THE BIOGRAPH THEATRE

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This place was the holy of holies to those of us who loved movies; it was quite possibly the best movie theatre ever. The programming, the clientele, the staff, the ambience -- just the general feeling of the place-- was something that was unique and irreplaceable. It was certainly the very best job I ever held. How many times did you sit here, waiting for your show to start, examining all the autographed movie star photos on the walls? Do the sounds and smells come back to you? Here's a little virtual deja vu to help you bring it into sharper focus... listen, now:

 

Showtime

This was due in large part to the even dispositions, good humor, incredible fairness and generosity of its owners, Lenny Poryles and Alan Rubin. They were true princes among men and legends among employers.
lenny and alan


 

behind the counter

 

 

Here I am in my favorite place, behind the counter, serving the regulars... So; you want some butter on that?

Popcorn!


 

lobby

Do you remember it? Did you see some of your favorite films here? From Louis Malle to The Langley Punks, we played 'em all.

mural

The mural in the rear hallway was one huge labor of love; four or five of us nearly went blind assembling this thing. There must have been about 75 pounds of movie posters cut up to make this collage. Add a couple of gallons of glue, several sheets of plywood backing, plus the weight of the frame and the hardware and it was one cumbersome piece of artwork! It now resides at Alan Rubin's home in suburban Virginia, and is part of a phenomenal collection of movie memorabilia, posters, machinery and artwork-- much of it produced by Alan, himself. (To see what he's been up to since the Biograph closed, click on his link below to visit him!)

green star

 

WRITTEN FOR THE "STYLE" SECTION OF THE WASHINGTON POST ON THE OCCASION OF THE CLOSING OF THE BIOGRAPH

green star

 

FADE TO BLACK
by Jef. Hyde

 

The first time I visited the Biograph Theatre was in high school. It was 1968. I went with some friends to see "YELLOW SUBMARINE". From the moment I walked in and saw the freaky-looking box-office cashier, the autographed photos on the wall, and heard rock music playing in the lobby, I had a great feeling about the place. "Far out! I bet this would be a cool place to work," I thought. (We actually thought that way in the 60’s, as I recall) Well; I was right! A few years later, I was hired as Assistant Manager. It would be my salvation from working in the real world and my second home for years to come. I never had to pay to see a movie again. It forever spoiled me for other jobs.

 

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My prior work experiences had been for people I either feared or loathed. To suddenly find myself in an environment where the powers that be were a couple of mensches named Alan and Lenny--two guys who were more like uncles than bosses--was unique. You don't find too many employers who will pay your bail and also explain the mysteries of using a credit card. I learned from them; I got to spread my wings and exercise my creativity. I became part of something special and exciting: Show Biz!

 

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Well, it wasn't all glamour. I had to open the theatre, making sure the house was clean, the popcorn was fresh, the concession stand was stocked and the cash drawer was set correctly. Next, I had to make sure we had the films we planned to run that day, and haul the heavy cans up to the booth so the projectionist could splice them on to larger reels for the nightly screenings. Then I'd dash back downstairs, check everything again, switch on all the lights and unlock the doors for the waiting line of moviegoers, and spend the rest of the night selling tickets and buttering popcorn.

 

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Sometimes there were accidents: During a Classics Of Literature And Drama festival, a double bill of STEPPENWOLF and ULYSSES opened not with Milo O’Shea on the streets of Dublin, but Kirk Douglas and a gang of loincloth-clad Italians doubling for Greek adventurers. Hey; it said "ULYSSES" on the film can! How could I tell it was a sword-and-sandal epic and not the deathless prose of James Joyce? Fortunately, the audience had a sense of humor, and we suffered only a few refunds.

 

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After a couple of years of this, I moved on from the day-to-day operation of the theatre, and became involved in a number of behind-the-scenes activities. Soon I was helping Alan and Lenny create our programming, coming up with ideas for themed festivals and double features (once pairing NIGHT OF THE HUNTER with A DOUBLE LIFE, just to see Shelley Winters get murdered in both pictures) and producing the EXPOSE YOURSELF programs--showcases for local filmmakers. We ran everything from X-rated midnight shows to The French New Wave. Classic Hollywood movies were interspersed with festivals of films from Australia, Italy, Germany, Japan, Great Britain and The Soviet Union. We had festivals that explored Romance, Mayhem, Novels, Science Fiction, Comedy, and The Western. People appreciated our creative approach to presentation.

