I promised you guys something good this week (other than my usual post), so here it is...
For those of you who enjoyed the infamous Rutherford Chili Cone, you'll be happy to know that the most ludicrous idea for a concession stand product ever didn't end there!
No sir, not only did the idea of a salty cracker ice-cream-shaped cone stuffed with chili appeal to one Rutherford Food Company, but to three Chicago-based companies.
As seen at the left, the announcement for the Hot Chili Cone was made in the March 6, 1954 issue of BoxOffice (for those keeping track, a month after the premier of Rutherford's ChiliCone), the three components, Chili, cone and server equipment, all being supplied by different companies.
Also available were free backboard and window posters. If anyone has one of these or knows the whereabouts of one, by all means, let me know!
As I somewhat imagined, this product was geared more towards the drive-in circuits, but I was not surpirsed to see the company pushing the chili cones at indoor theaters, too. I still can't imagine getting past the smell of chili both in the lobby and in the theater.
...and the messes! The messes....
As if that little blurb wasn't enough, I've saved the best for last... a full page ad for the product!
Monday, January 22, 2007
Friday, January 19, 2007
Before anything else, I must apologize about last week's lack of article. I was on a very interesting film-related trip to Chicago, which I will expound upon soon. Hopefully, my variety this week will redeem me. I've been on a '50s kick lately, so I'll try to break away from that within the next few weeks.
Several people have been asking about the size of the photos-- you have to click on them to see the full image. The ones in the article are just thumbnails.
This is part one of a two part post. Part II will be posted later this week.
Looking at the image to the right of this 1903 poster, one might think it originated as a piece of advertising for an early Edison, Biograph or Lubin short. But this colorful artwork is actually a relic of William W. Pratt's stage play, Ten Nights in a Bar-Room, based on the book of the same title by T.S. Arthur. The reformist play, which had premiered in 1856, was a perennial favorite with American audiences, and continued to play theaters into the 1920s.
It is not a poster for a movie, but I'm using it to illustrate the colorful, detailed art craft that not too long after would saturate the pedestrian market for motion pictures.
If there's anything that attracts the human eye, it's pattern and color. It's one of the subliminal reasons that movie-going is so popular. It's also the target behind advertising pictures well. And while one sheets and window cards are nice, there's nothing like large paper. This blog is dedicated to big, colorful paper that caught our eyes all those years ago...
Between the years 1910 and around 1975, some of the most artistically, inimitable poster artwork was created in order to attract patrons. Sizes varied from the relatively small lobby cards and window cards, up the the very largest, the 24-sheet, a billboard poster sizing an intimidating 12 feet by 9 feet.
Almost all of the large paper was printed in sections: three sheets (81 inches by 41 inches) started as literally three sheets, but soon came in two pieces, and even as a whole, occasionally. Six sheets (81 inches by 81 inches) came in sometimes three, but usually four pieces. 24 sheets varied, but were generally 10 to 12 pieces.
While many posters were off-set printed in regularly lithography style, the nonpareil printing style was unarguably that of stone lithography. An artist creates a "plate" for each primary color (magenta, yellow, cyan and black) using blocks of flat limestone of a fine grain. A litho crayon, or oily paint substance is used to make the image, in positive, on each block, by the artist. Much care must be taken care, as each block must be identical in shape, and proportional in color.
Once each color is laid out, all of the porous limestone blocks are saturated in water. Those areas painted repel the water, as they are oil based.
An oil based ink is then rolled onto each block. The water soaked areas that are not painted repel the ink, and the areas covered in the crayon or paint hold the ink.
Finally, a sheet of paper is carefully pressed onto the block.
The result is infinite tonality-- a delicate blend of color and detail that is unique to any other printing process. Examine this six sheet from Biograph's 1917 reissue of D.W. Griffith's 1913 production, JUDITH OF BETHULIA. As Griffith left the next year for better things, the obvious happened to the one-trick-pony Biograph Studios. This re-edited version of the film, entitled HER CONDONED SIN, was one of their last releases before the company folded.
Study the poster carefully and you will begin to pick up details that are not apparent on first glance. Notice the detail in color tonality, particularly the flesh tones. The choice of color is like that of the old masters... the virginal, white Judith dances in somewhat pink hues in front of a dark, sea green orgy in the background. The stray rose on the ground is almost an afterthought, but could be a painting in itself.
If Griffith was the pinnacle of drama, it was undeniable that Charlie Chaplin was the apex of comedy. I had many large-sized posters to choose from to represent Chaplin-- all colorful and beautiful-- but I chose this particular three sheet because I feel it is one of the only pieces that best represents the spirit of Chaplin's films.
