Kool Kat of the Week: Carmie McDonald’s Take on Preserving Georgia’s Historic Theatres, Reviving Communities ‘One Theatre at a Time’ and the Fox Theatre Institute’s Second Annual Theatre Revival Tour

Posted on: Apr 30th, 2014 By:

by Melanie Crew
Contributing Writer

Carmie McDonald, Community Engagement Manager at the Fox Theatre Institute (FTI), an outreach division of Atlanta’s Fabulous FoxTheatre, immerses herself in Georgia’s rich and glorious history of magical movie palaces and theatres along with the communities that have stood by them. What’s even better is that she gets the opportunity to join the communities the FTI has served while celebrating their successes during their free Second Annual Theatre Revival Tour, coming to a theatre near you, May 1 through May 3, 2014!

The Revival Tour will make stops at The President Theatre in nearby Manchester, Ga. on May 1, followed by a stop at Atlanta’s own, The PlazaTheatre, ranked as one of the world’s top 20 movie theatres [Men’sJournal, April 2014] on May 2 and lastly, the tour will come to a halt in Athens, Ga., showcasing The Morton Theatre on May 3! Each stop on the tour includes a community festival, helping raise awareness of the importance of historic preservation and showcasing all three restoration project venues funded by their highly competitive FTI grants. Atlanta’s own legendary blues chanteuse, Francine Reed, will take the stage and woo the crowds at each stop along the way!

Before jumping head first into her dream job, McDonald hailed from Savannah where she earned graduate degrees in Historic Preservation and Architectural History at Savannah College of Art & Design. She worked her preservation magic with the Historic SavannahFoundation and was the perfect candidate for the Community Engagement Manager at the FTI.

The FTI is the Fox Theatre’s way of giving back to the community that rescued it from its near demolition back in the ‘70s. In an effort to draw the public into the realm of its glory days while raising awareness of the importance of historic preservation, the Fox Theatre began hosting their Fox Theatre Tours in the spring of 2013 [Herald-Journal, May 2013]. These 60-minute guided tours expose audiences to the behind-the-scenes details and illustrious history of the extravagant and palace-like venue which remains just as magnificent as it did when their doors opened in 1929. And as an added bonus, you’ll have the opportunity to meet our very own Kool Kat Scott Hardin, projectionist at the Fox Theatre since 1978 [July 2013; see ATLRetro’s Kool Kat feature on Scott Hardin, here].

ATLRetro caught up with Carmie McDonald for a quick interview about the FTI, the importance of historic preservation in Georgia’s communities and her love of the Fabulous Fox Theatre, which excitedly celebrates its 85th birthday this year!

Community Engagement Manager for the Fox Theatre Institute (FTI) sounds like such a cool job! Tell our readers how you landed such an envious gig and what’s your favorite aspect of the job?

I’ve been with the Fox Theatre Institute (FTI) since 2008 and not a day goes by that I don’t pause to think about what a privilege it is to work here. It is rewarding to be part of an organization that has meant so much to the Atlanta community for 85 years. I love seeing someone experience the Fox Theatre for the first time.  You’re never too old to be swept away by the magic of this place!

Has being in the historic preservation field always been a dream of yours? Anything interesting you can tell our readers on what drew you to such a fascinating field?

I’ve always appreciated old buildings and the stories they tell about our past, so historic preservation was a natural fit as a career choice. But, historic preservation is not just a movement about buildings and the past. It is also about the people in the community and the future. I love helping ensure that our historic theatres will be here for future generations to enjoy.

What is the Fox Theatre Institute (FTI) and what does it do for the community? Why do you think it is important to preserve Georgia’s theatres?

The Fox Theatre Institute (FTI) is the community engagement division of the Fox Theatre. We provide support to historic theatres throughout the region in the form of preservation and operations assistance. There are more than 260 historic theatres throughout the state and each one is a significant part of the community it serves. Preserving these theaters is an important part of community-wide revitalization.

What can you tell us about the two restoration projects that were completed this year?  The President Theatre in nearby Manchester and The Plaza Theatre located right here in Atlanta?

