

1) The Art of Stained Glass Windows and Feng Shui. “With all the bombing [in Europe in WWII], somebody was going around digging up scraps of glass. Take this piece that I just happened to buy. The person who picked up the pieces must have been an art historian because the eight pieces of glass that were placed into it come from different periods by different artists over about a 400-year period. I just thought it was interesting and had a very unique story. It would have been built overseas, probably in Britain because I picked it up at an auction in California in 1979 or ‘80 when I was buying the antiques for this place. I had drawn the plans, and I had a very talented builder. Very few builders could build something like this, so he was able to take the antiques and the structure and blend them together artistically. I mean, this place is feng shui all over the place, although at the time I didn’t know what the word meant.”

Dante's interior incorporates many elements from Church fixtures to vintage signs and stained glass. Photo credit: ATLRetro.com.

2. Faith and Fondue. “There are two areas that I could cover in general. One is religion, and one is animals. I am a Biblical archaeologist. That’s a hobby of mine. My degrees are in archaeology, and I have grown to have a great interest in theology. In 2010, I was in Japan to satisfy another two hobbies—one is steam locomotives and I also visited some Shinto sites, which is one of the seven major religions of the world. The year before it was the Hindus and Sikhs in India, and before that the Buddhists in Tibet. In my quest to understand theology, I’m philosophically looking at all theologies. In the Hatch, I have artifacts from a number of different churches, primarily the Christian churches. I have a Lutheran pulpit behind me. I have a Presbyterian pulpit underneath one of the sails on the ship. I have Baptist pews, the red benches sitting over there. I have a Methodist communion rail up here. Those iron railings and banisters are all Church of England, which is our Episcopal church. On the lower deck, I have a Catholic confessional, and at the uppermost spot in the restaurant I have a Jewish Torah [guard-]rail.”

Owner Dante Stephensen and his broom of two personalities. Photo credit: ATLRetro.com.

3. Sailing the Seas of History. “The sails on my ship came from the 1800s ship called the Barba Negra, in Savannah. It was a Norwegian capital ship that was brought over here by a Danish-German skipper at the request of Mills Lane, who founded the C&S Bank, to be parked in the harbor at historic Savannah. It’s not there any more because it sank, but the only tall ship captain that we had in the state of Georgia was Gerhard Schwisow. He not only provided us with the sails. He did all the rigging and all the rope-tying here.

4. A Grin-worthy Garage Sale Find. Talk about interesting artifacts which I found in someone’s garage sale, I have a broom over there. It’s for people with split personalities. The restaurant is full of ways in which you can laugh at yourself.

5. Yes, Virginia, the Crocodile is Real. Pinocchio the Crocodile got his name because of the length of his nose. I could talk a lot about the crocodiles. It could be a whole article. In the late ‘60s, our Atlanta zoo lost its accreditation. I was one of those that organized to save it. I was not a major donor—I had no money back then—but I was a major volunteer. We had to work at the zoo while they were hiring new people, and because one of my degrees is in geology, I got placed into the reptile department. It was the only rescue house of its kind, as far as I know, in the nation for confiscated Crocodilia. That’s crocodiles and caimans, not alligators.

I was seeing parents show up at the zoo with their three-foot semi-tame crocodile that they innocently bought at a pet store thinking it was a lizard for their child when it was about 8 inches long. Because of my degree in zoology which makes me almost a ranger, I decided to apply for a permit for my downtown club to receive the confiscated animals, because up until that time when they were brought to the zoo, they were ultimately put to sleep by Fish and Game. You can’t take an animal that’s been hand-raised like that and let it loose in the swamps. These came from South and Central America. These were not alligators, so the cost to send them down there and let them loose was ridiculous, too.

Pinocchio and friend. Photo courtesy of Dante's Down the Hatch.

This one [Pinocchio] almost did harm to me, because we had to give him a shot and you wouldn’t think that an animal like that would have a sense of pain nerves as we do. But the three of us—a vet, my manager and I—we snuck up on him while he was sleeping. I wear a rubber suit because it’s waist-deep water. All of a sudden all three of us grabbed him at the same time because crocodiles are very strong. One holds the head, the other holds the body, and the other holds the tail. Then we put a towel over the head so that it’s dark to him, and then he calms down for the complete physical. Well, the vet had to give some intravenous fluids to this particular animal, and that was fine. But then he wanted to give him an injection of an antibiotic, and I’ve got to tell you when that needle went into[Pinocchio], he jolted to the point that all three of us were almost thrown. He’s only seven feet long. We held him, but he held his anger so that at the end of the event, the vet pulled away first, and then my manager pulled away. I’m holding him alone with the towel at one end and the tail at the other. As I removed the towel and stepped back, he went for me, and his head hit the pole because he was angry because I was part of this event that caused him to get pricked. That’s the only time in 40 years I’ve had a really close call. God’s on my side. She’s always been on my side.

