For a deeply meaningless experience, spend some time in the utilitarian concourses of today's American cineplex. Anything recognizably human has been pitilessly flattened out, the space serving as merely the most functional venue for separating the yokels from their cash. Instead of sharing a communal celebration of wonder with our neighbors, we're steered apart, into glorified closets with puny screens, to consume the particular filmed entertainment that satisfies our demographic (after ten minutes of onscreen commercials). The management's contempt for the audience is manifest in every detail.
It wasn't always like this. Your grandparents saw movies in theaters so grand that people called them palaces. In return for their hard-earned Mercury dimes, they marveled at a full bill of acts; jugglers and singers and animals performed amid chandeliered splendor.
"You didn't care what you saw, you were going to the movie palace," says Mary Strauss, an owner of the Fox Theatre. "In the early 1930s, 100 million people went to the movies every week. The movie palaces just transported regular people to another world."
To mark the Fox's 75th anniversary, Strauss hopes to recapture that era, if only for a day. On Sunday, August 1, at 2 and 7 p.m., the Fox will re-create the theater's opening day (January 31, 1929). While no full scripts for the day's events are extant, Strauss' show will follow the original program. "We've taken that list of acts and tried to re-create them," she says. "We've also been able to find original recordings of the popular music from that time, 1928 and 1929. It'll be very authentic."
A minor constellation of local semi-celebs have signed on to help Strauss put the "extra" in "extravaganza." First off, a rededication of the theater by Patrick Murphy, the voice of KETC-TV (Channel 9). Next the 75-year-old plan calls for a "living tableau of St. Louis" honoring our city's "civic pride and progressive enterprise," to be narrated by Julius Hunter, with KMOX (1120 AM) personality Carol Daniel embodying "the new St. Louis" and restaurateur J. Kim Tucci portraying Saint Louis IX himself. Then comes a parade of variety acts: chorus lines, ballet, opera and something called a Neapolitan Festival, "a mood picture of gay old Naples." Why Naples? Why not!
Intermission is followed by Street Angel, the Janet Gaynor/Charles Farrell picture that was shown on that first day. Accompanying the silent film on organ is the Fox's mighty Wurlitzer-wizard himself, Stan Kann, with a score written especially for the occasion.
In the name of authenticity, Strauss has set ticket prices at their 1929 levels, so you can take in the whole colossal performance by paying a mere 75 cents at the Fox box office (527 North Grand Boulevard) or $1 through MetroTix (314-534-1111 or www.metrotix.com). "If you really want to have a good time," Strauss says, "dress up in 1929 apparel and parade onstage before the show." Slide into your flapper gear, gallivant across those storied boards, and join the company of Nat King Cole, Bob Hope, the Ramones, Jerry Seinfeld and, yes, even Julius Hunter, all part of the 75-year history of the Fabulous Fox.