Palace of Silents (2010) - full transcript

The Silent Movie Theater has been screening the films of the silent era for over 65 years. It was almost lost to us completely when its previous owner, Lawrence Austin, was murdered in the theater's lobby. This is a documentary film about the passionate and somewhat eccentric individuals who strove to keep the old movies running for audiences in this unique and odd venue. This is a film about obsession for silent film and a love of the theater. The Silent Movie Theater's Quixotic occupants keep on screening films (now of all eras) despite the odds of the place surviving.

- Silence is certainly important
in a historical context.

You get a sense of how
the art of film developed.

You watch this thing evolve.

And so by the late 20s, what
you have is a real artform.

A great silent film
in the right setting

has as much ability
to move an audience

as any other movie with sound

or any other artform,
novel, painting.

And just like seeing
a great piece of art,

you wanna go to a museum
that presents it properly.

The Silent Movie Theatre is
like a museum in that sense.

But more than that, it's a
place where you really can have

a transcendent film experience.

- If you put this
into a real movie,

made this a movie movie.

Nobody will believe this stuff.

They'd all say it's
gotta be fiction.

- The Silent Movie Theatre
was like a time machine.

- It was a secretive place,
sort of a house of secrets.

- It's not some big fancy event

with a full orchestra
and a preserved print

and it's a hundred bucks a seat.

No, this is the
Silent Movie Theatre.

- It's special and it's perfect.

It's the most Hollywood
thing that you could be

because on the surface it's
all glamorous and art deco

and wonderful and clean.

And underneath there is a
roiling dark noirish subtext.

It's Sunset Boulevard,
it's Hollywood Gothic.

- This is a move theater.

You know, the theater closes,
the guy dies a horrible

death from cancer.

The best friend suddenly
shows up out of nowhere.

He reopens it with pizazz.

Bad choices lead to
this terrible thing.

Murder and people go to
prison and lives are ruined.

The theater gets sold
and is it gonna stay open

or is it gonna close?

- I started going to
the Silent Movie Theater

when I came, well the signs
those wishes around 1950.

That was the only place
in town that I knew of

that was showing silent films.

- The first time I went to
the Silent Movie Theatre

was in December of 1961.

And I went to see
the King of Kings

which was an annual
tradition there.

- The first time I went to
the Silent Movie Theatre

would have been
around 1963 or 1964.

And one Friday night I got
my father to take me there.

- The first time I went to
the Silent Movie Theatre

was 1971 and I saw
"Birth of a Nation".

- There was a whole
page about the theater

in Ezra Goodman's book,
"The Fifty Year Decline

"and Fall of Hollywood."

That might have been
where I first heard

of the theater.

- I was surprised
when I saw an ad

for the Silent Movie
Theatre and I had no idea

anything like that existed
anywhere on the world.

- I passed by one time
and I was attracted to it

and checked out to find
what it was all about

and when I did, I
thought of going there.

- I was fascinated.

I went a number of
times through the years

to the theater.

- In the early 70s,
we didn't have DVDs.

We didn't have VHS.

- When we went to the
Silent Movie Theatre

we had this strange
sensation that we were

the only people in the
world that had access

to those movies.

- I saw a lot of things there.

The first Chaney film
I saw there was called

"Flesh and Blood".

A 1922 independent film
he did with Jack Mulhall.

- I saw "The Mark of Zorro".

- I saw "Intolerance" there.

That was the first time
I saw "Intolerance"

in a complete form.

- I probably saw those
for the first time

at his theater.

- John Hampton
created the theater

and John Hampton
was the theater.

And only John Hampton
and his wife Dorothy

work at that theater.

- My brother and I ran the
show there at that time

for kids and neighborhood
every Friday night.

And my love for silent films was

nailed down tight at that point.

- He took his new
bride from Oklahoma,

transplanted her here and
set to work on his dream.

- They built that
theater which was built

like a fortress.

Poured concrete, this and that.

Like a bunker, practically.

- We started this theater,

actually we opened it
in February 25th, 1942.

I'll never forget that date

'cause that was the
day after Los Angeles

was supposedly bombed
by the Japanese.

- The second he
opened this place,

he almost closed it
'cause I remember

he was a conscientious
objector to the war.

- Willingly went to jail.

He was an activist.

He was a Quaker and
didn't believe in the war.

- And apparently was a,

kind of a difficult
case in prison,

very much an anti war guy.

- I would say about
42, was probably about

the lowest ebb for
appreciation of silent film.

- They were considered
extremely old fashioned then,

even more so than now.

- Remember, Marian Peckford
felt that the advent of sound

had made her films
look so old fashioned,

she seriously considered
destroying them.

- Silent Movie Theatre was not,

at best it was like
a neighborhood house

in a small town.

It didn't have that
Grand Movie Palace aura

about it at all.

- Small and depressing.

And very hard chairs.

- I swear to god, it was painted
the color of dried blood.

- There was no
adornment of any kind

except the handpainted
posters outside the theater.

There were no pictures
inside the theater.

- Sometimes the lobby was
a John Hampton art show.

There is this beautiful
lettering and photo work

on the outside.

And then you would
go into the theater

and it was always very dark

and he had these dead flowers
at the front of the theater.

- It just seemed old,
cramped and antiquated.

But we didn't care.

We went to this place and it
was just a magical place for us

because of what
was on the screen.

- You'd go into the theater
and Hampton would play 78s.

- He would play 40s swing.

- As the scenes would
change, he would move rapidly

from one turntable to the other

to have music.

- And sometimes the
music worked, sometimes

the music didn't work.

But it didn't matter.

- It was still, in a
sense, a live performance

because it was
different for every show

'cause you couldn't get those
needles in the same groove.

- He had some amazing
affinity for this equipment

and it was all taped
together and patched together

with wire and masking tape.

He had a lot of masking
tape on everything.

- The program at Silent
Movie Theatre was pretty much

the same unless he
had a very long film.

- They start off with
a Felix the Cat cartoon.

And then they had a
couple of comedy shorts.