Since Aunt Agatha is photo-shy, here's a different angle into the main bar area. Photo credit: ATLRetro.com.

6. The Witch in the Ladies Room. So let’s go to the bathroom. All my older four sisters said to me when I was much younger and thinking about building a unique place for people to relax that I had to protect the woman’s right to dine alone. So we do that here. If you come in alone or with a girlfriend that you hadn’t seen in years, you would particularly care if strangers came up and started to put the make on you because you’re talking to an old friend from way back. This is not a pick-up bar. So what happens is I’ll walk over to the table and just stand next to the guy. Nothing makes a guy madder than some other guy listening to his line, which he thinks is very unique but it isn’t. So finally the guy says “who are you?” “Oh, I’m Dante; I own the place. I see you’ve found my niece Louise.” He goes back to his table, and the ladies thank me.

Now let’s take that into the bathroom. I’m out at an antique auction in Commerce, California. I’d already drawn the plans and we’d already started the building. I’d gone to a restaurant with a group of guys who have chain restaurants, the Chart House, the Steak and Ale and so forth. I’m in the bathroom washing my hands after attending to business and looking in the mirror, as males like to do, wondering why they aren’t getting more dates. All of a sudden the lights go up over my head and a light comes on behind the mirror I’m looking into, and there sits a naked, elderly woman, topless with a crystal ball, winking at me. Well, I’ve had just enough wine that I believed it, so I’m hitting myself in the head as the light goes off and wondering if am I hallucinating. I go out of the door, come back in and the same thing happens again. I say, wow, what a neat idea. So I quickly run to the phone, wake up my builder and say “I know you’re on the lower bathroom level. Where are you in the structure?” “Well, I just finished closing in the mens room and the ladies room will be done tomorrow,” he says. I say, “don’t close in the last wall. I’ve got an idea.”

Mark Twain is one of several famous wax figures you may encounter at Dante's. Photo credit: ATLRetro.com.

Have you been to the bathroom? Have you met Aunt Agatha? Well, she is a Madame Tussaud wax figure, ugly as sin. I had an actress do the first set of voiceovers, and then when [Agatha] got wet in our fire, I had it redone by one of my staff. There are seven speeches that she gives where she makes fun of the women. That has really become the most popular singular thing in the restaurant. People remember Aunt Agatha more than anything else. I have to be careful with children, though. Different personalities react differently to the witch, and if the child screams and is really scared, we let them use the handicapped bathroom obviously. That’s the only problem that comes up.

7. Some Famous Regulars. There used to be a [Josephine] Tussaud’s Wax Museum in Underground Atlanta in the 1970s. Then David Hawthorne, who had it, moved it to Helen, Georgia. He sold off some of his figures, and I bought some for here. I’ve got Einstein. I’ve got Huck Finn, Tom Sawyer, General Hood who burned Atlanta, John Wilkes Booth and a pirate – who originally was the detective holding Oswald when Ruby shot him. People ask me why do I have so many wax figures. I say at every full moon, they wake up and clean.

Dante relaxes in the downstairs Barbershop lounge. Photo credit: ATLRetro.com

8. The Basement Barbershop.  The barbershop is interesting, too. It dates back to 1880-something from England. We had this room that’s the butt-end of the moat of the crocodile, and the bathroom is below us—an ideal place for a lounge. Well, I decided, well, wait a minute, I bought this barbershop—why don’t I use it for the reason why I bought it. I bought it with the thought of being part of a lounge. I remember haircuts when they were 17 cents. I’m that old.

9. Magnificent Murals. One of the beauties of this place is you can totally think you are taking off. You look at this wall here and you don’t see much, but if you sit on the steps there, it’s three-dimensional, and you’re looking down a street. If you stand at the top of the stairs looking over there, you’re looking at a building, but if you get up next to it, it’s a flat surface. So I have a muralist who is a bit of a magician who can draw things in three dimensions which at the right angle will take you to one place.

A seascape mural adds to the nautical ambiance. Photo courtesy of Dante's.

Let’s walk up there right quick. The diorama of the ship was built by a handicapped worker whose hobby and passion was to build ships from scratch without kits. My hobby is trains and I did the train-setting which is much less interesting but nevertheless a part of it. It was built from the plans I drew.

