Fritz Lang’s METROPOLIS: Fully Restored and Bigger Than Ever in Two Special Atlanta Engagements!

Posted on: May 23rd, 2013 By:

METROPOLIS (1927); Dir. Fritz Lang; Starring Brigitte Helm, Gustav Fröhlich and Alfred Abel; Starts Friday, May 24 @ Plaza Theatre (visit website for ticket prices and showtimes); Tuesday, May 28 @ Woodruff Arts Center (free outdoor screening w/ live accompaniment); Trailer here.

By Aleck Bennett
Contributing Writer

It’s a Fritz Lang kind of Spring, I suppose. That feeling is helped along by two venues showing the most recent restoration of Lang’s pioneering science fiction classic, METROPOLIS, which finally brings the film as close to its original state as possible. The historic Plaza Theatre has booked the film for a full week, and there’s a special outdoor screening of the restoration at Woodruff Arts Center featuring the US debut of a specially-composed score performed live by Georgia Tech’s Sonic Generator.

Last time we talked Fritz Lang, it was about M (1931), the first serial killer-themed horror film. But now, we’re going four years earlier and looking at METROPOLIS, the first feature-length science fiction movie. And in the ensuing years, METROPOLIS continues to be relevant to contemporary life, its themes resonating through the ages as our industrialized society becomes more and more technocratic.

The sprawling plot of METROPOLIS speaks mostly to the topic of class division. In the year 2026, the wealthy preside over the city of Metropolis and lead lives of decadence, while a teeming underclass of workers toil day in and day out, slaves to the machines that provide the power that drives the city above. Freder (Gustav Fröhlich)—the son of Joh Fredersen (Alfred Abel), the city’s aristocratic Master—falls in love with a labor organizer named Maria (Brigitte Helm) and enters the underground city of the workers. There, he just may serve to fulfill the prophesied role of the city’s “heart”: the man who will help Maria unite the workers and join the city’s “hands” (its workers) with its “head” (the ruling aristocracy). But the ruling class has other plans to keep the underclass down: to kidnap Maria and use a robotic doppelganger to sow seeds of discord among the laborers.

Add in a love triangle, espionage, sabotage, disaster, riots, beautiful art deco set design, Biblical references, hints of occultism, expert use of miniatures and pioneering special effects, and not only do you have an epic that presents a morality play and political polemic depicting class struggle with the rhythm of everyday life, but also a bustling action picture designed to keep viewers enthralled with the kind of futuristic grand spectacle not seen on the screen before.

Unfortunately, that balance was largely destroyed by cuts to the film that took place shortly after its premiere. The film was funded and its distribution controlled by a partnership between MGM, Paramount and German film studio UFA, which was known as Parufamet (a portmanteau of the three studios’ names). Parufamet cut the film from its 153-minute running time to 115 minutes, and later that year it was cut down further by UFA to a brief 91 minute running time. Huge chunks of character exposition and plot points were lost completely. This left much of the spectacle but presented seemingly one-dimensional characters inhabiting the film, which only emphasized the heavy-handedness of the film’s message-laden storyline. A film about people and ideas became simply a film about ideas.

Over the decades, numerous attempts at restoration took place using whatever could be found. The high (or low, depending on your stance) point of 20th-century efforts came with the 1984 release of a version compiled by songwriter/producer Giorgio Moroder. Moroder’s restoration was, at that point, the most complete version of the film available, incorporating all footage known to exist at the time. However, the film was tinted throughout, with its intertitles replaced with subtitles for continuity’s sake, with a pop soundtrack (featuring Freddie Mercury, Pat BenatarBonnie Tyler, Adam Ant, Loverboy, etc.) in place of a traditional score and with its frame rate increased to 24 frames per second (which resulted in an artificially-shortened running time of 82 minutes).

In 2002, Kino Lorber and the F.W. Murnau Foundation released a 124-minute restoration that seemed to be the final word on the film, as all remaining footage was believed to have been lost to the ravages of time. Missing footage was described in newly-designed title cards to fill in the blanks. But shortly afterward, film prints were found in New Zealand and Argentina that contained scenes not included in any existing copy. In fact, the Argentine print was a 16mm reduction of the entire original cut of the film. With these new sources in hand, METROPOLIS was restored to 95% completion (only two short sequences could not be included due to extensive damage). Settling on an acceptable frame rate (the actual frame rates of many silent films are hard to determine), and with the additional sequences restored to their rightful places, the final running time of the now-nearly-complete METROPOLIS is 145 minutes.