There was in those days,

generally there was
always a Chaplin film.

- And then frequently
they'll have a serial.

- I think he had
"Plunder" with Pearl White

and the "Adventures of
Tarzan" with Elma Winkin.

- Hampton had this
humongous collection.

What this guy had
was unbelievable.

- There were a number
of films that John ran

that you literally
couldn't see anywhere else.

- You'd go there and you'd
go away with this feeling

of finding buried treasure.

- Most of what John ran were
films that had been distributed

through the Kodascope Library
and the Bell and Howe library

and the Universal
show at home library

in the 20s and 30s.

- It's especially fortunate
because Universal threw out

or one of their
executives had decided

to throw out their entire
silent inventory in the 1940s.

So many of the Universal
pictures only survived

through 16 millimeter prints.

And this includes
big important movies

like "The Hunchback of
Notre Dame" with Chaney.

- Hampton never ran anything
other than public domain films.

- He ran "The Covered
Wagon" and Paramount

did go after him.

- It was quite
famous at the time.

He had shown Covered
Wagon, which was a film

which was in copyright.

And Paramount came down on
them like a ton of bricks.

- Mr. Hampton had this
strange duty to the theater

but he also had a
duty to posterity.

He was conscious of
the fact that he was

the only guy out there who's
restoring a lot of these films.

- He would get a print of a film

and let's say three quarters
of the film was in good shape.

And the other
quarter part wasn't.

He would wind up,
wheeling and dealing

and he'd get the better last
quarter part of the film

and he'd splice it together.

- He had a Sydney Chaplin
film that he was editing

together from two
different prints

he'd got from different sources.

And he had no idea
why he kept saying

I don't know why I'm doing this.

Nobody wants to
see Sydney Chaplin.

There's no notice in this films.

And then he answers
his own question.

He said, if I don't
do it, no one will.

- You can always tell
a Hampton restoration,

one of his 16 millimeter prints

because he favored a Bell
& Howell diagonal splicer

intended to give you a strong
splice in 16 millimeter.

- But it goes right
across the picture.

- He would buy sound
prints of silence

and he would perforate them
so that he could run them

on his silent projectors.

- These perforations were
very ragged as I recall.

They weren't very good.

But they got the job done.

- On the other hand,
there wasn't a textbook

for restoring film.

There were people
that were doing it,

but he was way ahead
of his time I think

in the concept of
trying to find materials

to create the best and
most complete prints.

You'll see things
in a Hampton print

that you won't see
on any other print.

But you're also gonna
see the, you know,

the diagonal splice come
through the projector.

It's just the tradeoff.

- You couldn't really
talk to Hampton

about anything really
more than the operation

of the Silent Movie Theatre
and what he was showing.

- Something in him
resonated deeply

about the value of silent films.

- He had to clear
off some film cans

for me to have a place to sit.

And we sat there and
he never looked up

from editing the
film the whole time.

I don't think he ever could
tell you what I looked like.

- He was so focused on his work
that when he built the place

he built it with
a little trapdoor

in the projection booth.

So that rather
than stop working,

Dorothy could feed him
food from the upstairs

where the kitchen was
down through the hole

into the booth.

- The week before Christmas
he'd run "King of Kings"

and then he'd go take off for
a week or two for vacation.

And that was the only time
that he wasn't in that booth

splicing film or running film.

- And they had their
cause and that's what

they devoted their lives to.

Heroically, frankly.

- Offhand, I don't remember
what they were charging

65 cents or a dollar.

- Often for a crowd of
maybe seven to 14 people.

- I don't think they did
it to make a lot of money.

They did it to pay
the light bills

and keep the doors open.

And they lived in
the building as well.

- I mean you had to
have had a passion

to build a theater,
to live upstairs.

I don't know what it
was like up there.

But I assumed it
was pretty small.

- I felt so privileged
to be upstairs.

And even though
there's no room for me.

There were reels of
film piled everywhere

and you couldn't
see how he even knew

where anything was.

- He was very devoted
to the silent picture

to my way of thinking,
kind of extreme extent.

- I think it was probably
mostly his obsession.

And maybe his wife
Dorothy was sort of

secondary to that.

I think she was
working for his dreams

a lot of the time.

And my impression that hers
were probably perhaps withering.

- She was just a
very supportive wife

and she was kind
of in awe of John.

She just thought he was the
greatest guy in the world.

It would have been
very intriguing

to be around John
Hampton at the time

of the sound transition when
he was in his late teens

because he obviously
loved silent pictures.

And sound pictures won and it
must have been tough on him.

- Actually I was up there
one time when he was

running a sound
film for himself.

A sound film?

- Yeah, he was running a
sound film in the theater.

It seemed very strange.

- I would say that John and
Dorothy were private people.

I don't say that in a bad way.

You know, they were unassuming.

- John and Dorothy
were difficult to know.

- I got to know the
Hamptons about as well

as I think anybody
could at that time

which was not very much.

You got the feeling that these
people woke up in the morning

and their lives were running
that theater night and day.

- On a couple occasions,
I saw them on a bus

heading toward
downtown Los Angeles

and I was told by
John that he was going

to visit his son who
was in a hospital.

- She had wanted a
baby for a long time.

He was born with Down Syndrome.

He was put in a hospital.

And I believe he died.

- That has got to have
been very tragic for them

and then perhaps the
theater was an escape.

- In the photographs, they
look when they're with the kid

I mean especially
Dorothy looks so happy.

She wants this.

- And then, one day came,

the Hamptons went on a vacation

and they just never quite
somehow got around to reopening.

- It was always, we're
gonna reopen sometime soon

and sometime soon stretched
to six months and a year

and ultimately
something like 10 years.

- By the early 80s, everybody's
putting all those films

that you used to see at
Silent Movie Theatre on VHS.

And then in 1979 Kevin
Brownlow's Hollywood Series

is finally syndicated.

Now I've seen stuff
I've never seen.

I've kind of graduated
from film history 101

of the Hamptons and now
I'm into graduate level

Kevin Brownlow silent films.

