Some of the finest movies Hollywood ever churned out were silent, yet the public today rarely has an opportunity to see classics such as "City Lights" or "Intolerance" on the silver screen. But you can see them here, at the Silent Movie Showcase. In fact, many old-time movie actors have dropped by the theatre to watch their own films.
Tragedy struck the Silent Movie Showcase on January 17, 1997, when the owner of the theater, Laurence Austin, was shot and killed during an apparent robbery attempt. Police later arrested his longtime business partner for hiring the gunman to kill Austin, so that he could gain the inheritance.
The Silent Movie Showcase was closed, and in March 1998, the theatre was put up for sale. Many assumed that would be the end of it.
But fortunately, the story had a happy ending.
The theatre was saved by silent film enthusiast, Charlie Lustman (pictured to the left), who purchased the theatre on impulse (he suspects that the spirit of was John Hampton spurring him on) and re-opened it in November of 1999 as the only silent film cinema in the USA.
The new owners invested almost a million dollars in the theatre, and conducted an extensive renovation. The "new" theatre has a gorgeous art deco neon marquee, new paint, new wooden floors, a new screen, a new projection booth, and a $7,000 digital keyboard donated by Yamaha. They also added a second-floor café and movie art gallery.
This a very small theatre, with only 158 seats, but there is live music (organ or piano) accompanying the movies. Before the main feature begins, you can expect to see silent shorts, cartoons and serials.
The theatre has even attracted celebrities in the audience, to watch the movies, such as Leonardo DiCaprio, Meg Ryan and Dennis Quaid.
However, as the years passed, the silent movie showings became less and less frequent, until by 2006, they were only doing shows on holiday weekends. On the other hand, according to the L.A. Times, they were doing a bang-up business renting the building for private parties - weddings, Bar mitzvahs, and release parties that attracted the likes of Alanis Morissette, Bruce Springsteen, John Fogerty and David Bowie. The theatre even did a private screening as a date for Johnny Depp and future wife Vanessa. And those private parties began to push the films out of the picture.
In June 2006, Lustman announced that he was selling the theatre to new owners: two young brothers, Sammy & Dan Harkham (age 26 & 24) and Hadrian Belove. They have turned the small theatre into a revival house, featuring an ecelectic mix of relatively recent movies with sound. However, they do still show silent movies (with live music) once a week. However, unlike Lustman, who tended to stick with the classics (like Charlie Chaplin), the Harkham's hope to show lesser-known silent films. And the private parties? They'll continue to pay the rent.
Phone ahead (323-655-2520) to see what's playing this week.
Getting there: The theatre is located on the west side of Fairfax Avenue, just south of Melrose Avenue. From Farmer's Market, drive north up Fairfax Avenue (about one mile) to Melrose, and the theatre will be on your left (west) side. / From Hollywood & Vine, take Vine Street south (about a mile and a quarter) to Melrose Avenue, and go west on Melrose (two miles) to Fairfax. Turn right (south) on Fairfax, and the theatre will be on your right.
[For more information, you
can access the theatre's official website
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