The screen curved slightly outward at the left and right edges. I always thought the curve had something to do with wrapping the audience in light, and I was partially right. A flat screen makes light travel farther to its corners, encouraging a slightly distorted image, the so-called “pincushion effect.” Godzilla battled Megalon on our screen with no distortion, and the strawberry stain was hardly evident once the movie was underway.
Everything I know about the screen and screens in general, I have learned in retrospect. Back in 1976, we were just trying to stay alive, relieved if more than a few hundred people paid money to sit in the dark and watch the movie, and grateful that we had a screen at all. Although we could hardly afford a new one, our buddy, the head projectionist (Cinema Paradiso Is His Favorite Movie) at Radio City Music Hall — then primarily a movie theater — conspired briefly to get a “used” screen for us at no charge. Radio City traditionally replaced its pristine screen annually. Theirs was better than twice the size of ours, so half a screen would have done nicely. Sadly, our stint at the St. George didn’t last long enough to take advantage of this bargain.
Little did our audience know that, while they were watching, all sorts of antics were going on backstage. Each night an usher went into the shadows behind the screen to engage two switches: one to bring up the red and blue footlights and another to light the house sconces, as the film ended. Leroy — scrawny, barely 5’ 4” and 120 pounds — was always reluctant to go into the dark, even if only a comedy was showing. One night during the last reel of The Exorcist it fell to a reluctant Leroy to do this duty. One exorcising priest was already dead and another would soon hurl himself from a window, possessed by the Devil. Add all of this to the soundtrack of tubular bells — indeed creepy. Unbeknownst to Leroy, Cheri, a bit of the devil already in her, lurked in the shadows, stage right. As he approached, she pushed a flashlight beneath her chin and rasped out, “I willlllllll possess you!” The blood-curdling scream and pounding footsteps that came easily through the perforated screen, probably seemed just one more chilling movie sound effect to folks still seated in the house. Who knows if some long–ago patron of ours hasn’t downloaded the movie recently and wondered as the credits rolled, Wasn’t there a last scream?
1.To broaden your grasp of antique projection equipment...
2. Some movies were made only for the wide screen. For more on this, check out Crossing the Desert on a Camel.