Its silent program has been reduced to one day a week (Wednesdays), but the Silent Movie Theatre on N. Fairfax Avenue in Los Angeles is back in the business of regularly showing movies. The theatre was recently purchased by Cinefamily, a partnership between Cinefile owner Hadrian Belove and Family Bookstore owners Sammy and Dan Harkham.
In an article in the LA Times, Belove explains: “I want the programming to be like a mix tape…Like when you’re trying to impress someone you have a crush on, you throw in a couple of things they know, but you also surprise them with things they’ve never heard.” Highlights of the upcoming eclectic repertory mix include Truffaut’s Antoine Doinel cycle, animation from Jan Svankmajer and a selection of Toho monster films.
The theatre was originally opened in 1942 by John Hampton who ran a continuous program of silent films for nearly 40 years until illness caused him to close the theatre. The space lay dormant for 12 years and fell into disrepair.
SMT in good times… (POV Online)
…and bad. (LA Public Library)
The property was purchased in 1991 by Laurence Austin and the silent program continued, this time with live organ accompaniment. At the time it was the only theatre in the country dedicated to regularly showing silent movies.
In a tragic turn in 1997, Austin was murdered in the theatre lobby in an apparent robbery attempt. It would turn out that James Leslie Van Sickle, the theatre’s projectionist hired a hit man to kill Austin in a bid for the aging theatre owner’s $1 million estate. Both the gunman and Van Sickle are currently serving life sentences.
In 1999 the theatre was purchased by Charlie Lustman who continued the silent program once again, but as the years wore on, the screenings became fewer and farther between. Eventually they were outnumbered by private parties that rented the space for weddings and Bar mitzvahs.
SMT in more recent years. (Image by Annika Barranti)
Cinefamily purchased the theatre in 2006 and began screening movies for the public on October 25, 2007. They still apparently plan to rent the space for private functions.
The theatre is located at 611 N. Fairfax Ave., just south of Melrose (and just north of Canter’s Deli, home of a kickass corned beef reuben sandwich since forever). Tickets are 10 bucks per movie or you can buy a monthly pass for 25 clams. The pass will admit you to every regular screening, occasional member’s only screenings plus a bucket of popcorn. In a town with few bargains, that my friend is a Bargain.
(Top photo by Bob Meza, found at Cinema Treasures)