What about the curtains?

posted by Michael Zoldessy on September 16, 2014 at 9:46 am

So much is written about the decline of cinemas in general but how about how curtains have been forgotten? The Chicago Reader took a look at how this one omission has vastly changed the moviegoing experience.

Comments (12)

HowardBHaas on September 16, 2014 at 10:36 am

I see fewer movies because there aren’t curtains! And, today there’s a trend away from masking which will result in my seeing fewer movies, too.

JohnRice on September 16, 2014 at 5:56 pm

The curtain definitely added to the movie theater experience in the old days. I loved the way it closed at the end of the shorts program (news, cartoon, trailers, etc.) and then opened again at the beginning of the main feature and closed again at the end, perfectly timed thanks to an added curtain cue at the bottom right side of screen. A nice bit of showmanship that helped in a small way to make going to the movies a special experience.

Proper curtain opening and closing seems to be mostly a lost art in the few theaters that still have curtains. Projectionists in the old days were trained never to let the audience see the white screen. You dimmed the lights, started the projector, opened the dowser and then opened the curtains on the first images to hit them. Some theatre owners and projectionists preferred opening after the studio logo faded out. Same thing when the movie ended, curtain closing timed to end with final fade out, again no white screen visible to your audience!

Nowadays common practice seems to be open curtains all the way and then start the show on the naked screen. Same thing when the movie ends, curtains close after the final fadeout (although now with the amazing amount of credits nobody is usually left in auditorium to even notice!) The only theater in the San Francisco Bay Area where I see it done the old way (and I think the right way) consistently is at David Packard’s great Stanford Theatre in Palo Alto.

Showmanship in theaters has been generally been dead for decades though and there is no reason to believe it will return. That totally annoying 20 minute pre-show commercial marathon masquerading as entertainment was the final nail in the coffin I think.

Michael Furlinger
Michael Furlinger on September 16, 2014 at 8:26 pm

I still have a curtain in my large auditorium.

Vito on September 17, 2014 at 4:11 am

I just loved the post from John Rice which gave me goose bumps about the good ole days in theaters. Curtains played a big part in the movie presentation, proper timing of the curtain to ensure that the two panels met or kissed just as the last note of the music played or the picture faded to black was very a very important part of the presentation. John mentioned never showing a white screen which was so true you simply never did that neither was the moving of the masking which had to be done while the curtain was closed. A Delux, as we called it back when, meant closing and reopening the curtain between all pre feature presentation films and when going from flat to scope audiences never saw the masking move. we had some pictures with overtures and intermissions and part of he presentation meant dimming the lights gradually with two or three different settings as the music played. Ah yes, we had fun in the booth back then and the audiences loved it.

markp on September 17, 2014 at 6:45 am

Vito, what you just described was what my father use to call “showmanship”, something thats been lacking since I would say the late 70’s/early 80’s as the age of twinning and the birth of multiplexes took place. As he always told me, I came into the game a few years too late.

robboehm on September 17, 2014 at 8:58 am

More anticipation when you enter an auditorium with the curtains closed rather than just seeing a blank screen.

Back in the day the projectionist at my local theater often used the curtains in a deliberate manner. The speakers, at that time were behind the curtain. For a 20th Century Fox Cinemascope production he would play the opening drum intro without projections. Then he would go to the visual When the music would swell he would open the curtains, and this was a wide proscenium, adding to the volume.

FoU 20 Thousand Leagues Under the Sea he began with the sound of the Nautilus without the visual. Then he projected the ship on the curtain. Very effective.

Those were the days when you went to a THEATRE!

Ron Carlson
Ron Carlson on September 19, 2014 at 10:53 am

Totally agree with the posts on this topic. I was a projectionist for many years and reading these posts has brought back many memory’s of going to the movies both as a customer and as a professional. I’m a major movie theatre junkie and now rarely go to the movies. Hate the “pre-show”. No showmanship, only herd the audience in, subject them to advertising, show the film, up with the lights and herd them out. Repeat again! So grateful I was part of when going to the movies was a treat. Movie theatre’s were special places. The sad thing is the digital equipment in use today is capable of doing all the things we used to do, but owners are cutting costs, so no curtains, sometimes no maskings, no training on showmanship. We used to say “The show stars on the sidewalk”. All lost today, except for those very few individuals who still care.

paulnelson on September 21, 2014 at 8:30 pm

A newer very hightech theatre in Seattle is the Majestic Bay in Ballard. Ice blue verticle opening waterfall style curtain that opens twice at the start of each film presentation. The 2 theatres above the main auditorium have no curtain. This theatre is very elegant compared to any other movie theatre in Seattle. I miss the concept of using a curtain. It is like the art of tea. It is a new built from foundation theatre.

stevenj on September 22, 2014 at 8:30 am

John Rice…Add the Castro Theatre in San Francisco to your very short list of theaters in the SF Bay Area to still use curtains and masking properly.

MPol on October 25, 2014 at 6:36 pm

I think that having a curtain really does add to the experience of seeing a movie in a real theatre. The Coolidge Corner Theatre in Brookline, MA, and the Somerville Theatre, in Somerville, MA both still have curtains in their big main screens, which is great. So does Cinestudio cinema in Hartford, CT.

It’s a real starter and a real ender to a feature movie, especially a good classic film.

terrywade on November 20, 2014 at 8:14 pm

The Theatre Del Mar in Santa Cruz CA has their great Red waterfall curtains working again. They open on the trailers and close after the trailers and open on the main feature. Showmanship has returned to Santa Cruz. Thanks to Jim the manager. Stop in and see them work. You won’t see this in your local chain multiplex.

kislly on April 15, 2020 at 3:39 am

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