- The Hamptons at
the time had an offer

to sell the collection and
close down as I understand it

to inventory their collection,
get ready to sell it

for a substantial
amount of money.

- Well I heard
through the grapevine

that David Packard had
bought that collection.

When you sell things off,
it's perhaps an indication

that you're not as completely
obsessed as you were.

- They just kind of
disappeared, faded out.

You know, kind of like
Norma Desmond in a way.

- And then the next
thing one heard

is that John was ill
and then really ill.

- It must have attributed
this man's ill health

that he was sitting
there all day

breathing all these
different chemicals.

He was mixing them
in the bathroom.

- Whether John Hampton
really died as a result of

what he breathed, who can say?

Who can say?

He lived to be 80.

- Then you know, then John died.

And Dorothy lived on upstairs

in their little
apartment upstairs.

- Well obviously
when I heard that

I thought well that's
the final blow.

That's the end of the theater.

- It just kind of seemed to,

was going to die a quiet death.

- It was part of my past and
I kept needing to revisit.

You know, we all
have these regrets.

I wish I had gone to
the Silent Movie Theatre

a couple times
before it closed down

and just visit it one more time
in the form that I knew it.

♪ They think that I'm bashful

♪ But I'm flighty
just the same ♪

♪ It's this dress I wear that
makes them think I'm slow ♪

♪ They think I haven't
cut my wisdom tooth ♪

♪ But oh boy if they
only knew the truth ♪

- I drove down Fairfax one
day and they were painting it.

There were people out
front putting a fresh coat

of paint on it and I went

oh my goodness, it's
coming back to life.

- Suddenly I realized there's
this new person, Larry Austin

who suddenly is going to
open the theater again.

I said, couldn't believe it.

- Well, I've been
running silent films

for about four years before this

at a church out in the valley.

And Hampton of course
knew about this

and he's very much interested
in the project I was doing.

Unfortunately his
health never allowed him

to come to see what
I was doing, but,

he knew I always
had this interest.

And when he passed away,
I talked to Dorothy about

reopening the theater.

And she thought it
was a good idea so

it took us about five
months to get the place

in shape again.

- He had been going to the
theater for a long, long time.

He did know the Hamptons.

He was in a position,
because he was known by them

to talk Dorothy into letting
him reopen the theater.

- And we reopened on
January 18th, 1991

with the film "King of Kings".

- That was great!

I had a great time
and I started going

more and more often.

- It was 1991, I
moved to Los Angeles.

Around the corner, like a
few blocks from where I lived

there was this Silent Movie
Theatre and I thought wow,

how amazing is this.

- A friend of mine
said you know,

have you been to this place,

the Silent Movie
Theatre on Fairfax?

- That was my Friday night.

I used to walk over the
Silent Movie Theatre

and watch these films
and it was magic to me.

- I was blown away by
the first experience

and also impressed by
the proprietor who plays.

One Lawrence Austin.

- He really did a great
number on the theater.

I mean the theater
really came to life.

- I was amazed what
he had done with it.

He made it into a
beautiful little jewel box.

- Like a little toy theater.

Like a little dream theater.

Just the right size, you know.

Couple hundred seats.

- Larry put the right
curtain on the theater

which is still there.

- Really, really
wonderful blowups of

major silent stars.

- The wooden seats were
still freaking uncomfortable.

He did finally pad
the bottom parts.

- Lawrence indicated
that he was very close

to the Hamptons.

- He felt they were like family.

They had known each
other for years, he said

and I'd seen snapshots of
them taking trips together.

- He certainly seemed to have
a close bond with Dorothy.

- Lawrence would give
the person the ticket

and not three feet
away, there'd be Dorothy

ripping the ticket in half.

It was like the
space of this much.

- She smile, she glowed,
she right where regarded it

as a miracle.

- Larry played them all

but we tried to put on the
best films that we could.

And my husband spent his life

collecting and
refurbishing, you know.

- Clearly he was
very fond of Dorothy.

But he would say
things like, well John.

People don't know John.

John had a very dark side.

I kind of think it might
had just been as innocent

as running some porn reels
for his own pleasure.

- I got to work one
day and Lawrence

was out on the back
patio with a garbage can

with a pencil stuck
through the reels

and literally pulling the
stuff, this film off these reels

into the garbage can.

And I'm like what are you doing?

He says, oh there's
all these films.

It's pornography, you
want some pornography?

- It might have been
hardcore, but it was antique.

Another time though, we
were inventoring the film

at the back of the film vault.

And he gets to one and he says

write down this
one, A224XXX horse.

And he sets it down.

- Larry would tell me that
John would be collecting

large amounts of pornography,
as he was anti-pornography.

And he would do marches
and things like that.

Then upstairs, Dorothy
would be in bed

watching evangelists
on the television.

- Lawrence was absolutely
enamored of silent films.

He would often get the
names and dates wrong

when he was relaying
information to the audience.

Because that wasn't the most
important thing to Lawrence.

- There must have been
something more than just

let's say promoting himself
when he was running the theater.

- He loved to play
the role of the person

who represented the
Silent Movie Theatre.

He was extremely
proud of that role.

- I was working at
the theater the night

that the LA riots started.

Larry continued to run the
theater through the riots.

He was running Laurel
and Hardy movies

during the Los Angeles riots.

Couldn't understand
why Larry wouldn't just

close the theater.

But again it was part
of being Larry Austin

was to just damn the
torpedoes, full steam ahead.

- As a silent film buff,
with Larry running it

in the first four to five
years up to about 95,

he really went all out
to try and show things.

- He didn't really care
if five people showed up

or 15 or 200.

Pretty much the midweek show

was where you'd see the
real sort of rarities.

- And birth, it
takes a lot of worth

and considering so
many films gone by,

it challenge you to what kind
of programs you can put on

and change the variation
so that you'll keep

the audience interest
in the program.

- Larry Austin would screen

as many rare features as
he can get his hands on.