And those restored scenes restore a coherency and depth to the film that has not been experienced since its premiere some 86 years ago. The character of Freder becomes heroic rather than a cipher. Maria becomes a fully-rounded character rather than an archetype. Sure, the highly stylized acting familiar to German Expressionist silent filmmaking is still present, which may stand as a roadblock to viewers raised on the naturalistic acting of modern cinema, but the operatic tenor of the performances is almost necessary to keep the actors from being overwhelmed by the sheer size and spectacle of the film’s sets and effects (adjusted for inflation, the film’s budget in today’s numbers would be $200 million, making it one of the most expensive movies ever made, equal to James Cameron’s TITANIC). Without the benefit of speech, the sheer BIGNESS of the movie demands performances as visually loud as the sets are huge.

Though the film was panned upon first wide release (in my opinion, largely due to its being butchered and available only in compromised form), METROPOLIS has since become one of the highest-regarded films in existence, with its influence felt in movies ranging from BLADE RUNNER to DR. STRANGELOVE; from STAR WARS to BACK TO THE FUTURE; from DARK CITY to THE FIFTH ELEMENT. Oddly enough, though, it has found more frequent homage in the field of popular music. The music videos for Queen’s Radio Ga Ga,” Nine Inch NailsWe’re in This Together and Madonna’s Express Yourself have all been inspired by the movie’s themes and visuals. Meanwhile, Atlanta’s own Janelle Monáe has released two fantastic concept albums inspired by the film: 2007’s METROPOLIS: SUITE I (THE CHASE) and 2010’s THE ARCHANDROID. (Based on the title, I’m guessing that this year’s upcoming album, THE ELECTRIC LADY, will round out the trilogy.)

For very different experiences in viewing METROPOLIS this week, let me recommend that you take the film in twice. Firstly, it’s playing a week-long engagement at the Plaza Theatre, where you can sit in the enshrouding darkness and get caught up in the purely visual storytelling of this masterwork as the towering images wash over you to the accompaniment of the gorgeous original score by Gottfried Huppertz. Secondly, though, the film is the subject of a free outdoor screening at the Woodruff Arts Center on Tuesday, May 28, projected on the Anne Cox Chambers Wing of the High Museum. There, the film will be accompanied by a live performance by Georgia Tech’s contemporary music ensemble Sonic Generator (augmented by several additional performers from Atlanta’s vast musical spectrum), performing a score composed by renowned Argentine composer Martin Matalon which is making its US debut. For more details about this singular event, check out this great in-depth write-up in CREATIVE LOAFING by Doug DeLoach.

Either way (or both!) you take it, METROPOLIS is both a film of its time and film of all time; a movie that speaks to the concerns of Weimar-era Germany in 1927 and the “one percent vs. the 99 percent” fights of today. It’s a landmark in science fiction, a landmark in the development of special effects and a landmark in cinematic history, and in its restored condition, it commands the attention like few films ever made.

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

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More Than Still Standing: Melba Moore Talks About Growing Up in Jazz, the Summer of Love, and Living the Dream Again in GOOD GOD A’MIGHTY

Posted on: Feb 16th, 2013 By:

Melba Moore, 1985. Photo credit: James Mitchell.

Legendary R&B vocalist Melba Moore stars as the bombastic director of a Southern church choir in Lolita Snipes‘ gospel musical GOOD GOD A’MIGHTY, playing Feb. 14-24 at 14th Street Playhouse. A hilarious behind-the-scenes look inside a southern African-American church faced with a vibrant new pastor from New York, the play marks a bit of irony in that Melba is a born-and-bred New Yorker herself.