The striking blue background contrasts nicely with Charlie's red vest, and little Jackie Coogan's maroon rag clothing. Primary colors are the emphasis in this portrait, resonating nicely off of Chaplin's primary elements of drama and comedy woven into the film.
The company of First National Pictures in less than a decade would be purchased by Warner Brothers Pictures, after their tremendous success with the Vitaphone picture, THE JAZZ SINGER.
And not less than four year later, this colorful six sheet from the 1932 Warner Bros.-First National picture, I AM A FUGITIVE FROM A CHAIN GANG.
I always enjoy paintings of subjects that utilized colored light from different directions, particularly the contrasting use of the colors blue or green on a person's face. With the CHAIN GANG 6-sheet, Paul Muni's awestruck expression is heightened by the subtle blend between a pale yellow and a deep green. Muni's figure is then contrasted by the blood red background of the harsh events that occur in prison.
Just a year before, this three sheet lured audiences in with its exploitative promises of native women being defiled by the most savage gorilla of Darkest Africa, INGAGI.
Produced by Congo Pictures, Ltd., and available in both silent and sound editions, the picture initially caused a sensation at the Box Office, grossing much needed profit for an independent distributor in the early days of the Great Depression, but the feature was also dealt a major scandal.
Aside from the bare-breasted native women being groped by a six-foot gorilla, the supposedly 100% authentic documentary soon was exposed as a fraud-- the woman seen here in the poster and figuring prominently in the storyline was caught by some to be, in actuality, a fairly well-known Hollywood actress that had been trying to get leading roles for some time.
Further examination proved that the supposed jungles of Africa were no farther from the arc-lights of Hollywood, California than Bronson Canyon!
Even INGAGI's overgrown chimp was a fake, albeit a masterful one-- the king of monkey costumes himself, Charlie Gemora, a master make-up artist and ape man par excellence was the supposedly ferocious gorilla.
Footage of the jungles were culled from documentaries, and just as lawsuits were starting to materialize, the film was pulled from the market. The success of the film's sexual relations between woman and overgrown simian no doubt inspired a couple of entrepreneurial producers to create the grand-daddy of all over-sized apes, KING KING, two years later.
Speaking of Kong and overgrown gorillas, here is RKO's family-friendly answer to their continuing series of giant ape films, 1948's MIGHTY JOE YOUNG. Seen in this lithographic three-sheet is the climax of the film, as Joe saves a group of children from a burning orphanage.
The scene was heightened by an interesting printing effect, thanks to the Technicolor Corporation and an inventive process, in which the film was "colorized" in a fashion that certain highlights, midtones and shadows were all uniquely colored. The end effect was a startling mix of red, orange and yellow hues, with localized colors in certain areas of the image.
Experiments continued for some time on Merian C. Cooper's earlier production of CHANG to a good degree of success. These test still survive today.
Around the same time, there were other kinds of monsters scaring up big bucks at the Box Office. Universal-International decided it was time to pair their biggest money-makers together-- Abbott and Costello, along with Frankenstein, Dracula and The Wolf Man, in what most film buffs consider the best blending of comedy and horror ever put on screen: ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN (or for you purists out there, BUD ABBOTT AND LOU COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN).
Above is a rarely seen image: the astounding 24-sheet for the film. Only one is known to exist in a private collection, dusted off time to time only to be put on display for a short period. Driving down an urban highway and seeing this sign MUST have gotten someone to take the next exit to the nearest theater for an afternoon of laughs and fun.
About a decade later, Universal turned out another classic. Neither the primary 24 sheet nor this following poster exist, as far as I know. This particular picture is taken from the pressbook and is about as close to the real thing as we'll get, unless someone unearths one in a warehouse somewhere...
THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN had an incredibly COLORFUL teaser 24-sheet, as seen above. Printed with black and Day-Glo Orange ink, I tried to recreate the color as best as possible on the computer, but as we all know, these sort of things are best seen in person. I have to imagine a poster of this contrast, color and size both startled and amazed drivers on the road. No doubt, it left a very sizable impression on those who saw it.
Saturday, January 6, 2007
Sorry about the late post, folks. I completely changed my mind while I was in the middle of writing what should become next week's article (as I will be out of town, anyway). A discussion on an Internet forum sparked my interest in eventually getting around to this one, and during Wednesday, I spent all evening researching. My time to pen these blogs is limited, so it usually takes about four to five days. Here are the fruits of my labor...