The Fox Theatre Institute provided The President Theatre with funding to complete the restoration of their façade, from the marquee to the top of the tower and spire, both being in disrepair for more than thirty years. Through the support of FTI and other granting organizations, this theatre is being restored to its original Art Deco splendor. FTI also provided grant funding for the restoration of The Plaza Theatre’s landmark marquee. The restoration process at The Plaza involved removing rust and repainting the sign to its original colors.  In addition, new LED lighting was added to create a more sustainable and eco-friendly marquee.

And what can you tell us about Athens’ Morton Theatre which received their grant in 2011 and is also spotlighted on this tour?

The Morton Theatre holds a special place in Athens’ history. It was built as a Vaudeville theatre in 1910 by Pink Morton, a prominent African-American businessman. Since then it has served the community as an anchor on Athens’ ‘Hot Corner,’ the historic African-American business district at the intersection of Hull and Washington streets. FTI provided funding for restoration of the theatre’s original wood flooring system in 2011.

How does the FTI choose which theatre receives a grant? Is it a competitive process?

FTI accepts applications from historic theatres that are owned by a public agency or non-profit organization. Applications are reviewed by a panel of arts and preservation professionals. Funding is awarded to theatres that will create significant economic and cultural impact to the communities they serve.

Why do you think it is important to preserve art and culture? What is the goal of the FTI and their desire to, “Revitalize Georgia’s communities, one theatre at a time?”

Arts and culture contribute to Georgia’s communities by creating jobs and providing tax revenue. They are essential to education because they facilitate critical-thinking and communication skills. Furthermore, arts and culture are integral components of vibrant, creative and livable cities. FTI believes that the revitalization of a historic theatre can provide a focal point for the economic and cultural development of a community.

Tell our readers a little bit about the Second Annual Theatre Revival Tour kicking off on May 1, 2014? What sort of exciting things do you have in store for attendees?

FTI will showcase three of its theatre restoration projects during the Second Annual Theatre Revival Tour. The three-day tour, taking place May 1 – 3, aims to raise awareness for each of the historic venues by embracing local community efforts surrounding the preservation of these theatres. Each destination on the Tour will host a community festival, featuring Atlanta resident and legendary blues songstress, Francine Reed.

Tell us a little bit about FTI’s relationship with the celebrated blues chanteuse, Francine Reed and how she was chosen to headline the community festivals attached to the tour.

FTI believes in supporting local talent whenever possible. Whether working with preservation contractors or musicians, FTI strives to partner with people that are connected with their communities. Francine Reed has an amazing voice and a deep connection with the music scene in Atlanta, so selecting her to headline our Theatre Revival Tour was an easy decision!

Anything exciting in the works for future FTI projects?  How about anything new happening with the Fox Theatre Tours you’d like to tell our readers?

Forty years ago, the people of Atlanta rallied to save the Fox Theatre from demolition. Since that time, the Fox Theatre has been deeply committed to giving back to the community that saved us. Be on the lookout for some exciting events during this special anniversary year!

 

 

All photographs are courtesy of the Fox Theatre Institute (unless otherwise noted) and used with permission.

Category: Kool Kat of the Week | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Retro Review: WHITE ZOMBIE Walks Again in the World Premiere of an All-New Restoration at Atlanta’s Historic Plaza Theatre!

Posted on: Jan 16th, 2013 By:

WHITE ZOMBIE (1932); Dir. Victor Halperin; Starring Bela Lugosi, Madge Bellamy, John Harron and Robert Frazer; World premiere Friday, Jan. 18 @ 8:00 p.m. hosted by Prof. Morte (scary details at end of story), and Jan. 25-31; Plaza Theatre; Trailer here.

By Aleck Bennett
Contributing Writer

Long before George A. Romero’s NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD forever redefined “zombie” in the public mind as “undead, flesh-eating ghoul,” the Halperin Brothers first brought the Haitian legend of the zombie to the screen with 1932’s WHITE ZOMBIE.