"The Black Pirate",

"Love Sosoniaw", Sadie Thompson.

- He, unlike John
Hampton would get films

from various sources, not
just what was at the theater.

- He was able to get a
lot of MGM silent films

that never got shown.

Well we got to see
a lot of that stuff.

- There were never a
lot of people there

except on comedy nights.

- Laurel and Hardy weekend,
all star comedy or Chaplin.

'Cause the comedies really
sort of drew the most in.

- Larry put certain
emphasis on comedy.

He called his company, I guess,

the Shape of
Laughter productions.

- He showed a lot of Keaton.

Keaton had a resurgence
because of Larry, literally.

- That was the only
time you would ever see

any kind of real line
out this theater.

- There were still films from
John Hampton's collection

at the theater.

And that helped a lot because
we could draw on those.

- Naturally, he was
very protective of this.

He really didn't want
other collectors to know

what was in the collection.

It's the holy grail,
you know, finding out,

getting a list of what
the films were actually

in the collection.

And the rumors were flying
about what he actually had

and many of them, perpetuated
by Lawrence himself

who would say oh
yeah, we have that.

We have that and
someday I'll show it.

And of course he never did.

- One of the nights
we ran, "The Eagle"

which was a real strong
Valentino picture.

Larry brought out this print

and I printed it up and
did some rehearsal with it.

And it was pretty
fuzzy, pretty dupey

and I said to Larry, well
it's not very good quality.

And Larry went back
into the vaults

and brought out another print.

So I printed up this print
and it looked about the same.

So I said to Larry, this is
not better really, Larry.

Larry went back into
the vault again,

brought out a third print.

It was gorgeous.

- I remember one time I get
this phone call from him

and he says "You're never
gonna guess what I found."

I said, "What?"

"Well I've been going through
these cans that Hampton had

"and checking his notes."

And he goes "There's some
footage from Chaney's Thunder."

which was Chaney's
last silent film

which has been considered lost.

I said "You're kidding."

He goes. "No."

He says "Come down tomorrow,
I'll show it for you."

- I didn't care if it was nerdy

to spend my Friday nights
in the Silent Movie Theatre.

I was very happy there.

- It was the best
time of my life,

that two and a half
years I was there, really

with all the ups and downs.

- Once everything settled
in and the lights went down

and I got to sit in the back
row finally and just watch,

and it was fantastic.

Silent films are not
meant to be seen silent.

Silent films are meant
to be seen with music.

And Lawrence knew this.

- You'd have players
like Bob Mitchell,

the legendary Bob Mitchell.

- The first night I came here,

they were showing "Hands Up".

And I had played for that in
1925 at the Strand Theater.

And I remember it vividly.

- Dayward Carter,
of the top three

silent film accompanists
of all time.

- Dean Mora started
playing for Larry.

- I actually started on piano.

Lawrence had said "We'll
start you on a movie

"that we're showing
for a UCLA film class.

"It'll be on piano and
it'll be pretty easy."

And it turned out to
be "Birth of a Nation."

It's only three hours long.

- First thing, they
called me, said that

can you play "Pomp
and Circumstance"?

I said yes I can play
it in all 12 keys.

- He would open each show
with "Pomp and Circumstance"

which I guess he had
heard that Sid Grauman

had himself piped into
the Grauman's Chinese.

- Oh my god, what is he doing?

- It was Larry, it was
part of the show, you know?

- This worked.

Every time I start up
"Pomp and Circumstance"

audience would go and applause.

So he knew his
showbusiness anyhow.

- Tonight we're gonna
start the program

with "Felix the Cat".

- He was utterly
charming and weird.

- He would tell you how
he'd preserve the films

and how he was running
films in 35 millimeter

when in fact they
were 16 millimeter.

- He would often laugh.

And people really were
kind of laughing at him

but he would laugh also.

And the whole thing had kind of

a rather friendly vibe about it.

- He seemed to have this
infectious love of the films

that he was showing.

I caught that right away
and I loved this guy.

And I love the theater

and I love what he was doing.

- And Lawrence did make
an evening out of it.

It was something that was

I think very special.

- And for six dollars,
you could come hear these

incredible players play

and bring these
antiques to life.

- The movie started
with all these things

to support the film.

Vaudeville and music.

And that gradually
went away and movies

just became an
automated sort of thing.

Just a machine running.

Larry was gonna bring
back a human touch.

- He'd say "so on with the show"

and he'd walk back
up and he'd start.

He'd get up in the theater
and the curtains would part.

Larry, what can you
say about Larry?

There's a lot you
can say about Larry.

- Larry was a very
interesting person.

He could be a lot of fun.

- Larger than life in many ways.

He was very full of life.

He was somebody that I
look forward to seeing,

you know, everyday.

- I think if you looked
up the word dichotomy

you'd see Larry
Austin's picture.

- Lawrence was a Mormon.

And would often sort
of sponsor events

at the Mormon church.

- He loved his mother.

I mean what his
mama said was law.

Mama hated FDR and
Larry hated FDR.

He was just a real, real
dyed in the wool republican.

- Larry and I developed
a very nice relationship.

- Our friendship was built
around collecting films

and "Murder She Wrote."

And after "Murder She
Wrote" would be over,

the phone would ring
and it'll be Larry

talking about this
scene or that scene.

- I don't wanna deal to
heavily in stereotypes.

I of all people, there you go,

Larry like myself, I think

is pretty easy to figure
out that we're gay.

- Don't wanna say I
took it for granted

but I assumed it.

- He was very defensive
about being gay.

Very uptight about that.

- He pretended in fact
that he was straight.

Talking about globetrotting
with lady friends.

Oh, what a time we had.

- He was always upfront.

He would talk about his
encounters, his boyfriends.

- Why he pretended to be
straight in my presence,

I never understood.

I mean, he was of another time.

- There are some reasons
why I enjoy doing this work.

One of them is that my
parents were in the business.

My mother worked for the mail
and my father was an actor.

- Larry did start
talking about his parents

quite a lot.