In 1953, Exhibitors and studios were attempting to recover from the setbacks of Television. Studios were turning to methods of 3-D, widescreen, and stereophonic sound as alternatives. But not all Exhibitors were happy about change.
The "miracle" known as CinemaScope was another one of these novelties, but certainly an experience in its own right, none the less. With widescreen, color and stereophonic sound, 20th Century Fox, who held the rights to the process, made good numbers for the Exhibitors at the Box Office, and gave themselves a much needed boost in profit as well. But, while the transition to widescreen was fairly simple and commonplace, the hassles of running such things as interlock projectors and installing extra (and expensive) speakers and amplifiers was difficult and relatively sparse.
It was no surprise, then, that in the January 16, 1954 issue of Showmen's Trade Review, it was reported that the Community Theater, a 1,500 seat house in Morristown, NJ, operated by the Walter Reade Theater chain, was running THE ROBE's audio through one, monophonic speaker. Even less of a shock was Fox's outrage to the situation. Up until that point, all other exhibitors had complied with Fox's requirements for sound and projection of their CinemaScope features: to be shown on a Miracle Mirror, Astrolite or equal-quality screen of the correct ratio, as well as the installation of four-channel stereophonic sound (sound head, sprockets, amplifier and speakers), to properly run their four-track print.
The Community had half of the correct elements-- a 35-foot wide Astrolite screen met sufficient visual standards, but through means of a mixer manufactured by the Cinematic Corporation of Bloomfield, NJ, the four-channel soundtrack which came with the film was mixed from all four channels into one signal, and then piped into a single speaker.
Even though the Community's lobby displays made no mention of stereo sound (or lack thereof), it was reported that the theater ran a recorded speech before the showing which announced to the audience it was about to hear stereophonic sound. According to observers who were there for the monophonic viewings, they "found a boom noticeable and lack of crystal clear quality, but were unable to say whether this was usual in the theater." The sound did not appear to be off in the rear of the theater, curiously, but "it became obvious that the sound was not issuing from the parts of the screen where the action was taking place or the dialog being spoken." Even though this was common previously in movie theater, moviegoers were being cheated out of the promise of Fox's "miracle" of stereophonic sound. It was half of the experience for the full ticket price.
Ironically, not long before this skulduggery occurred, Fox had planned to test a single-track version of THE ROBE (whether it was magnetic or optical sound is unknown) in Ohio, but changed their mind at the last moment, citing that even if the single-track system were successful, it would "prove nothing, since there would not be sufficient prints in the single-track version to meet exhibitor needs for CinemaScope pictures."
By January 20th, Fox was in heated talks about applying for a court injunction against the Walter Reade chain's use of the mixer. To add fuel to the fire, Reade installed the mono mixer into two of his other New Jersey theaters, in Perth Amboy and Kingston.
Immediately after the story broke in Showman's Trade Review, Walter Reade Jr., head of the theater chain, as well as the president prolific Theatre Owners of America (TOA) association, announced he would issue a statement, but never followed up. With Reade running the organization, there was no doubt that the TOA was about to be dragged into a game of chess with 20th.
A week later, Spiros Skouras, president of Fox, and Reade had come to an apparent resolution. Both parties were court shy, but never-the-less had lawyers ready to do battle. To avoid legal conflict, Fox was to go ahead with their tests of mono sound with CinemaScope in four regions, and according to Reade, to use one of his own theaters as "a guinea pig" for the experiment. Reade's motivation was for his benefit in end: Fox okayed the use of their mono print and Reade did not have to install further, modern stereo equipment in his theaters. He would be able to carry on running THE ROBE at the Community, as well as the in the two other theaters, using the new mono prints for one month, as part of the test to determine whether the studio would change its stereo policy.
Drive-in theaters also wanted to run 'Scope films, but were relying on a single, mono speaker to pump sound into individual cars and couldn't possibly install 4-track into each car. In the February 6 issue of BoxOffice, Abram F. Myers, general counsel for Allied States Association, made the statement that Fox would have to shift its policy for drive-ins "if the handsome profits earned by 'The Robe' are not to be wiped out by the losses on lesser product that does not hold up in the key runs." The ball was in Fox's court, who on the same page revealed that they would stick to their guns with their new drive-in sound plan. The key points were that:
1. CinemaScope will be made available to drive-ins, but the film prints will have four-channel magnetic recording and the reproduction will have to be on a two-speaker system similar to the one demonstrated Monday by International Projector Co. at Bloomfield, NJ. Both RCA and Altec are said to be working on such a system.