 

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We took some chances, and sometimes we got angry reactions. Our decision to book Godard’s HAIL MARY offended some Catholics; BIRTH OF A NATION was denounced by many African-Americans. Yet, this was a place where art, history, and politics collided on-screen. If it was available on film, and we felt it had a legitimate place in one of our festivals, we ran it. We were not in the business of stifling expression—we showed movies. It was like having your own screening room where you could show fun, interesting, challenging stuff all the time, and changing shows 2 or 3 times a week meant there was no such thing as "routine". We were constantly re-inventing our environment. To be able to make a living doing this was heady stuff for a young man. How lucky can you get?

 

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Over the years we have been visited by hundreds of thousands of people. Scores of protesters slept on our floors during the May Day demonstrations when we kept the house open all night to accommodate the crowds; I was tear gassed trying to get home from work that morning. Marion Barry, John Waters, John Denver, Ondine, members of the PLO and The Langley Punks are but a few of the celebrities who have schmoozed and partied in our lobby. Dustin Hoffman, in town shooting ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN, dropped by to see a show one night. Apparently his hectic shooting schedule, combined with the cool darkness of the theatre conspired to relax him: we found him asleep in the back row at closing time. Resisting the temptation to take some unglamorous Polaroids of the star snoring, we gently woke him. Sheepish and flustered, he made his exit, apologizing profusely for having kept us.

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Part of "THE EXORCIST III" was shot there. It was the scene in which the detective, played by George C. Scott, meets with his friend, the priest (the late Ed Flanders) at their favorite movie theatre. In typical Hollywood fashion, they took tremendous liberties with the geography of D.C., suggesting from exterior shots and jump-cuts that the Biograph was actually located somewhere on Wisconsin Avenue. But, what the heck? We've been immortalized on film, and that’s only fitting for a place that will live in many people’s memories as the best movie theatre that ever was.

 

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I went back to the Biograph for a couple of nights last week to see my old pals, The Langley Punks, with whom I'd done some film and recording projects. As I sat there watching myself on-screen, I couldn't help thinking how most of my old haunts are now gone. Here we are in the dark, sharing one last laugh in the place where it all started. The Biograph is about to join that growing list of Places That Used To Be, and here we sit… Can they really be planning to turn this shrine into a CVS drugstore, for God’s sake? Is nothing sacred? We who have worked and played here--grown up here--loved this place. I don't want it to be gone. Man; I really don't want it to become a drugstore.

I think of what Holden Caulfield said in THE CATCHER IN THE RYE: "If you want to know the truth, I don't know what I think about it…Don’t ever tell anybody anything. If you do, you just start missing everybody." Perhaps in years to come they'll find me after closing time, sitting again in the dark in the new CVS, amidst the Dristan and the Vicks--just about where the old boxoffice was. When the police ask me what I'm doing, I'll quietly reply: "I just started missing everybody."

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The folks I'll miss most. A group portrait of the core of the old Biograph Crew, taken on the theatre's very last day of existence: Front row, crouching: Alan Rubin, Lloyd Goodman. Standing, left to right: Lenny Poryles, Marsha Barton-Hyde, Jim Hughes, Anna Tucker, Allyn Johnson, Eddie Dornack, Mike Resch, yours truly, Mike Lloyd. Don't let the smiles fool you--this was a sad day for everyone involved, knowing we'd never be back here again...

Whew! These trips down memory lane are exhausting. Thanks for hanging in there through all my nostalgic indulgences. It's plain to see I really miss this place. I still can't quite grasp that it's gone; changed into a CVS drugstore! Where once we had Truffaut, Kurosawa, Bergman and Pasolini, we now have Tylenol, Kaopectate, Ben-Gay and Pampers.

in the box office


Alan is painting pictures, and Lenny has gone to live in Paris, the old crew has scattered to pursue other interests. It's almost like it never happened at all. Did we all share the same wonderful dream-- or was it a hallucination-- for nearly 30 years? The absence of this landmark of cinematic bliss is a nightmare from which I can't seem to awaken. If you were a friend of the theatre, or have any memories or anecdotes to share, please drop me a line. I may include your recollections here.

Meanwhile, Pat Carroll (of The Langley Punks and Travesty Films, Ltd.) and I maintain our lonely vigil, front row, center. We're determined to see the Biograph Theatre return to its former glory. CVS keeps threatening to evict us in order to put up a Whitman's Sampler display, but we're not budging! Let's hear from you, friends! At least send coffee; it's pretty dull in here now, without any movies to watch...

asleep with pat


 

fuckin' CVS!

The site of the former Biograph Theatre today. Photo courtesy of Mr. Martin McCaffery. For a nostalgic ramble thru cinematic history and architecture,visit his collection of photos of vintage and defunct movie theatres from around the country here.


ALAN RUBIN'S hypno HOMEPAGE!


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