Located at 3380 Peachtree Street just south of Lenox Square, Dante’s Down the Hatch  features live jazz six days a week (Tues-Sun) with acoustic guitar and vocalist on Mondays. But get there quick as the restaurant closes its doors forever on March 31, 2013. Reservations are recommended. Call 404-266-1600.

 

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A Sexy Silent Scandal at The Strand Theatre: Daring to Reopen Louise Brooks’ PANDORA’S BOX

Posted on: Nov 21st, 2012 By:

PANDORA’S BOX (1929); Dir: Georg Wilhelm Pabst; Starring Louise Brooks, Francis Lederer; with live organ accompaniment by Ron Carter; Sun. Nov. 25 3:00 p.m.; The Strand Theatre

By Andrew Kemp
Contributing Writer

Ever since The Earl Smith Strand Theatre found new life on the Square in Marietta, the theater’s event schedule has cast a wide net. In between the usual live events and mainstream film titles, The Strand quietly stands as one of the last venues in Atlanta to regularly seek out and book classic silent films, a callback to its roots as an old movie house. (The Strand’s first ever show was the 1935 Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers vehicle, TOP HAT.) Except that by the time The Strand opened, the talkies had already taken hold, so the decision to run silent pictures in an increasingly-noisy age of media strikes me as more than nostalgia. It’s incredibly brave.

And so, fittingly, The Strand has found a brave picture to screen. There are few silents more daring than PANDORA’S BOX (1929), playing Sunday afternoon Nov. 25 at 3 p.m.—even braver!—accompanied by a full organ score. PANDORA’S BOX doesn’t fit the mold of the typical silent melodrama. Louise Brooks stars as Lulu, a young woman whose ambition is eclipsed only by her voracious sexual appetite. She uses sex as a weapon to get what she wants, or who she wants, and the film largely deals with an escalating series of consequences, from murder, to imprisonment, and finally… well, I won’t spoil it, but Lulu’s story crosses with a famous historical figure, and her final reward is a spot in historical infamy.

PANDORA’S BOX is directed by the great Austrian director G.W. Pabst, whose list of leading ladies includes such names as Greta Garbo and Leni Riefenstahl, but he cast no lady as magnetic or iconic as Brooks, whose distinctive flapper style and bobbed haircut are more famous today than her name. Brooks was an American actress who rubbed elbows with names like William Randolph Hearst, but who grew dissatisfied with the American system and fled to Europe, where audiences came out in droves to see her magnetism and sexuality portrayed on screen. Lulu is a part born for Brooks and, although the film met with a fair amount of pushback from concerned censors, eventually made Brooks an international star. Today, her name is inseparable from the film’s title.

I mentioned censors, but it’s important to note that PANDORA’S BOX was a pre-code picture. In fact, the film came to America in December 1929, only three months before the adoption of the Hays Code that put a lid on the titillation and sexual experimentation of the earliest studio pictures. (Even in the ’20s, people knew the truth about film audiences—sex sells tickets.) PANDORA’S BOX contains a litany of elements that would soon disappear from American cinemas, such as frank sexuality and a disrespect for marriage. Just a decade later, Lulu’s actions would have classified her as a femme fatale, and she’d certainly snare a young hero or two to their doom. Here, the reality is a bit more complicated, and although it’s true that Lulu faces retribution for her loose morals, it’s hard to ignore the allure of her behavior, which is what the Hays Code was trying to snuff out in the first place.

Alice Roberts as Countess Anna Geschwitz and Louise Brooks (center) as Lulu in PANDORA'S BOX (1929), directed by G.W. Pabst. Credit: UCLA Film and Television Archive

PANDORA’S BOX is also a landmark film in queer cinema, as it does contain (if briefly) one of the first ever screen representations of a lesbian. Played by Alice Roberts, the Countess Geschwitz enters the film dressed in men’s clothes—a tuxedo—and fawns over Lulu, suggesting that the two have a sexual past. Within a year, even such a minor reference to homosexuality would be strictly outlawed on American screens.

PANDORA’S BOX is widely available online, but as with all films, especially from this era, it belongs on the screen (and trust me when I say that a live organ makes all the difference in the world). The film arrived at the end of the golden period of silent films, the end of the pre-code movies, and even puts a symbolic coda on the decade of decadence that was the 1920s. It stands proud as a threshold between two very different eras of cinema. But its sexuality, its spectacle and the compelling nature of its tragic antihero also remind us of another, sometimes-forgotten fact: what excites and thrills us today is the same as it ever was. We didn’t change—the pictures did.

For more about The Strand’s efforts to screen silents as they should be with live organ scores, read our Kool Kat interview with organist Ron Carter, who will be accompanying PANDORA’s BOX here

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