- And he would tell
these wonderful stories

about his childhood.

- His father was
actor William Austin

of probably most famous for
his role in the film "It."

- His mom made C.B.
Demille's BVDs.

That was always
his famous point.

- And then his uncle
was Albert Austin

who is in a lot of
the Chaplin films

especially the Chaplin mutuals.

He's got in those
films a big mustache.

- He would talk about walking
with his uncle on the lot.

And he was attacked
by Rin Tin Tin

and he took whatever
was in his hand

and he whacked him
right over the snout.

None of that was true.

- It was more or
less common knowledge

that he had been in prison,

that he wasn't the
son of William Austin,

that his mother hadn't
worked for Cecil B. Demille.

- These were jawdroppers.

The whole thing
was a jawdropper.

But it didn't affect
my feeling for him.

- Stories came out later.

His father was a macho sailor,

didn't care for his son
who played with dolls

instead of army men
et cetera et cetera,

that kind of stuff.

- You know, this is Hollywood.

We all despise but
also love a conman.

Anybody who can get
by on their wits alone

and Lawrence was a guy who
can get by on his wits.

- I mean I had sort
of this image of him

that's this coyote-esque
windmill chaser

and superhero who was
offering this experience to me

and the minions you
know, week after week.

I got in there and he
was a very difficult

individual to work for.

- He wasn't a saint
and he wasn't a devil.

Although there are some people
that probably think that.

Lawrence was one
of these people who

strove for respectability
or outward respectability.

- He was not exactly the most
honest person in the world.

- He would rarely tell the truth

when a lie would suffice.

And I was often asked to
back him up in his lie

and how much was

At the same time,
lavish gifts on people

that he decided to arbitrarily

and he was very
generous with me.

- The whole movie world that
was related to silent pictures

and that sort of thing
was clearly aware

of Larry's activities
and his skilfulness

at being minion.

- He wanted to be the only
guy who was bringing silence

to the modern world.

- Cinecon, which
meets every Labor Day

and he would try
to outshine them.

- Cinecon is an
organization that puts on

a festival every year,
fantastic rarities

such as early silent films.

- Cinecon brought out
the perverse in Larry.

- He would jealously
save his best material

for the week that
Cinecon was going.

- I never was
involved in the feud.

I always thought it
was kind of stupid.

I mean the biggest thing
you're gonna get out of this

is being the king
of silent movies.

And nobody cares, you know, in
the greater scheme of things.

- That was Larry's take on it.

He was out there to
cut the competition

and steal audiences if he could.

- Almost at this
very time I met Larry

I met James Van Sickle.

- A friend of Larry's who
corresponded with people

in prison, brought him out.

He had just gotten out and
was trying to help him.

- Every time that Larry would
be in the room with James,

the few times that
I saw them together,

you could just
see it in his eyes

that he was hanging on every
word that James had said.

- James had sort of
wormed his way into

a very important
position, if ill-defined.

- There were times when
I would run errands

and those errands were
paying James' cable bill.

Or paying overdue
utility bills for James.

- James in his
more in shape days

had been a Hollywood Hustler.

- He would often
use this, you know

"in my wilder days"
statement, talk about

his gay bashing days.

- Was he gay?

I didn't think so.

- They had got into
an argument one night

and James had taken
the telephone cord

and wrapped it
around Larry's throat

and tried to kill him.

- There were a number of
nights where I was asked

to stay late.

Lawrence would say "well
tell James that you,

"You can't come in
tomorrow and do your work

"so you have to stay
late tonight to do it

"because he's in
one of his moods

"and I'd really rather
there was somebody here."

- The other side of
this is Larry then,

gets to put back into prison.

While James is back in prison,

he buys and sends him
a color television,

sends him a case of oysters
and other foods that he likes.

Of course he gets out
of prison, he's back

in Larry's life again.

- I warned him once, I
had the nerve to suggest

at one point that he
needed to be afraid.

Yet he kept taking him back.

And others have warned him,
he kept taking him back.

- The best way you can
describe the relationship

is battered wife syndrome.

And Larry's the battered wife.

- I was sort of keeping a
watchful eye at that point

and I felt that maybe
if I was diligent

that maybe I could
somehow intervene

because of course the
theater was everything

and James was a threat to that.

- I never could figure
out how you could possibly

keep that place running, you
know, and even break even.

Much less make a profit
and it turns out,

he probably didn't.

- Lawrence had that glorious
situation at the theater

where money was not
a major concern.

He lived upstairs.

He took one vacation a year,

kept his gold Cadillac
with the license plate

Mr. Silent or M. Silent.

- He was buying things and
he bought James a truck.

- You know the old
saying play your cards

close to the vest?

Larry had him inside his vest.

- This sort of
incredible rumor mill

that surrounded the
theater, Lawrence.

- Larry was a little mysterious.

- Some of these stories were
true, others were false.

Others I'm still not
sure about.

- There were rumors that odd
events were going on there.

You know, sex with
maybe hired people.

- He also did some
copying of things

that were really not
on the up and up.

- He would rent films
from some of the studios

and he would backdoor
it out to the lab

to get a negative made
for bootleg prints.

- According to Larry,
they were extra prints

that John Hampton had.

- The best way to
describe this is that

a film would play at
the Silent Movie Theatre

and then three or four weeks
later, you'd get a call

saying "Do you want a
print of such and such?"

- At the time, I was
not privy to any detail.

I was however sent on these
sketchy clandestine errands

for instance at two o'clock
there would be a guy

pulling into the parking lot
of Bob's Big Boy in Burbank.

He'll be driving a blue pinto.

Don't talk to him.

Just give him this
film and this envelope

and he'll give you an
envelope and bring it back.

Lawrence was really sort
of from a proud tradition

of thieving materials that
very few people care about

but certain people are
passionate enough to steal for.

- He was a film collector.

And when you get into the
realm of film collecting

you get into this
controversial area.

- Half the films in the
archive wouldn't be there

if over the years and
decades, film collectors,

people who saw these films
as something special,

had begged,
borrowed, stolen then

whatever they had to do
from whatever source.

