Netflix restores Hollywood's iconic Egyptian Theatre
: [POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: In this report, we incorrectly say Netflix bought The Paris Theater in August. Netflix signed a lease agreement to keep The Paris Theater open in 2019.]
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Hollywood's Egyptian Theatre reopened this week after a major restoration. Netflix worked with the nonprofit American Cinematheque to bring the theater back to its original 1922 grandeur. As NPR's Mandalit del Barco reports, it is telling that a streaming company now owns the classic movie palace.
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MANDALIT DEL BARCO, BYLINE: A hundred and one years ago, the Egyptian Theatre premiered the silent movie "Robin Hood," starring Douglas Fairbanks. Showman Sid Grauman had his movie palace decorated with ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics, carved columns, sphinxes and a giant scarab above the stage. It was Grauman's idea to make the movie premiere a big event, says Michael Hernandez, who led a tour of the theater this week.
MICHAEL HERNANDEZ: Sid Grauman would dress his staff in Egyptian garb, and they were part of the show. The Egyptian guards that would patrol the rooftop of the palace, calling out announcements in movie times - 10 minutes to the movie; five minutes to the movie; grab your seats; "Robin Hood" is about to begin. And then his young ladies he would dress as harem girls that would go out into the courtyard and greet the patrons that were coming into the courtyard, and they would also escort them to their seats.
DEL BARCO: Grauman apparently had movie stars dress up in gowns and tuxedos. The fanfare, the klieg lights, the red carpet - that was all Grauman's idea, says the executive director of the American Cinematheque, Ken Scherer. He says Grauman was inspired by a train ride to LA.
KEN SCHERER: For the VIP section of the train, there was a red carpet. And he thought to himself, Jesus, that's a great idea.
DEL BARCO: The Egyptian Theatre opened just weeks before the discovery of King Tut's tomb. But already, Egyptian culture was all the rage, says historic architect Peyton Hall, who worked on the theater's restoration.
PEYTON HALL: I don't think Sid Grauman was prescient about what was going on in the tombs of Egypt, but he was very much on top of popular architecture and promotion.
DEL BARCO: Further down Hollywood Boulevard, Grauman went on to build his Chinese Theatre, where stars' handprints and footprints are immortalized in cement. Over the years, the Egyptian Theatre changed owners. And by the 1970s and '80s, it was rather run-down. After the 1994 Northridge earthquake damaged the theater, the city of Los Angeles bought the condemned property. A few years later, the city sold it to the American Cinematheque for a dollar.
RICK NICITA: Well, a nonprofit - we could have afforded $2 maybe, but that was about it.
DEL BARCO: Rick Nicita, who chairs the American Cinematheque's board of directors, says the nonprofit spent $12 million to fix the theater, but it still needed a complete retrofit.
NICITA: We were doing the best we absolutely could. And the theater was a wonderful, evocative place to go, but it wasn't state of the art, shall we say.
DEL BARCO: Enter Netflix co-CEO Ted Sarandos, who is also on the Cinematheque's board.
TED SARANDOS: So I called Rick one day, and I said, why don't I have Netflix buy the theater, and then we'll do the preservation work. The screenings were mostly attended on the weekends, and we need it during the week. And we'll bring this thing back to its - you know, its original glory. And it'll be a great place for our premieres and events and the place for the Cinematheque to, say, film for free all weekend.
DEL BARCO: Netflix spent four years and $70 million to completely restore the theater. Nicita says the streaming company that began by showing movies and shows at home is now the movie theater's savior.
NICITA: On its surface, it would seem it's an unlikely partnership, but I have to say they have been great in understanding our mission. We said, we will not sell this theater to you unless we retain the ability to do what we do.
DEL BARCO: The American Cinematheque plans to continue holding film festivals, retrospectives and talks with filmmakers. They'll show 35- and 70-millimeter films and even old films made on flammable nitrate film.
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DEL BARCO: Just this month, it's showing classic films like "Lawrence Of Arabia," "2001: A Space Odyssey"...
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KIER DULLEA: (As David Bowman) Open the pod bay doors, HAL.
DEL BARCO: ..."West Side Story."
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DEL BARCO: Netflix will run its own movies, Wes Anderson's "The Wonderful Story Of Henry Sugar" and Bradley Cooper's "Maestro."
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DEL BARCO: In August, Netflix also bought the Paris Theater, one of the last remaining single-screen cinemas in Manhattan. By now, the Paramount Consent Decree has been phased out. That was the antitrust legislation passed in the 1940s to prevent movie studios from buying up movie theaters. But Sarandos says the Paris and the Egyptian are special cases, and he says running movie theaters is not Netflix's new business model.
SARANDOS: No, no, I would look at it as an investment in the community. So, you know, we really do believe that we are a net contributor to the film industry, and now we're a contributor to its history as well. I think, in many ways, this is symbolic of some - one of the many ways that streaming companies are saving Hollywood.
DEL BARCO: Sarandos and Nicita say, in the past 101 years, so much has changed in the film industry - technology, distribution, movies and audiences themselves. On Thursday, the Egyptian reopened with a premiere screening of David Fincher's new film, "The Killer." No one was dressed like an ancient Egyptian. The brand-new old movie palace has LED lights and a state-of-the-art projector and sound system, but it still transports audiences to another world.
Mandalit del Barco, NPR News, Hollywood.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.
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