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VINTAGRAPH • WPA • WWII • NORTH TUSCANY COAST, 1948

Spoiler Alert: 1920

Spoiler Alert: 1920

Washington, D.C. "Sidney Lust -- Leader Theater." Circa 1920, a "de luxe showing" of the "The Spoilers," a 1914 melodrama based on Rex Beach's novel of corruption in the Alaska gold fields. The movie was remade in 1923 -- and again in 1930, 1942 and 1955. National Photo Co. glass negative. View full size.

 

Publicity Stills

Theaters didn't have this sort of lavish display when I was a child in the '60s. But I do remember the black and white publicity photos stacked on either side of the movie posters. We'd go down every week when the new feature came in and look over all the pictures. If we could come up with the money -- a dollar or so -- to get inside, we'd be treated to a newsreel, a cartoon, previews of coming attractions and the feature presentation. I rarely see movies now but I still love the old cartoons!

Are Those Monkey Faces

just below the fleur de lis, near the top of the building? Can you blow up the picture to see, Dave?

[Looks like an egg-and-dart molding with acanthus leaves. - Dave]

The Leader's Ladies

The large classically draped women on the Leader facade are not holding swords. Those are batons made of giant fennel stalks with pine cones on their tips, and identify these figures as Maenads, the wild women who followed Dionysis, the god of wine and intoxication. But that symbolism is pretty blurred in these figures. They are also holding Greek theatrical masks in their right hands and wearing laurel wreaths, an ancient prize awarded to great poets. The architect's intention was probably to dress up the Leader with stylish allegories of Literature or Theater, without worrying too much about the details. But, since in some ancient stories the Maenads killed the singer Orpheus by ripping him to shreds (they were very sorry right after), he's accidentally managed to symbolize the Critics more than the Artists.

Love It

This diorama is great! Sure, it promises more than the feature inside will probably deliver - but so do current movie ads on TV. The idea is to drum up interest and sell tickets. Just think, every week or two someone was designing and assembling a new scene illustrating the latest attraction. They must have had a huge store of props in the backroom! I love these old theater exteriors (and department store windows, too). I think our culture is less interesting without them.

Please Explain

the meaning, mythical or not, of the two female statues holding a head, or mask, with their swords on their hips. Is this the fate of bad actors?

Architectural Acid Trip

"An architectural warehouse puked" -- aenthal, that's a phrase I'm sure I'll use in the future.

I too look at this sort of "design" with a sort of fascinated horror. It's hard to believe that geniuses like William Morris and Gustav Stickley were working at the same time this rococo wedding cake was being baked.

Exuberance

Wasn't it wonderful when the theater was as much a part of the adventure as the movies themselve? This outshines any 15 screen multiplex!

Remakes

The film was made five times, the last in 1955 with Jeff Chandler. And Stan Laurel (without Oliver Hardy) made a spoof of it in 1923, "The Soilers."

Let no inch go unadorned

Decoration on top of decorations, on top of more decoration. You have the posters in their carved frames in front of the statues holding masks, to the side of the diorama with the taxidermy animals, and the fake snow, and the five different carved moldings above them. Not to mention all the competing decorations of the building itself. It is like the supply room at an architectural warehouse puked and nobody wanted to clean it up.

I am not sure what you call this style because 1910 is too late to really be Victorian. I call it an invitation to develop attention deficit disorder.

Bigger, longer and uncut

The poster in front of the caryatid on the left announces the Bobby Vernon comedy "Some Romeo," released on June 17, 1918. That might establish a closer date for the deluxe showing of "The Spoilers." What made this version the Deluxe Edition? Tinted film stock, a full orchestra, a live prologue, sound effects men firing pistols behind the screen?

Call of the Wild

That tableau looks better than the movie. Nanook of the North, a polar bear and wolves!

In the mood

Given the diorama, the decorations and the clothing of the usher, I wonder if snowshoes and a rifle were issued to patrons?

Corruption? In Alaska??

I have to wonder if they aren't working on a sequel.

 
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