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Using The Curtains For Showmanlike
Presentations Of Regular Fare

Please excuse my subtlety.

For over six decades, theatres handled their film presentations exactly like live, "legitimate", performances. A few hours in a movie palace or crackerbox neighborhood theatre were broken into logical acts. The acts were separated by the closing of the curtains. Today's youthful theatre managers seem to feel that audiences will get confused and rush from the house demanding refunds on their way out, but this isn't the case.

In the days when the machines upstairs were run by professional projectionists and the house lights, stage lights, and curtains were operated by a stage hand, a typical show would go something like this:

  • Between shows the curtains were kept closed, a point that I surely have gotten across by now. House lights and stage lights were fully up and perhaps the theatre played music softly.

  • The stage lights would completely dim, the house lights would dim, perhaps not fully, and the curtains would open for previews of coming attractions.

  • At the conclusion of the previews, the curtains would close briefly with no change in the house lights, signifying the end of the first act, and then would reopen at the beginning of a newsreel or short subject. At the conclusion of this film the curtains would again close briefly.

  • With the start of the feature film, the house lights were fully dimmed and the curtain would open on the studio logo. If the feature, or any other part of the presentation was in a different aspect ratio, the screen maskings were always moved while the curtains were closed.

  • If the theatre was running a double feature then an intermission title was spliced to the end of the main feature and the curtains were closed and house lights brought up so people could leave the auditorium and invest in Milk Duds, popcorn, etc. and relieve themselves. The second feature would begin after about a ten minute break with the house lights dimming and the curtain opening on the studio logo.

All this hoopla with the curtains and lights kind of died as the professional people behind the scenes were replaced with automated projection equipment "operated" by the theatre manager or a popcorn girl.

But the fact of the matter is that it was sheer laziness that killed showmanship, because all the automated equipment, platter systems, etc. make provision for doing everything as it had been done for decades. Automated projection can alter house lights, change screen maskings, open and close curtains and change the projection lenses if someone will take the time to program the show. Some theatres actually do this, but they're now few and far between.

Today's theatres don't run newsreels or double features, but showmanship doesn't have to die entirely because the audience has to be subjected to advertising slides and half an hour's worth of coming attractions. Programming a show into logical acts can still be part of a theatre's showmanship. And fer gawd's sake, turn down the volume on those horrible trailers and digital sound promos.

Here at the Museum we think it was more fun to go to a movie theatre than a multiplex, simply because of the difference in presentation.


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