- I don't think that was a
cool thing for Larry to do.

But I don't think he,

it was as much of a
stretch for him to justify

any kind of behavior, whether
it would be embezzling

or illegal copying
of prints, you know.

I just think that he
was an outlaw in a way.

- There was definitely
a greed factor there.

He liked money.

And he looked for
reasons to get it.

But he was always very
selective about who and how.

- John Hampton and
Dorothy had built up

a large collection
of posters and stills

and trade magazines.

And Lawrence was busy
using surrogates to sell

all that material to collectors.

- He didn't have things.

He didn't know how to get them.

He embezzled money.

He was an opportunity,
certainly I can relate

since my dream was to someday
run the Silent Movie Theatre.

I'm sure when he was
going there, friends
with the Hamptons,

someday he wanted to be
the person that did this.

- Now there's always
been the implications

that he took a lot of money
out of Dorothy's pocket

to get it done, I don't know.

- You know the odd thing is,

Lawrence didn't
introduce me to Dorothy

as one of the owners
of the theater.

- I mean there are
accusations that at the end

he didn't treat her
like he should have.

He wasn't generous
enough with her.

I didn't necessarily
see this firsthand

but she seemed delighted that
he had reopened the theater.

- I don't think any of us
were aware until much later

that he had essentially
tricked her out

of it by getting her to
sign a quick claim deed.

- Larry at one time
asked me to be a witness

to the changing
of Dorothy's will.

So I got there and he
brought the paperwork out

and I said "Where's Dorothy?"

- He said "Well, nobody
sees Dorothy anymore."

- I said "Well, Larry, I
can't witness a signature

"that I didn't
see Dorothy sign."

- I knew her and
she was not senile.

And she knew what was going on.

And I think that she wanted
Larry to have the theater

because it kept John
Hampton's work alive.

- People have said Larry
took advantage of Dorothy.

I don't know about how
true any of this is.

And I don't give a damn.

Because I never saw Dorothy
more radiantly happy

ever in the whole
time I knew her

as when Larry
reopened that theater.

- Once a year,
Lawrence was invited

to be a guest in Japan.

Lawrence would take a
player along with him

and oddly enough,
his hairdresser.

- He was just thrilled.

He was just thrilled to go.

And I'm sure he's
thrilled to get back

'cause he loved
his cats so much.

And he loved his theater.

- Probably the thing that
Lawrence was most connected to

in the world besides the theater

was his beloved cat that he
gave the name Sir Purity.

- Beautiful cat, long hair.

- He'd always said
that when he died

he wanted Sir
Purity put to sleep

and rested on his chest
in his crossed arms

as he was lowered
into the ground.

- He used to hug this
cat and he used to say

"He knows nothing of the
evils of the outside world.

"He is safe here, he
will always be safe

"here in this theater."

- James was able to use the cat

because he knew that the cat

was an Achilles
heel for Lawrence.

He would often sort
of make threats

against Sir Purity to get
leverage with Lawrence.

- He called me
one night and said

"Well James pulled a
Trall Rodbury on me.

- A phone call came
through and it was Lawrence

and he said "Oh you'll never
imagine what just happened.

"James came in
with these two guys

"and they threatened to
throw me down the stairs

"if I didn't give them all
the money in the place.

"I called the police,
police are on their way."

Well I saw them out side,
I saw them out front.

I saw them acting
very suspiciously.

Do you want me to come back
and talk to the police?

" No, no, no, don't come
back, don't get involved.

"I'll talk to the police

"and I'm having the
locks changed today.

"We won't see James here again."

- Later in the day
James called and said

you know, they put him up to it.

- I said well boy, James sounds
pretty dangerous, you know.

He said "Well I've gotten a
restraining order against him."

- He did get a cellphone
so he had a cellphone

by the bed in case he
had to call the police.

Because at that point he
did fear for his life.

- So for the next
several months,

it was Lawrence and I.

I became a lot more
involved in every aspect

of running the place.

I was loving it.

I mean I was learning
new stuff every day.

Really I felt like
I was being groomed.

I still think it was the
greatest time of my life.

Of course, it couldn't last.

- By 96, he was still showing
some interesting stuff

but not as much.

I had heard he was thinking
of pulling the pin,

selling the theater or
just closing the theater

within a couple of years.

- The phone rang in the
lobby during a show.

And I picked up
the phone and next,

somebody on the other end
asked in a gruff voice,

"Is Lawrence Austin there?"

And I knew instantaneously
that it was James

and my heart froze.

And I said "He's not available."

And James said "You know
who this is, don't you?"

- That was the
point that I started

getting really scared for Larry.

I mean I'm really
getting scared.

- And the next day I came
in and the first thing I did

was I told Lawrence
I had to leave.

He acted very
strangely and he said

"Oh well, fine", he said,
"Well we don't need you here.

"We've been here a long
time and we'll be here

"long after you're gone."

- Larry said to me
"Oh, I'm not afraid.

"I'm not afraid", he said.

"God will protect me."

- Every week he'd
call and he'd say

"I know you miss this place.

"You're not gonna be
able to stay away."

He was right.

Boy, I wish I could
change reality.

But you know,

- The feature that was gonna
be shown was "Sunrise."

- As usual, Lawrence
started out with his march

down the aisle to "Pomp
and Circumstance".

- One of those standard nights.

- That night I came
here to see "Sunrise."

- First it opened with
Felix the Cat goes hungry.

And the second short that
run was called "The Golf Bug"

with Monty Banks.

The next thing I notice
is somebody has come in

and sat down at the end seat.

"School Days" comes on.

He abruptly gets up and goes.

I mean abruptly.

- And as I'm coming
out of the bathroom,

it was only like a
minute or two later,

- All of a sudden there
was this enormous noise.

- Bam!

- What I thought
were firecrackers.

- And then there were
two more, bam, bam.

- And I remember this
woman walking out

and I remember jumping
on her to keep her down.