The movie finds young couple Madeline Short (Madge Bellamy) and Neil Parker (John Harron) reuniting in Haiti to be wed at the plantation of their friend Charles Beaumont (Robert Frazer). Beaumont’s secret love for Madeline drives him to visit local voodoo master Murder Legendre (Bela Lugosi) in order to enlist his help in winning Madeline’s hand. Legendre provides Beaumont with a potion that will transform her into a zombie, robbed of her will and love for Parker. He complies with Legendre’s instructions, but soon finds that the villainous voodoo master has plans of his own for the young beauty.

In 1932, America was in the midst of a newfound fascination with voodoo due to New Orleans’ emergence as a tourist destination. Interest was further fueled by authors such as William Buehler Seabrook. Seabrook was a well-traveled journalist, explorer, occultist and Georgia resident who had gained renown by documenting occult practices across the globe, including some of the only objective contemporaneous reporting on Aleister Crowley. Seabrook’s interest in the occult led him to spend considerable time in Haiti researching voodoo and the Culte des Morts. This adventure resulted in his 1929 book THE MAGIC ISLAND, which introduced the concept of the “zombie” to American audiences.

Producer Edward Halperin and his brother, director Victor Halperin (along with screenwriter Garnett Weston) capitalized on the nation’s interest in voodoo by borrowing liberally from both Seabrook’s work and Kenneth Webb’s 1932 Broadway play, ZOMBIE, and crafted an atmospheric masterpiece. The Halperins enlisted Bela Lugosi, fresh off his success in Universal’s 1931 smash DRACULA. It’s unclear as to Lugosi’s reasons for choosing to immediately follow a major studio hit with a micro-budgeted independent film, but he may have seen it as a way to stretch his creative muscles in a low-risk venture. Although he was paid little for his role (reports vary from $500 to $5000), his co-star Clarence Muse reported that Lugosi rewrote portions of the script, restaged some of the scenes and even directed portions of the film. His personal investment in the end results may be why Lugosi considered WHITE ZOMBIE a favorites among his own movies.

It could also be because it’s just a damned fine film.

The film deftly balances the legendary with the actual. While Legendre’s zombies are the reanimated corpses of Haitian lore (their look provided by Universal’s maestro of makeup, Jack Pierce), the film also depicts his use of a poison that emulates death and results in the victim’s deathlike trance and subsequent subservience to a bokor or sorcerer. Though this method had long been suspected, a pharmacological explanation for the zombie phenomenon wouldn’t be confirmed until ethnobiologist Wade Davis’ explorations into Haiti in the 1980s.

Beyond the film’s knowing mixture of fact and fiction, it benefits from the collaboration of Victor Halperin, cinematographer Arthur Martinelli and music superviser Abe Meyer. Together, they take what may have read on the page as stagebound and stodgy and create a dreamlike vision that mirrors Carl Dreyer’s VAMPYR (also 1932), echoes elements of contemporaneous Universal horrors and anticipates Val Lewton’s exercises in atmosphere and sound design. Constantly inventive staging and camera work—taking place on sets borrowed from DRACULA, FRANKENSTEIN and THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME—operate in sync with native drumming, chants, ambient noise, eerie rearrangements of classical works and original music by Xavier Cugat to deliver a palpable sense of creeping death under the oppressive hand of Murder Legendre.

And in the role of Legendre, Lugosi becomes the embodiment of evil itself. No other role—not even Dracula—fully utilizes his mesmeric power and hypnotic presence. From the opening scene, when his eyes are superimposed on the landscape of Haiti, his presence is felt in every frame of film; this is the power of his performance as Murder Legendre. The Halperins attempted to recapture the magic of this film with a sequel, REVOLT OF THE ZOMBIES, but made the mistake of attempting to replace Bela with Dean Jagger. It’s no small wonder that the subsequent film failed.

For years, WHITE ZOMBIE only circulated on washed-out transfers of faded 16mm prints, mastered for public domain VHS and TV broadcast. In 1999, two rare 35mm prints were used to create the restored version released on DVD by the Roan Group. However, those prints were hardly in pristine condition, displaying evident damage and dropped frames.

Left to right: Bela Lugosi as voodoo master Legendre, a mesmerized Madge Bellamy and a concerned John Harron in WHITE ZOMBIE (1932).

