Fox Theatre still a movie palace
BY CHRISTOPHER BARKER.
PHOTO, POSTER AND FILM IMAGES COURTESY OF THE FOX THEATRE
Atlanta’s Fox Theatre is popular for concerts, touring Broadway shows and other entertainment, but every summer the venue returns to its roots as one of the world’s most renowned movie palaces.
The resplendent old building with a cloudy blue sky, twinkling “starlight,” mosque-style architecture, the “Mighty Mo” organ and other unique features again hosts the Coca-Cola Summer Film Festival July 14 to Aug. 25. The 2019 classic films showing on the 26-by-56-foot screen on the Fox stage are Disney’s “The Little Mermaid,” “To Kill a Mockingbird,” “Mary Poppins,” “Saturday Morning Cartoons,” “The Princess Bride” and “The Wizard of Oz.”
Harkening back to the early days of the Fox, audiences can sing along with Ken Double playing the Mighty Mo organ for 15 minutes before the movies. “In keeping with our heritage, we have sing-alongs with every movie just as when the Fox opened in 1929, using one of the oldest theater organs in the world,” says Jamie Vosmeier, vice president of sales and marketing for the Fox. The repertoire includes songs that have been sung over the years with Mighty Mo, the 3,622-pipe Moller organ that is still the oldest Moller theater organ in the world.
And like movies of yesteryear, the sing-alongs will be accompanied by classic cartoons and newsreel footage from the period when each movie premiered, a format “as close as possible to the experience when the theater opened,” says Vosmeier.
Two of the movies will expand the sing-along format with film releases of “The Little Mermaid” and “Mary Poppins” that include lyrics at the bottom of the screen. “It’s karaoke in a movie,” Vosmeier adds. Past sing-along versions of “Grease” and “Mama Mia” were well-received, he adds.
“The Little Mermaid” opens the 2019 summer film festival with the sing-along version of the movie screened at 2 p.m. Sunday, July 14. The Disney film has been entertaining audiences for 30 years, and the anniversary is among the reasons the movie was chosen.
“To Kill a Mockingbird” is on the Fox screen later in the day July 14 at 6:30 p.m.
The “Mary Poppins” sing-along version is scheduled for 2 p.m. Sunday, July 21.
Audiences older than a certain age will find nostalgia in “Saturday Morning Cartoons” at 10 a.m. Saturday, July 27, when vintage cartoons take over the Fox screen.
“The Princess Bride” follows the morning’s cartoons July 27 with screening at 7:30 p.m.
“The Wizard of Oz” closes the series in the film’s 80th anniversary year at 2 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 25.
Several Lanier parking lots around the Fox will have discounted $5 parking for the summer film festival. Details are at www.foxtheatre.org.
When considering which films to include in the annual summer festival, the theater looks at “what films fans like,” he adds. “Over the years we’ve noticed that family-friendly films are more successful, and we’ve had great success with the sing-along format.” Anniversaries of film releases are also selection factors – this year marks the 80th anniversary of “The Wizard of Oz,” the 30th anniversary of “The Little Mermaid” and the 50th anniversary of “To Kill a Mockingbird.”
“We look at classic films, not current movies,” says Vosmeier. “We show films that haven’t been shown in a theater for awhile.”
“The Wizard of Oz” is a perennial favorite that “over the years has been tried and true,” he adds. “Wizard” was on the Fox screen in 1939, and current grandparents have said they remember seeing “Wizard” there in 1939.
The summer film festival began in the early 1990s “as a way to honor the theater’s heritage,” says Vosmeier. Coca-Cola has been a partnering sponsor for several decades.
Tickets are $15 in advance and $20 at the door for “The Little Mermaid” and “Mary Poppins” sing-alongs; $5 for “Saturday Morning Cartoons;” and general admission tickets for the other shows are $8 until June 30, $10 after June 30 and $12 at the door. Tickets are at www.foxtheatre.org.
Single-event access to the Marquee Club during movies other than “Saturday Morning Cartoons” at $40 per person includes private entry to the Fox, locally-sourced food in a menu inspired by each film, opportunities to meet and take photographs with film characters, movie-themed beverages for children and adults, access to the roof and private bars and restrooms.
Marquee Club members at each movie also benefit from “chat-backs with film experts and people involved in the movies,” says Vosmeier. “It’s something extra.”
A mermaid princess will meet and pose for photos with Marquee Club members at “The Little Mermaid” screening, where “Under the Sea” specialty drinks for all ages and movie-themed menu items are on tap.
A Mary Poppins look-alike character, “Spoonful of Sugar” adult and child beverages and a menu influenced by the film are provided for Marquee Club members at “Mary Poppins.”
And actors resembling “Wizard of Oz” characters will meet Marquee Club members enjoying movie-themed food and beverages at the festival’s closing Aug. 25.
Marquee Club offerings for “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “The Princess Bride” will be announced closer to their screenings.
While the rest of the public and Marquee Club movie-going experiences should be entertaining and worthwhile, Vosmeier is especially enthusiastic about the unique Movie Tours before shows.
The 60-minute Movie Tour is “a magical experience,” says Vosmeier. “It allows guests into places you don’t normally get to see. They learn about the Fox’s history, with the focus as a movie palace.”
The $20 tour takes visitors into the theater’s projection booth, where they see the projectionist’s view of the stage and screen.
They also get to see vintage movie equipment in the 250,000-square-foot building.
|The Marquee Club has a rooftop bar with a view. PHOTO BY MELISSA LOWRIE|
The theatre is designated a National Historic Landmark, and the Fox “is committed to historic preservation and retires in place all its old equipment, where it was, including the original Brenograph machine, the projector that projects words on the screen,” Vosmeier says. “The building is 90 years old this December, and stuff is 90 years old.”
The tour also goes backstage to see the speakers behind the movie screen.
“It’s an experience not in the normal Fox tour,” says Vosmeier, adding that there are a lot of steps on the tour that is not recommended for small children and the less-ambulatory.
Guests on the $20 tour two hours before the “Mermaid,” “Mockingbird,” “Mary Poppins,” “Princess Bride” and “Wizard” screenings will also see the wall where touring Broadway shows performing at the Fox the past 30 years have marked their visit on the theater walls, “and people want to take pictures of the walls,” says Vosmeier.
“We’re the predominant Broadway house on the road,” says Vosmeier. “Broadway artists want to the play the Fox; people want that feather in their cap.
“It’s an amazing space, and it’s worth the price of the tour to see the projection booth.”
Fox Theatre’s history as a movie palace dates back to 1929. “Steamboat Willie,” Disney’s first cartoon starring Mickey Mouse, was the first movie shown at the Fox, screened for a sold-out crowd in the 4,665-seat theater on Christmas day in 1929, and the theater continued presenting films until it closed temporarily in 1974.
Movie attendance had declined in the late 1060s, says Vosmeier, and the Fox started presenting small concerts in the 1970s and 1980s. The Fox had hosted the New York Metropolitan Opera and live entertainment, “but the intention of the building was a movie palace. When William Fox put his name of the building, it was to show his films.”
The Fox “is one of the most successful theaters in the world,” Vosmeier adds, “and we’re honored to present films that bring people to the Fox, a cultural icon. We’re grateful to be able to have this festival every year.”