April 28th, 2010

The greatest theater display EVER

One of the coolest side benefits of living in the L.A. area is getting to enjoy the art of the movie theater display. Go to the Arclight, and you can see the costumes from one of the films playing there on display in the lobby. These days the El Capitan on Hollywood Boulevard is the king - witness, for example, the Alice in Wonderland exhibit, with Johnny Depp's "Mad Hatter" costume proudly shown in the lobby, and a bevy of props, costumes, and art in the basement.

But the best one ever was the astonishing display the Egyptian Theater had for the opening weekend of Alien, way back in 1979.

While putting together some old pics for another reason yesterday, I stumbled across these photos I shot at the Egyptian on the film's opening day (keep that day in mind - it was a Friday. See below for the tragic surprise ending to this story.) This was back when the Egyptian, also on Hollywood Boulevard, was still a grand old movie palace, before the American Cinematheque demonstrated their love of cinema by subdividing the place (yeah, I'm still bitter about that).

Here's how it went:

Out on the sidewalk in front of the theater, you first walked through a row of alien eggs (I don't know why I don't seem to have a photo of those). Then, to reach the fore-court of the theater, you walked through a length of actual corridor from the film's spaceship "Nostromo", exiting through "Mother"'s chamber:

And now came the biggest astonishment: As you left the Nostromo and entered the fore-court of the theater, there, to your left, was this:

Yep, that's the real thing - the original, full-size set piece of the alien "space jockey", as sculpted by H. R. Giger. It wasn't even roped off or guarded - note my friend at the right of that photo, touching the damn thing - and obviously photography was not prohibited.

Once you'd managed to scrape your jaw off the sidewalk, stop staring in awe, and could move your feet, you entered the lobby, where there was a magnificent display of full-size props and art department models. Here, for example, is a vehicle that can just be glimpsed in the background of a few shots in the film:

And a few of the models:

And that was it. After that, you had the pleasure of watching one of the great science fiction/horror films of all time in the setting of a fabulous and historic cinema.

Now for the tragic ending: The "Space Jockey" was gone by Tuesday. One story I heard was that it fell victim to an arsonist in the early hours of Tuesday morning. I'd like to think that wasn't true, but that glorious sculpture has never been seen again, so sadly I believe that story may be factual.

At least we can all now enjoy a few last photos of it. And recall the greatest film exhibition EVER!