In recent years, Los Angeles-based Holland Releasing had heard that a previously unknown complete 35mm print was rumored to be in the possession of an aged film collector. Thomas W. Holland (a previous resident of Roswell and Marietta) spoke about the efforts to track down this elusive print and its owner. “I heard a rumor about an old fellow who claimed to have a superb, original 35mm print and that began a worldwide search to find this aging, eccentric film lover and convince him to let us acquire the film for a full restoration.  People think I’m joking when I say I had to go through a friend of a friend of a friend to contact this man.” When the print was found, Holland was stunned at its overall condition. “It must have been removed from theatrical service early on, or been set aside as a special studio print.” The Holland Releasing group then set about restoring the film.

AlgoSoft-Tech USA, based in Bishop, Georgia, was hired to return WHITE ZOMBIE’s image quality to its original standards. AlgoSoft’s president, Dr. Inna Kozlov, a famed mathematician in her native Russia, took on the project with great excitement. “We arranged to have the vintage 35mm print scanned, frame-by-frame, at a very high resolution so as not to lose any information.” From that point, Dr. Koslov and her technology developer, Dr. Alexander Petukhov wrote customized software to correct any imperfections in each frame. “Our goal was to return the film’s visuals to how they looked in 1932, the way a vintage carbon arc light source would have glistened through a silver nitrate print of the era.”

Another Atlanta firm, Crawford Media Services, was chosen to do the final re-assembly of the motion picture which included intensely detailed color-correction. “Being a black-and-white film, WHITE ZOMBIE required far more expertise and patience than a typical color feature to get the light levels correct,” says producer Holland. “This film is a gothic masterpiece, and we wanted it to look exactly the way it did when audiences first saw it.”

Once the Georgia image work was completed, the master was sent to Chace Audio by Deluxe in Burbank, California. Using a variety of sources, Chace remastered the film’s faded audio tracks to restore the sound to match the quality of the restored image. “Early sound films had a tremendous amount of inherent hiss, clicks and pops,” Holland says, “but Chace was able to give us a new audio track that greatly reduced this. We weren’t looking to make a hi-fi version of the WHITE ZOMBIE track, just a cleaner, clearer representation of how the movie originally sounded in theaters of the ’30s.”

Of course, any restoration invites an amount of controversy, and WHITE ZOMBIE is no exception to this rule. The Holland restoration, which has been licensed for use on an upcoming DVD and Blu-Ray release by Kino/Fox Lorber, is already attracting its share of debate from advance reviews. (The release offers two viewing options for comparison: the Holland restoration and a “raw” transfer of the print used prior to AlgoSoft’s restorative work.) However, without actually being able to see an arc light-projected silver nitrate print of WHITE ZOMBIE, it’s impossible to say that the Holland restoration is an inaccurate representation of how the film looked in 1932.

What is most exciting, though, is the chance to see WHITE ZOMBIE on the big screen once again as the restoration makes its world premiere at the Plaza Theatre. The Plaza is making this night a grand event. Hosted by Professor Morte of the Silver Scream Spookshow (aka Shane Morton) and Blake Myers (Atlanta effects artist, filmmaker, Buried Alive Film Festival programmer and ATLRetro Kool Kat, whose credits include THE WALKING DEAD and V/H/S), the film will be preceded by the vintage Betty Boop cartoon “Is My Palm Read?” and followed by the 1932 short subject “An Intimate Interview with Bela Lugosi.” Following the filmed entertainment, the team behind WHITE ZOMBIE’s restoration will take part in a question-and-answer session. And attendees will have a chance to win a lifetime all-inclusive ticket to the Plaza, original Plaza seats and T-shirts and monster masks from event sponsor Atlanta Zombie Apocalypse.

Following its premiere on January 18, the film will be showing at the Plaza for a full week, running from January 25-31, and will be shown on a one-time-only basis in theaters across the Unites States and Canada. But you can be there first and see WHITE ZOMBIE brought back to life at its world premiere in Atlanta.

Aleck Bennett is a writer, blogger, pug warden, pop culture enthusiast, raconteur and bon vivant from the greater Atlanta area. Visit his blog at doctorsardonicus.wordpress.com

Category: Retro Review | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

© 2019 ATLRetro. All Rights Reserved. This blog is powered by Wordpress