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Atlanta’s Moviegoing Mecca

A whirlwind weekend trip to Atlanta for a family wedding yielded a few personal perks, including a tour of the Fox Theatre, which I’d never visited before. Wow!

The Fox Theatre dominates one huge city block on a tree-lined street in Atlanta.

I’ve often expressed my love of movie palaces, and the Los Angeles Conservancy’s annual Last Remaining Seats series offers Angelenos a chance to revel in our city’s remaining golden-age theaters all this month. But the Fox, which seats 4,678 people, is a gigantic jewel, one of the country’s few remaining “atmospheric” theaters, with a brilliant blue sky, twinkling stars and moving clouds. What’s more, it remains a—

—beehive of activity, with as many as 300 events a year including concerts, Broadway plays, current and classic movies, with pre-show performances on the Fox’s original Moller pipe organ. On Saturday afternoon there was a family matinee of Rango, followed that evening by a showing of To Kill a Mockingbird.

I’m a sucker for a beautiful box-office kiosk like this…


Last year’s presentation of Buster Keaton’s The General, hosted by TCM’s Robert Osborne, brought out 1,800 people, and this year the theater plans to screen another silent gem, Douglas Fairbanks’ The Mark of Zorro.

Not only is the Fox beautifully restored, it is also rigorously maintained, with a permanent staff of ten overseeing the constant upkeep a busy theater requires. Two ballrooms, on either side of the auditorium, are also quite popular for weddings and functions.

…but I’ve never seen such a beautiful ticket-taker pedestal.

I’m sharing some of my favorite snapshots from our tour, but if you want to see proper, professional photos you should check out the Fox’s website and seriously consider purchasing the beautiful coffee-table book The Fox Theatre: The Memory Maker at their online gift shop, where you’ll find a lot of other goodies, too. (I purchased a miniature Fox theater seat, rendered in pewter.) And if you’re ever in Atlanta, I encourage you to book a tour.

We made one other stop on Saturday before the wedding, at the World of Coca-Cola where, as usual, I found connections to vintage Hollywood. That will be my next post.

Incidentally, the folks at Flavorwire just ran a pretty savvy rundown of The Best Movie Theaters in America. It’s difficult to argue with any of their selections, although the Fox probably didn’t qualify because it isn’t a full-time movie house. Check out their choices HERE.

This is the Fox’s original jeweled curtain, which isn’t often on display.

Look at the detailing on the aisle seat—with the bold “F” for Fox—and the beautiful carpeting.

The Fox is one of the few movie palaces I’ve visited that still has most of its original furniture.

What an incredible setting inside the ladies lounge!

10 comments

  1. Scott Hardin says:

    …(related to my posts below)
    One thing further: The Fox did NOT LOSE the capability to show film when we installed Digital Cinema; we still CAN and DO show classic films. However, we had to remove one of our two film projectors to make room for the Digital Cinema projector and a large workstation of ancillary equipment. The Fox can show classic films as long as they are around for us to choose from, but more and more the classics are being converted to Digital Cinema, and just this summer we showed our first such title “To Kill a Mockingbird,” which looked excellent in its restored Digital Cinema version.

  2. Scott Hardin says:

    As the head projectionist at the Fox Theatre for 34 years I will respond to some of Terry Wade’s comments in his post below, and when I can find the time I may even respond on the Cinema Treasures website to some of his past comments I was alerted to that I consider inaccurate. [“CinemaScope screen not as long…Someday I hope they will bring back some true 70mm films and open up the full screen for showing”…] The CinemaScope image WIDTH is what it’s been since I started in 1978. Years prior to that, when it was a full-time movie theatre, there was a wider curved screen used but the picture was cropped at the top and bottom (restricting content the audience was entitled to see) so as not to bleed onto the stage below or the decorative valance above. Surely he’s not referring to that. Since 1978 we’ve projected all film images to fill the height available between the stage deck and the valance without any vertical cropping, and with the same side widths that the film’s aspect ratio dictated using RP40 test loops to file the aperture plates. HOWEVER, if you view the image up close FROM DOWNSTAIRS, you will see at the top, between the screen and the valance, a good couple of feet of black masking that surely could be pulled up to allow for a bigger picture, right? Not really. Walking higher up in the balcony this “visible masking height” steadily diminishes, and from inside the booth at the 20.5 degree downward angle that the projector sits it’s completely gone. If we raise the image up any from where it is, it bleeds onto the valance tips, and THAT you can see from everywhere. Even if the booth were magically moved to the balcony, dead center of the screen, and you were now shooting from underneath the valance, you could gain a slightly larger image height and width when viewed straight on (some extra masking height would still be visible from downstairs up close), but now the higher up you’d sit in the balcony the more you’d see the pointed tips of the valance hanging down across the top of your movie. I encounter this a lot with live events using rental screens where front-hanging light trusses block the middle of the screen when viewed from the upper balcony. They don’t believe me till they walk up there and look down at it. Also, a 70mm image doesn’t use the full screen width; it’s not quite as wide as 35mm CinemaScope (2.20:1 ratio compared to 2.35:1 ratio), but it does look brighter and sharper than 35mm for reasons inherent in the format. [“It’s a long distance from the booth to the screen”…] It’s also a long distance from Topeka to Santa Fe, and that track will rattle your bones! …I guess I just don’t get this point. It’s been the same distance from the booth to the screen since the first film was shown in 1929, and even if you moved a projector closer (can’t hang those monsters from the balcony rail – do you put the booth in the audience’s lap – lose seats?) you’d have to provide a shorter focal length lens to blow up the image to the same dimensions on the screen. Plus, regardless of the lens, the amount of available light would still be spread across the same amount of screen area, no benefit there; the film grain or the Digital Cinema pixels would still be blown up to the same dimensions from either location, plus short focal length lenses that expand images to wide areas tend to distort them. But yes, it is a long distance from the booth to the screen. I’ve walked it countless times and many a time wished I could have stopped halfway. [“They have a low end digital projector”…] Well, I wouldn’t call an investment of over $130,000 in Digital Cinema equipment low end. 4 years ago we were one of the first two theatres in the Atlanta area to install Digital Cinema and we sure didn’t think we were putting in low-end equipment. We’re not talking about a garden variety video projector showing DVD’s, we’re talking about images streaming from a $9,000 Dolby server to a $100,000 NEC projector that are mastered to the “Digital Cinema” spec that a consortium of Hollywood studios (see DCIMovies.com) feel is indistinguishable from film resolution to most viewers and in some areas superior to film.