Because Melba is best known for a string of ’70s and ’80s Billboard hits starting with “I Got Love,” it’s easy to forget that her first big break came on Broadway when she replaced Diane Keaton in HAIR. She went on to win a Tony Award for playing Lultiebelle in PURLIE and appeared with Eartha Kitt in TIMBUKTU. Then her recording career took off, she started touring, and would not return to the theater until after a painful break-up with her husband. She used her remarkable life story as the backdrop for a one-woman play, I’M STILL STANDING, and soon was back on Broadway as Fantine in LES MISERABLES. Since then she has continued her comeback, including appearing with Beyonce and Cuba Gooding Jr. in the movie THE FIGHTING TEMPTATIONS (2003) and recording a new CD entitled FOREVER MOORE on her own label, A’Moore Music.

ATLRetro recently had the pleasure of interviewing Melba, and we couldn’t resist not just asking about her role but also her own Retro experiences growing up in a musical family in New York in one of the most exciting jazz music eras, the summer of love, working with Eartha Kitt, and much more. The conversation turned into a who’s who history lesson of some of the top names in recording which we couldn’t be happier to share.

How did you first get involved with GOOD GOD A’MIGHTY?

Lolita Snipes, the producer and writer of GOOD GOD A’MIGHTY, and her partner and husband, Jerome [Snipes],  got in touch with my manager and myself. We met in New York, and she said she had been watching me for quite a long time and knew I would be prefect for the role. I was a little surprised because though I do have a Tony Award for a comedy performance, I haven’t done a lot of comedy. She said the main reason she wanted me for the role was the music. She wanted the Melba Moore sound. She also wanted to make sure born-again Christians were involved in the play, and she wanted me because I had a reputation of being amenable, in harmony with the person in charge. She wanted to make sure that it was a real Christian play with the real Christian spirit, which is love.

You aren’t from the south but you certainly have a lot of experience with New York City having grown up there. Is there anything particular which resonates to you about this story personally?

It’s great in terms of a family culture because pretty much all of us originated from the south because we came here as slaves. We were farmers and eventually moved to the north, and we still have cultural clashes between north and south. Northerners are often considered educated and uppity by Southerners. These cultural clashes are nice food for comedy.

My mother was a professional singer and away all the time so I was raised in New York by a nanny who never learned to read or write, but came from a family of tobacco growers and sharecroppers. She was trying to get off the farm and get a job that was not so hard even if it was as a domestic or nanny. The thing that set many African-American families free was our music and the music industry, so my family was typical of that combination.

Tell us about your part and did you do anything in particular to prepare for it.

THE FIGHTING TEMPTATIONS. Look at the role that LaTanya Richardson – she’s the wife of Samuel L Jackson – played in that. She was feisty, bossy; she runs everybody. She doesn’t care who you are, she’s the boss. She will bring you down to size all the time. She’s a very selfish, mean-spirited ogre. That’s my part.

But it’s not dark or brutal. This is a Christian musical, so we don’t want to tell the bad news. She is not mean or evil. That’s one of the things that sets apart gospel plays or musicals. You’re not telling a negative story nor sympathizing with the bad guy.

This musical just sounds like a lot of fun. Is there a favorite part that you’d like to share?

It’s going to be so much fun. First of all, gospel comedies are the funniest type of comedy, and maybe one of the reasons they are is they don’t pander to the lowest elements of people. They don’t resort to cursing or really poking fun at people. They don’t have to be deep, but really have to be funny. They have to be joyful, really lift your spirits. That’s the point of it.

You grew up in a musical family. Your mother was a singer, your father a saxophonist and your stepfather a jazz pianist. Can you talk a little bit about growing up with jazz in the golden age of the 1940s and 1950s, maybe share a favorite memory?

My stepfather [Clement Moorman] is 97 years old. He still plays the piano and keeps his art. He plays better than ever before. My mother, though, has passed away. I grew up in an environment with a passionate love for music, and in an age when African-American artists had to be 10 times better because of racism. I grew up meeting Sarah Vaughan and Ella Fitzgerald. I thought I was going to be a piano player. I thought I’d be the next Horace Silver. I knew I was not going to be the next Oscar Peterson. My brother and I learned how to play these piano solos because we were so passionately enmeshed in this music. We were equally impassioned by classical music so also Leontyne Price or Marian Anderson. As I look back, it’s not just nostalgia, it just was truly a golden age. I majored in music in high school. I didn’t know if I had enough talent but I knew it was going to be my life’s work. I didn’t know if I would be a musician or singer, but I grew up listening also to Miles Davis and Nancy Wilson. I was totally enmeshed and absorbed in their recording.