- I can remember
thinking to myself

"What the fuck was that?"

- And I heard you
know, bam, another one.

- Then I stopped playing.

- Dean Mora jumps up
immediately from his bench.

- And at that point I see
someone bursting through

the curtains on the other aisle.

- And it's my former
seatmate there.

- Running down and
starts shooting.

- It's this very theatrical
move on his part.

- Bang, bam.

And I just saw
like orange flame.

- The gunman stopped
shooting and I heard him

go out the door.

At that point, I
ran into the lobby

and saw the candy counter girl
standing there and crying.

At that point I knew, something
terribly wrong happened.

And that's when I
looked over the counter

of the snack bar and
saw Lawrence was shot.

- The first thing I
spot is Mary Giles,

the concessions girl,

she was lying on the ground
with her knees drawn up.

She had a white t-shirt on.

There's red in the
front of her t-shirt.

- I remember trying to help Mary

who was bleeding, a lot.

- Looked over the candy counter
and there's Lawrence's body.

- It was on his right side.

And there was this
oval, I mean like this.

- First of all, there was a hole

where his right eye had been.

- And I remember
thinking I didn't realize

that the human body had
so much blood in it.

Because there was
just blood everywhere.

- The phone rang and
it was Dean calling.

I just said, "You know,
it was James, wasn't it?"

And he said "No, no."

- Received a phone call
that there had been

a homicide in
Hollywood Division.

And it was possibly going
to be a double homicide.

- And there was a
lot of people there.

A lot of crowd of people.

The street was all blocked
off with police cars

and yellow tape.

- We're informed that
Mary had been transported

to the hospital in
extremely critical condition

with a gunshot
wound to the chest

she sustained at
point blank range.

- We went down to talk to Mary.

We still to this day honestly
do not know how she survived.

And the bullet somehow
went around her ribcage.

- There were a few things
that initially didn't add up.

Generally when someone
comes in for a robbery

they're gonna take
everything that they can.

- The money was still
there which was strange.

- Most people that commit
a robbery are not going

to run out where
they could be seen

and cause any kind of attention

to be brought to themselves.

- The night after
Austin was shot,

I drove by the theater
and there was like

a candlelight vigil outside.

There were a dozen
candles burning,

flickering out there.

And people had put
up all these notes

on the wall that said I
came here when I was 14

or I came here when I was 23.

Really personal
experiences that were like

telling the world or
anybody who wandered by

what the theater meant to them.

They just started crying.

This mass, spontaneous
outpouring of love

for this building which I took

as love for John
Hampton's creation

but it was also for,
thank you Mr. Austin

for bringing it back to us.

- Our first clue that
was making us believe

that something
wasn't exactly right,

this wasn't a robbery.

A handwritten will that
just didn't look right.

- James claimed he
owned the theater

because he had the will.

Handwritten will on
a cocktail napkin

supposedly scribbled by
Lawrence at an airport.

- Lawrence Austin
who hated flying,

traveling to Japan.

He said "Hey if something
happened to either one of us,

"you know, we should
make sure we take care

"of the business."

- Couple of days
after the murder,

and he says oh, when they find
that will, I'm in trouble.

- The more information
we got about James,

the more we started keying on,

he was more involved in this.

- Why?

I mean why would
someone do this, okay?

And there's really
no explanation.

I mean think about it.

- We initially found that
he had been on parole

and that he had been convicted
of an attempted murder.

- He had been in
prison for beating

a gay man, an older gay man

that he had kind of befriended.

And so that was kind of
similar to what we had here.

- Mr. Van Sickle
would never admit

to being homosexual, only
saying that he was a hustler

and he did what he
had to do survive

and to make money.

- Sex always comes up
in Hollywood cases.

I don't care what it is.

You know, a guy could get
hit by a motorcycle on Mohol

and somehow sex gets into it.

- He advises that because
of the shady dealings

that Mr. Austin had
had over the years,

he had more than likely
had a number of people

who would be not so displeased

if they would have
seen him dead.

He covered everyone
from the Yakuza

all the way down to
the homeless people

that live down the alley.

- I've heard that Larry had
people that disliked him

but I'd never classify
them as enemies.

They were just collectors,

people that maybe he screwed.

I mean in a monetary way.

- Certainly Mr.
Austin was no angel.

I think we were
pretty clear on that

in our investigation.

Not a whole lot there
that would warrant

a contract hit though.

We kind of got a whole
different dimension

of Mr. Van Sickle at this point.

It became very clear to us

that he was very manipulative.

A couple of things
that came out,

he didn't like me at all.

But he did like
Detective Miller.

- Because I had more
in common with him.

I was from the Midwest,
I was in the Marines,

I was white.

I played like I understood.

- I was very
straightforward with James,

let him know right
upfront that since we,

there were a number of people
that we hadn't eliminated

as suspects, and I informed him

that he was on that list.

He was pretty close to the
top, and working his way up.

- What's kind of interesting
is at the funeral,

James was acting very distant.

Yet he drove up in
Larry's Cadillac.

- Michael and I went
to Lawrence's funeral.

And it was all very odd.

- There's all these
people at his gravesite

and I feel just, I was so moved

that people did appreciate
what he was doing

and they loved him.

- Immediately upon
completion of the service,

he came over to me and started
pumping me for information.

Had I spoken to the
police, he said, oh.

Did you say anything to the cops

because, man they were
really sweating me down.

- Well then we got Moreland.

The secret service actually
called us about Moreland

and he had information.

He had met Van Sickle
at a party in south L.A.

And he said he
thought it was strange

that this white boy
was down at the hood.

- He apparently approached
some Compton gang members

about doing a contact killing.

And they were willing
to take the money

but they were totally turned off

by his lack of professionalism.

Apparently there are
certain protocols

that he violated in
the world of hitmen.

- And we met with Moreland.

And he started
giving us information

that made sense to us.

He described the place.

- We're pretty sure at some
point that they dry ran it.

We're pretty sure
that at some point

they had discussed
the viability of them

taking on the contract.

