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FILM CLIPS

Sizing Up Big-screen Settings

July 09, 1986|JACK MATHEWS | Times Staff Writer

In recent months, film critics Vincent Canby of the New York Times and Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times both have veered momentarily from their critics' tasks to acknowledge the tidal-wave trend of home viewing of rented videotape movies and to throw out a few words in favor of good old-fashioned movie-going.

Their points were well taken. Certainly, the experience of watching movies at home, with big images sandwiched onto small screens and big sound tracks funneled through fuzzy 3-inch speakers, does not compare to seeing them in theaters equipped with wide screens and Dolby sound.

Also, the comforts of shoes-off home viewing are wildly overrated when the ambient orchestration of flushing toilets, ringing telephones and fighting kids is taken into account.

The problem is that with a lot of theaters--particularly those endangered neighborhood houses and the shoe-box suburban multiplexes--you can still hear the toilets, the phones and the kids and you take your shoes off at the risk of having your socks bonded to the floor.

The secret is out. Big-city critics generally see movies under the best of circumstances, in carefully controlled screening rooms with civilized company, first-rate sound and projection equipment and freshly minted prints. It takes a lot of amenities to ease sophisticated middle-age critics into the right mood for a contemporary teen-age comedy.

If they had to review movies in their natural habitats, and cough up the price of admission, you have to wonder if they would ever like anything.

Hardly surprising that more people are watching movies at home. And with state-of-the-art equipment--large-screen TV monitors and hi-fi VCRs that pump sound through stereo speakers-- home movies can be Events.

With those thoughts in mind, Film Clips announces that it is going to the movies. From time to time, we are going to drop in unannounced and, like an undercover food critic, review the joint.

How is the equipment? The screens? The projection? The sound? The quality of prints?

What is the comfort quotient? The seats? The sight line? The temperature and air flow?

How are the prices? Tickets? Concessions? Parking?

How about management? Are the theaters kept clean? Is the concession stand well staffed? If you complain, will they tell someone to shut up or quit smoking?

Moviegoers are invited to nominate theaters--standouts for good or ill--for future Film Clips reviews. We wanted to start with a certain six-plex in our own neighborhood, a place that for $6 leaves you feeling in need of a tetanus shot, but decided that since movies are inherently good, we should start on a positive note.

We went to the Cineplex Odeon Fairfax.

A year ago, the three-screen Fairfax, at Beverly Boulevard and Fairfax Avenue--near Farmer's Market--was a contender for title of Worst Theater in Los Angeles.

The original Art Deco house, built in 1937, went the way of the Hollywood Pacific and other golden movie-age auditoriums when television put the pinch on box-office receipts. It was multiplexed on the cheap, with thin walls and ceilings installed in the original space, allowing management to show three movies with the overhead of one staff.

When Toronto-based Cineplex Odeon bought the Fairfax in 1985, it was a $3.50 theater showing double bills of second-run movies. It was a pit, as survivors will recall, with broken seats, filthy floors and images that looked like 8-millimeter home movies projected onto sheets.

You should see it now.

Cineplex Odeon, the people who struck gold with the 14-screen complex in the Beverly Center, closed the Fairfax for a seven-month, $1.5-million refurbishing, and when it reopened May 23, it instantly stood out as one of the finest multiplexes in Los Angeles.

There are still three theaters in the Fairfax, but now they seem less a result of economic convenience than design. There are two small theaters (one with 196 seats, the other with 225) divided by a long corridor leading to the 500-seat main hall where the Fairfax's original murals and fixtures have been restored to their original condition.

The box office and the tiled walk around it were also restored, but nearly everything else in the new Fairfax is new, including the black marble floor in the lobby and the finely etched glass entry doors (etched by the same person who, according to management, performed that task 49 years ago).

We sat in for a while in each theater and with the exception of the scratchy print of "Desert Bloom" being shown in Theater 3, the sound and projection were excellent. The design allowed for plenty of leg room, but it would have been nice if Cineplex had gone the extra expense of installing the wider French Quinette seats that support patrons at the Westside Pavilion.

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