Who was your favorite jazz performer in those early days and why? Outside of your family, of course.

They kept changing. Bill Evans and Horace Silver were two of our favorites. We’d sing all the solos. The Adderley Brothers, Nat Adderley, and the sax player Art Farmer. I can’t remember them all. There was just a plethora. I also loved Melba Liston because she had my name. And Ella Fitzgerald. I can sing her solos now, but I couldn’t then.

What was it like spending the summer of love in New York City and ending up cast in HAIR?

It was very unexpected. I was teaching music from kindergarten thru age 12 of high school in northern New Jersey, and I quit because I felt like if I stayed in teaching, I never was going to find out if I had enough talent to be a singing artist. My father took me to New York, where I met Valerie Simpson, who got me involved in overdub singing, At one of the recording sessions, Galt MacDermott, who wrote the music for HAIR, asked us all if we could come and sing for the director, choreographer and producer because they were still looking for strong voices. I was the only one who said yes. It was like I can’t even describe it – moving to another planet.

What was it like working with Eartha Kitt in TIMBUKTU?

She definitely was an icon and an artiste and her own self-person. She was intimidating in a sense. She was so strong and so confident and so good, and my personality was totally opposite. I was just starting to get some confidence now, but I have a gentle body language. We’re both petite women but total opposites. She was a cat and I was a kitty.

You started acting in musical theater in your twenties in HAIR and then winning the Tony for PURLIE, but then concentrated on your music career. How did you end up coming back to Broadway in 1995 to play Fantine in LES MISERABLES?

After TIMBUKTU, I went on tour and had my first hit record. I did 10 to 15 years of recording and touring. Then my marriage to my husband, who had been responsible for my success, disintegrated. During that time, I was trying to stay alive, much less stay in the industry. I did a one-woman play [SWEET SONGS OF THE SOUL, later renamed I’M STILL STANDING], and I began to climb back up the mountain. Richard Jay-Alexander, the casting director for LES MISERABLES on Broadway, saw me in Florida in my own play. He said he came in to see the play., but what he saw different sides of Melba Moore that he had never known. He had only seen me in PURLIE. He didn’t know I had a classical voice, or the other aspects of personality. It was thanks to I’M STILL STANDING that Lolita and Jerome found me, too. It was a wonderful audition piece for me.

You were the first African-American to play Fantine, the role that Anne Hathaway is favored for an Oscar this year. Can you talk a little about that experience?

I was just trying to survive, and then someone takes me and puts me into that role. When I got into it and realized what it was about, I thought, God put me here. How do you go from nothing to a lead role in LES MIZ? It showed me this is my destiny, where my good luck will happen. It was so much more than just playing a role and was a natural one to me.

It seems like certain songs play special roles at different times in one’s life. You have a long repertoire. Is there one song from it that means more now than it ever before, and if yes, why?

There are two songs. One is “I Got Love” from PURLIE, and the other is “Lean on Me,” written by Van McCoy. The longer I sing it, the more that I see that the song is my life. It’s always relevant, and the longer I sing it, because it is about your life going the right way, the more powerful it is again. It doesn’t depend on any age, any gender gap. It’s about people coming together, and the place that unites us is that magic of music which unites us. Some things pass away. With GOOD GOD A’MIGHTY, this play, I am beginning again at a fresh point. All those things that are retro and nostalgic have a fresh life again. That’s what music can be. In pop culture, we try to make things old and passing away, but that’s not what art is. Art lives.

Purchase tickets for GOOD GOD A’MIGHTY here or at the Woodruff Arts Center Box Office.

 

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Kool Kat of the Week: Everything He Touches Turns To Excitement! Conductor Michael Krajewski on ASO’s BOND AND BEYOND Concert

Posted on: Mar 14th, 2012 By:

By Anthony Taylor
Contributing Writer

This Friday and Saturday the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra enters the shadowy world of spies and secret agents with the BOND AND BEYOND concert, celebrating the music of composer John Barry and the 50th anniversary of the first James Bond film, DR. NO. Principal Pops Conductor Michael Krajewski will lead the Orchestra in a variety of James Bond movie themes, including “From Russia with Love,” “You Only Live Twice,” and “Goldfinger.” The program will also include other spy and action movie favorites, such as “Sooner or Later” from DICK TRACY, the “Inspector Clouseau Theme” from THE PINK PANTHER, and “Soul Bossa Nova” from the AUSTIN POWERS films. Broadway vocalist and Tony Award-winner Debbie Gravitte will join the Orchestra for many of the evening’s musical selections.

