Friday, May 11, 2012

"The Hindenburg" screening at The Egyptian last night

This past Sunday, May 6 was the 75th Anniversary of the crash of the Hindenburg at Lakehurst, N.J. Being an enthusiast of the airship since I was a teenager, I would be remise to not acknowledge this milestone.

But I was happily surprised when the American Cinemathique held a special screening of 1975's "The Hindenburg" at The Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood last night to honor that date. Part of a double feature with 1974's "Earthquake", the listing squarely pointed to the anniverary of the Hindenburg disaster first an foremost.

Enjoying this movie that I grew up with at home was difficult at best. Unfortunately the DVD release is far from perfect. Produced in the early days of DVD and never given it's proper due, the film suffers from a poor transfer and low compression without any extras whatsoever. When I finally projected it on the big screen in my home theatre I was shocked at how bad a transfer it actually was!

So this screening at The Egyptian would also serve as my opportunity to see the movie on a bona fide movie theatre screen for the first time since it's release almost 37 years ago....jeez, has it been that long??!!

And yet there was one more aspect to going last night. I almost felt like I'd be reminded of when I saw "The Hindenburg" for the very first time in Upstate New York at the Hellman Theatre on Washington Ave. in Albany.

What I didn't realize was the treat I was about to experience.

As moviegoers began filing in I noticed a lot of people my age who probably also saw the movie when it first came out. One guy even had a "Poseidon Adventure" T-shirt on, at which point I knew I was in just the right crowd. Settling in as the lights went down, the familiar original black and white Universal logo came up. It's the beginning of the newsreel open that gives some history of the airship leading up to the Hindenburg. At the conclusion of this three minute intro the film goes 1.33:1 (square) to a full 2.35:1. Suddenly I was looking at the first shot of the airship as it flies through the opening credits.

I was astounded.

The picture was so brilliant and clear, the colors were near perfect. And as the movie continued I was amazed at what a beautiful print I was witnessing! That more than helped transport me back to a time when I was 15 years old, sitting in Hellman's and watching George C. Scott try and uncover who might be trying to sabotage the great airship on what would be it's last voyage.

The audience was incredible as well. Very respectful and even applauding some of the actors, like Anne Bancroft. People were there to really appreciate the film and, as sometimes happens with movies that might seem dated to younger audiences, not berate anything about it. I was in heaven.

Because I had to work today, I knew it would be too much to stay for the double feature. So after "The Hindenburg" ended I proceeded to the lobby looking for someone of authority to praise the quality of the picture and thank them for making it available. I ended up talking to one of the volunteers I'd seen before as well as Grant who usually introduces American Cinemathique screenings. He was just there to enjoy the movies last night.

More people came out for the intermission between films and were commenting about the fantastic print. As the lights went down in the actual theatre and I realized it was time to go, I suddenly noticed a decades ago familiar red card on the movie screen. It was the original Sensurround warning attached to "Earthquake"! My God, I hadn't seen this since the movie was first released!! I raced back into the theatre as the doors were about to be closed and continued to watch standing in the back. An announcer read the warning as it scrolled on screen. Here is what it said in white text over a red background:

This motion picture will be shown in the startling multi-dimension of
Please be aware that you will feel as well as see and hear realistic effects such as might be experience in an actual earthquake. The management assumes no responsibility for the physical or emotional reactions of the individual viewer.'

Brilliant! Everyone applauded as it ended and I couldn't help myself from half exclaiming right in the theatre 'YES!!! Thank you for including that!" People around me smiled with true appreciation and certainly loved seeing this bit of film history once more. Suddenly I was feeling sad about not staying. But....I did need to get home and go to bed!

"The Hindenburg" was released during the heyday of Universal's 1970's magnificent rollout of films that would forever be a touchstone of my youth. There's something about the way these movies were shot as well as some of supporting actors in them that all seemed to connect somehow. Films like "Airport '75", "Earthquake", "Midway" knew when you were watching a Universal release because there was a certain undeniable look.

Even though production of "The Hindenburg" was a direct result of the popularity of disaster movies of the time, the film plays more like a thriller / historical drama that just happens to have a climactic disaster element. I always hoped a big budget feature surrounding the Hindenburg crash would again be mounted, especially after the gi-normous success of "Titanic" in 1997. The only problem is the actual event from when the first explosion rocked the fin section to when the bow of the airship crashed to the ground was 34 seconds. Not the hour and a half struggle of the Titanic hitting the iceberg and slowly sinking with 1,500 aboard. 

I can understand why studios might not know how to tackle the briefness of this historically iconic event. Hopefully at some point they'll figure it out. As it stands right now, the George C. Scott / Anne Bancroft starer is the only domestic feature to portray the ships untimely end. There was a German mini-series produced in 2010 which was fashioned very much like Cameron's "Titanic", right down to the lowly cabin boy who falls in love with the socialite girl. From what I've heard the effects are spectacular but apparently the rest of the movie, acting and even music (electronica?), are questionable.

BTW, quick trivia.

Who can name the other three Universal movies that were originally released in Sensurround? There's one that always eludes people. No going onto Wikipedia and cheating!!! Use your brain!

I had a fantastic time last night seeing "The Hindenburg" with some true fans....and still felt just that much more like a 15 year old, once again settling back in my seat at the Hellman Theatre all those years ago.


At May 11, 2012 at 11:22 PM, Anonymous Movie T-shirts said...

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At May 12, 2012 at 10:45 AM, Anonymous allen said...

Rollercoaster, Midway and (of all movies) Battlestar Galactica!
Okay, what did I win!?

At May 13, 2012 at 2:52 PM, Blogger LA Filmcutter said...

DING, DING, DING!!!!! You are correct, sir!! Now tell him what he's won, Johnny!

Well...Allen has won a 5 year extension to his elite movie fan membership!!! [audience applauds wildly!]

"Rollercoaster" is the one that always stumps people.

At May 14, 2012 at 2:50 AM, Anonymous allen said...


I would think Battlestar would be the stumper, when I saw it in theaters it was NOT in Sensurround. But I clearly remember the others being advertised and shown in Sensurround.

At May 16, 2012 at 10:17 AM, Blogger LA Filmcutter said...

I actually saw "Battlestar" in theatres with Sensurround. There was a big push for this in the format but I'd have to say at that point the concept wasn't as fresh.


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