2. Al Lichtman, director of distribution, sent Alex Harrison to Cincinnati to explain to Allied drive-in convention delegates how the new system works. This was after the convention had ridiculed a report that two-speakers-per-car would be required for drive-ins and after there had been sharp criticism of the company's failure to reply to a telegram sent at the start of the convention.
3. Lichtman issued a second statement replying to the Theatre Owners of America board of directors in which he said Fox would continue to insist on the use of stereophonic sound and that where an exhibitor finds it impossible to secure credit for the apparatus, the company will use its influence to help him get installations on a long-term payment basis.
The same week, in response to the announcement, TOA formed a committee to "militantly" protect Exhibitors from attempts by the studio to take control of theater operations away from them. According to Reade, "whether an exhibitor installs stereophonic sound or other equipment must rest in his own discretion and choice." Fellow exhibitors weren't too happy with Reade's handshake deal with Skouras, officially announced at the January 31 TOA meeting. One fellow NJ exhibitor, after seeing Reade's grosses without the stereo sound commented, "he can buy three stereophonic installations out of the profits of the first three bookings!"
Things continued to heat up. On February 10, Variety announced that Reade cancelled tests when he was told by Lichtman at Fox that their policy wasn't going to change, no matter what the outcome. "Even though exhibitors might sit at the tests, their judgements on the requirement of stereophonic sound would not be respected or considered in Fox's decision," was Reade's opinion based on conversation with Lichtman. Even Variety warned that a future legal battle was certainly on the way to the circuit.
There are few facts to report after this point, no doubt with a lot of back-room deals that were never documented. Consequently, there is a point that is subject to much confusion, even with many of the facts present. For years, texts on the subject reported that the parties did have a fierce court battle in which Reade got his way, championing the right to run mono sound on 'Scope prints. Whether or not this case was actually tried, Variety reported on February 17 that Reade himself folded, installing stereo in all of his theaters, citing that lack of Fox product to him was his concern. According to them, the new contract with 20th for HOW TO MARRY A MILLIONAIRE was the deciding factor in making Reade spend $3,000 on a new stereo system per theater.
Fox had won the battle, but apparently not the war. Pressure from TOA and other exhibitors, coupled with the drive-in debacle forced Fox to come to a new solution. On May 6, Fox announced the cancellation of their previous policy on stereophonic sound. As a result, exhibitors who were interested in playing CinemaScope features had their choice of four-track magnetic, one track magnetic, and one track optical soundtracks.
MGM followed suit the same week with its policy on their CinemaScope productions and stereo sound. General sales manager Charles Reagan said, "The new policy is designed to service theatres which present the single-channel track as well as those equipped for magnetic sound and the new Perspecta sound." Reagan also added that while the choice was optional, it was the opinion of MGM that all exhibitors should take any opportunities available to improve audio presentation, including installation of stereophonic sound systems.
The Perspecta stereophonic system that MGM previously referred to was a groundbreaking plan to incorporate a stereophonic track within a monophonic, optical track. Developed by the Fine Sound Laboratories in 1954, it debuted with that year's WHITE CHRISTMAS, alongside VistaVision, Paramount's new widescreen process. More about Perspecta in an upcoming article.
The headaches didn't end there. In June, a group of Minneapolis exhibitors had had enough. S.D. Kane, North Central Allied executive counsel, reported that a "sizable number" of exhibitors who installed stereophonic sound now wanted Fox to reimburse them for the equipment "which has become unnecessary."
All of this chaos was reflected humorously in Martin Quigley Jr.'s column in the Motion Picture Herald later that month in a blurb captioned "Print Happy!" He was right, as this following list was what caused the headaches Exhibitors had to deal with:
*Standard print - standard sound
*Standard print - separate stereophonic sound print [fullcoat mag, interlocked]
*Standard print - separate stereophonic sound print; effects on optical track with picture [aka WARNERPHONIC (more on this in a future article)]
*3-D - two print system
*3-D - single print system
*3-D - two print system with separate stereophonic sound print
*CinemaScope - 4-track stereophonic sound
*CinemaScope - single optical sound track
*CinemaScope - Perspecta directional sound
*CinemaScope - single track magnetic
*CinemaScope - reduced to standard "2-D" print [Note: they mean a reduced, non-anamorphic print]
*VistaVision - Perspecta sound
*VistaVision printed in SuperScope - Perspecta sound
*SuperScope print of standard picture.
Quigley aptly noted, "the Italians have a word for a situation like this. It is basta. The meaning-- THAT'S ENOUGH!"