A cultural icon of the 20th century, superspy James Bond is a plucky survivor that remains a favorite with today’s film audiences – the 23rd Bond film, SKYFALL, is currently in production at Pinewood Studios with Daniel Craig returning to the role, and is due for release in November.

The music from the films is no less iconic. Setting the tone with DR. NO in 1962, composer John Barry would go on to score twelve of the films as well as create the unforgettable James Bond theme. Though credited to Monty Norman, the arrangement by Barry is what has become synonymous with the character and musical shorthand for suave, retro cool. Later films feature music by David Arnold, Marvin Hamlisch, Sir Paul McCartney and even Sir George Martin, the “fifth Beatle.”

Micheal, Debbie and the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra will be giving all for Queen and country to thrill spies and femme fatales in attendance. ATLRetro recently interrogated Michael about the program and his connections to Bond… James Bond.

ATLRetro: The music of Bond is essentially the music of John Barry; what is Barry’s (who passed away in January 2011) ultimate impact on the landscape of film music, and how did his work influence you personally?

MK: John Barry seemed to have a knack for writing music that captured the grandeur and overall atmosphere of the film. The best examples are his work on DANCES WITH WOLVES, BORN FREE and OUT OF AFRICA. The Bond films are set in exotic locations and feature beautiful women and a suave, handsome hero. Barry’s sweeping descriptive music effectively supports the glamorous settings and characters.

Bond and Beyond features themes from other adventure films as well. Why not an all Bond program, and how did you decide what other pieces to include?

For the sake of an entertaining concert I chose to add some variety by including some well-known music influenced by the Bond movies, such as “Secret Agent Man,” “Soul Bossa Nova (the Austin Powers theme song) and the theme from MISSION IMPOSSIBLE.

Also, are there any Marvin Hamlisch pieces from THE SPY WHO LOVED ME, or any of Sir George Martin’s work from LIVE AND LET DIE included?

The concert will include Marvin Hamlisch’s “Nobody Does It Better” and Paul McCartney’s “Live and Let Die.”

“Goldfinger” is arguably the most well-known movie theme song of all time, and an enormous hit for Dame Shirley Bassey. What makes Debbie Gravitte the right vocalist to interpret it and the other theme songs included in BOND AND BEYOND?

Debbie Gravitte has a strong and compelling stage presence as well as a bold and commanding vocal style. She has a lot of dramatic experience due to her many years on Broadway, plus she has experience performing in concert with symphony orchestras. This made her the perfect choice for this program.

David Arnold composed the music for the last five Bond films, and was recommended for the job by John Barry. How do you feel his music compares to Barry’s work, and what differences do you find in performing it?

Just as the action and chase sequences seemed to intensify in the later films, so too did the music, courtesy of David Arnold.

Does BOND AND BEYOND feature deeper cuts from the films – for instance, the Little Nelly theme from YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE – or possibly medleys that include a sampling of music from the films?

The concert includes a medley of action sequences from CASINO ROYALE and QUANTUM OF SOLACE.

The spy film craze ended around 1968. What makes James Bond such an unforgettable character, and how is he (and the music from the classic films) relevant to today’s audiences?

I think the James Bond movies have always provided the audience with a wonderful escape. The characters are larger than life and the settings and music are beautiful and exotic. The desire to escape to the world of James Bond for a few hours has probably gotten stronger as our lives have become noisier and more complicated.

If you could have any gadget from the films, which one would it be and why?

Michael Krajewski. Photo credit: Michael Tammaro.

I’d like the invisible car that Bond had in DIE ANOTHER DAY. I don’t think I need to explain the advantages of an invisible car!