  3. Scott Hardin says:

    …(Continued from my prior post.)
    [“Time to replace the old digital projector with a better 4K or 6K image and enlarge the picture”…] What, and bleed onto the valance above and the stage below? …Yes, 4K resolution is now available for Digital Cinema DLP projectors, (we’re not interested in the non-DLP Sony version that’s been out for a while) but 4K DLP can’t be retrofitted to our 2K projector. As it stands now, our 2K image looks exceedingly good compared to film (better than I had expected, plus better image focus and stability and light and focus uniformity) and instead of forking over huge bucks for new equipment after only 4 years we’re going to wait to see if the new Digital Cinema laser light technology that Kodak is demonstrating bears any fruit. They’re talking about light that is multiple times brighter than the brightest of xenon lamphouses, something that could allow the Fox to show 3D images (which devour lumen output) on our huge screen with only one projector. This would also give us 4K or whatever the current high resolution was, and possibly even titillate the Terry Wades of the world.

  4. Mark Tiedje says:

    BRAVO! Yup..I remember going to that ‘magic place.’ The atmosheric ceiling is awesome. I can still see the ‘sky’ filled with stars…then slowly the sun rising in a corner on the right of proscenium. Then, of course, the ‘sky’ turned into daylight and just made us all applaude. That is just one of many magical elements of this treasure. Thank you!

  5. Terry Wade says:

    My only problem with the Fox Atlanta is the CinbemaScope movie screen is smaller then what it used to be. Not as long. They have a low end digital projector and advertise the Coke Film Festival but most are shown with digital video not film. Its a long distance from the booth to the screen. Someday I hope they will bring back some true 70mm films and open up the full screen for showing. Time to replace the old digital projector with a better 4K or 6K image and enlarge the picture. Such a nice theatre that still is with us.

  6. Karen Colizzi Noonan says:

    Thanks for reminding folks exactly what we at Theatre Historical Society celebrate every day! The Atlatna FOX is a not-to-be-missed experience. But those small town gems shine just as brightly in their own little world as well. Celebrate Great American Movie Theaters and patronize your local historic theater!

  7. Driordan says:

    Hey Leonard! Stay out of the ladies lounge! But seriously–thank you for reminding the world that there are still cinema palaces, such as the Fox, that are there for us to experience. In my town, there is the Normal Theater; an Art Deco movie palace in Normal, Illinois that is a step back in time when it screens classic films on the big screen, and the best place in Illinois to see independent and world cinema titles! At a recent screening of Laurel & Hardy’s WAY OUT WEST I heard an 8 or 9 year old boy tell his father that the film was the best film he’d ever seen! People always have a wonderful time – just experiencing the way movies were meant to be seen!

  8. David Ellis says:

    Having lived in the Atlanta area since 1969, I go to the Fox Theatre every chance I get. Everything is better in the Fox. We almost lost it to a high rise office building in the early ’70’s. Thankfull,y a save the Fox movement started and the office building was built a block or two away. Thanks for writing about the Fox Leonard. I had no idea you had never been there and I wish I could have been there to meet you. Leonard Maltin & The Fox Theatre are both class acts.

  9. Kay says:

    Oh, my heavens! This rivals the amazing palaces in Hollywood! Thanks so much for sharing, Leonard! I can’t wait to visit it someday.

    Warmly, Kay N., Rochester

  10. John P says:

    Next time you’re in Atlanta, you should stop by The Plaza Theatre, which is the oldest operating theatre in town. It was built in 1939 and like the Fox it is operated by a non profit group. You can find out more about them at plazaatlanta.com

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