BOND AND BEYOND takes place at Atlanta Symphony Hall, Memorial Arts Building, Woodruff Arts Center Friday, March 16, 2012, 8 p.m. and Saturday, March 17, 2012, 8 p.m.  All single tickets for the 2011–2012 season are available online at www.atlantasymphony.org, by calling (404) 733-5000 or at the Woodruff Arts Center Box Office, at 15th and Peachtree Streets. Black tie and vodka martini (shaken, not stirred) are optional. 

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Weekend Update, May 27-29, 2011

Posted on: May 27th, 2011 By:

Friday, May 27

Bubbapalooza, Atlanta’s biggest annual rockabilly/Redneck Underground festival celebrates its 20th anniversary this weekend at Star Bar, and the fun starts at 7 PM tonight. Be sure and read the sneak preview/tribute piece with Bryan Malone and Ted Weldon here and get the band full schedule for Friday and Saturday here.

Mon Cherie Presents Va-Va Voom Black Light Burlesque Show, which has the awesome tagline “Where Kool Kats Go and Boobies Glow!”, at The Shelter. Emcee is the delectable Miss Mason and performers include The Chameleon Queen, Stormy Knight, Scarlett Page, Jon Pine, Tupelo Honey, Katarina Laveaux, Kittie Katrinaand newcomer Davana Scott. As usual, there’ll also be a Ragin’ Raffle with great prizes from a variety of vendors.

As a time-traveling Website, ATLRetro would be remiss if we didn’t mention that Friday also kicks off TimeGate, a convention celebrating two time-traveling TV shows/movie franchises which originated in the 20th century DOCTOR WHO and STARGATE. Guests include actress Sophie Aldred, who played Ace from 1987-89 with seventh doctor Sylvester McCoy.

Broadway and London musical superstar Patti Lupone brings her show-stopping revueCOULDA, WOULDA, SHOULDA to the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra at theWoodruff Arts Center. Michael Brown Quartet brings rhythm & blues and jazz to Fernbank Museum of Natural History’s Martinis and IMAX.

Saturday May 28

Decatur Arts Festival paints the suburb’s streets with art vendors, live musical performances including Cowboy Envy at noon, street food and kids activities. The 34th annual Atlanta Jazz Festival runs all day from 1 PM until after dark at Piedmont Park.

Caroline Hull Engel of Caroline & the Ramblers, among Saturday bands at Bubbapalooza 20.

Bubbapalooza revs up with doors at 3 PM and live music starting at 4 PM at Star Bar, including the Redneck Cruise-In Car Show featuring pre-1970s and earlier hot rods and cycles starting at 5 PM in the parking lot; barbecue by Slope’s BBQ; raffle & prizes; chance to get your official Bubbapalooza 20th anniversary photo taken at the PBR Photo Booth; and Internet motorhead radio station Garage 71 broadcasting live all night from The Little Vinyl Lounge. For a complete band listing, click here.

Broadway and London musical superstar Patti Lupone performs her show-stopping revue COULDA, WOULDA, SHOULDA for a second night with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra at the Woodruff Arts Center. DJ Romeo Colognetransforms the sensationally seedy Clermont Lounge into a ’70s disco/funk inferno.

Sunday May 29

Decatur Arts Festival continues, with bands including the jazzy Bonaventure Quartet featuring Amy Pike at 2 PM, rockin’ blues with Delta Moon at 4 PM and then wrapping up at 7 PM with Swingin’ on the Square. The Atlanta Jazz Festival also starts back up at 1 PM at Piedmont Park with a mix of vintage and contemporary style jazz performers. The contributions of veterans not just of current conflicts but WWII, Korean War and Vietnam War will be celebrated during Veterans Remembrance Day at the Atlanta History Center. Spend a day in the company of veterans and living history interpretors who will tell their stories using authentic dress, equipment and vehicles. The Barrow Boys headline blues “dunch” between 1 and 4 PM at The Earl.

Closing this week

At the High Museum of Art through May 29 is the MOMA-organized HENRI CARTIER-BRESSON: THE MODERN CENTURY, a blockbuster exhibit showcasing a photographer and photojournalist who captured on film many of the seminal moments  of the 20th century from World War II to the assassination of Ghandi, China’s cultural revolution to civil rights and consumer culture in America.

Tune back in on Monday for This Week in Retro Atlanta. If you know of a cool Retro happening, send suggestions to ATLRetro@gmail.com.


 

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