- It's like the line out
of Alice in Wonderland.

Curiouser and curiouser as
we go down the rabbit hole.

- Since there had been so much
media interest in the case,

we're contacted by the producers
of America's Most Wanted.

- And this is where
we got very lucky.

- They sent out Jeannie
Borland to do a composite

of the shooter.

- And when she was finished,
she had this composite

that really looked
like a person.

- So we blasted that
out to the media

and we went live with that.

Very shortly thereafter,
we're contacted

by the Los Angeles County
Sheriff's Department

and they informed us that an
informant had come forward.

- He said you know that
he was out with a friend,

Christian Rodriguez
and another friend.

And he had the paper.

And this composite
was on the front page.

And he said, god this
looks just like you.

And Rodriguez said in return
"They'll never make me

"off of that picture."

- This is someone that
you would never expect

coming from where he came
from would be involved

in this type of activity
but then we learned

of his life situation where
he had just had a baby.

He was a teenager.

And he had no visible
means of support,

no desire to support himself.

- We finally decided,
okay, what we need now

is we're gonna take
both of these guys down

as quickly as we can,

but we want Van Sickle first.

So we placed him on round
the clock surveillance,

24 hours a day with our
Special Investigations Section,

it was known as SIS.

- And we said okay,
we're gonna get Moreland

to meet with Van Sickle,
we're gonna have him wired.

- And followed him
all the way back

to his residence in Lakewood.

I had prestaged Mr. Moreland
at the residence in Lakewood

so he can confront
James when he arrived

at his residence.

- And I mean Moreland
did a fantastic job.

He like jumps out in front of
him, and "Hey motherfucker.

"What you doing
coming into the hood

"and the hood gets
none of this money

"and you're paying it to this
Mexican from the eastside?"

- He was able to elicit
statements from Mr. Van Sickle

about how the deal was
made with Rodriguez

and discussed how he was
gonna eliminate the hitman.

And he wanted to know
if he knew anyone

that would be able
to take that job on.

- So as soon as they broke off,

our units took Van
Sickle down in his truck

and arrested him.

And then we went over
to Rodriguez's place.

We had it staked out.

- There was a short pursuit
in the city of Southgate

and he was taken into custody.

- He immediately, as
soon as we got him

back to the station, confessed.

- I couldn't drive down Fairfax.

I couldn't drive by the theater,
it was too heartbreaking.

I mean I was trying to
distance myself emotionally

from the situation.

Because not only had
I lost my friend.

But there was the tragedy
of the loss of the theater

to Los Angeles.

I was never again, I thought,

going to be able
to go back there.

- The actual trial for
Christian Rodriguez,

the guy who pulled the
trigger, was about three days.

- They finally came
in with the verdict.

And they had two juries.

One for Rodriguez
and one for James.

So they read it, guilty,
guilty, guilty, guilty.

- Van Sickle did not
get the death penalty.

- He has no chance of
ever getting out of prison

without, absent of escape.

- They are where they are.

And will be until
they're buried.

- There was Lawrence's
family who thought

they should inherit the theater.

And there was the
Hampton family appeared

and made the case that Lawrence
had swindled the theater.

Soon, a deal was worked
out that basically

the Hampton family and
the Austin family agreed

to sell the theater
and all of the films.

With that money, they would
pay for Dorothy's care

until she died.

At which point they
would divide the amount

between the two families.

- The theater was gone.

Specially when they
had the auction.

- It was pretty clear that
there were institutions

and other more
serious collectors

who had specific things in mind.

But no matter what you bid,
you weren't gonna win it.

- I wanted that
clip of "Thunder".

That needed to be preserved.

I tell you, that can
get mighty dangerous.

And it turned out I was bidding

against a well heeled
private collector.

Thank god my wife
wasn't with me.

And it got up to 4,000 dollars.

And I won the bid.

- Once the film collection
was auctioned off

at Butterfield and Butterfield,

it was to my mind
completely over.

The theater possessing
that library of films

was the only way that
it was going to continue

to function like it did.

♪ Pale hands I loved

♪ Beside the
shining moon where ♪

♪ Where are you now
who lies beneath ♪

♪ Your spell

♪ Who do you lean on

♪ Rapture's road way far

♪ Before you wag on

♪ I say meeting farewell

♪ Before you wag on

♪ I stand faring farewell

- It had a second rebirth.

This is now officially the end.

It can't come back
again for a third time.

So when it was reopened
by Charlie Lustman,

it was indeed an amazing event.

- You, everybody knows,
who lives in L.A.

knows that place.

But mostly I would say
99.9 percent of the people

who've driven down
Fairfax their entire life

had seen it, never went inside.

And I was one of those guys.

- He was a very dynamic guy.

He seemed very enthusiastic.

He was running
around like a chicken

with his head cut off trying
to make everything just right.

I mean the place is beautiful,
I couldn't fault him.

He seemed to really care.

- I was a purist.

I wanted it to be a silent
cinema with live music.

We're gonna run these
things every day.

- I felt it's time
to come face to face

with my demons.

I'm gonna have to go into
this theater sooner or later.

So I knocked on the
door and lo and behold,

Charlie Lustman
answers the door.

And I had known Charlie
back in high school.

- When I walked through those
doors for the first time

since I walked out on Lawrence,

I knew that I wasn't gonna
be able to leave again.

- I called him up.

And he said "No, I don't care
to subscribe to the Times."

You know.

That was our starting point.

- And before I know it, I'm
not only selling tickets

but then I'm serving the popcorn

and then I'm in the box office.

And next thing I
know Charlie and I

are running this place together.

- Charlie kept
calling me and said

we really, really want you
back, we really want you back.

And I said no, no, no.

And if I said that he brought
in a holy man or a shaman,

- You know, hard times, you
have to take tough measures.

You know?

So we brought in Maurice
and this guy comes in

and he looked like an
Indian and he was French.

And he came in with Kopal
which is like tree bark

and a big abalone shell and
he starts burning this stuff

and he had a drum.

Then we sit and we have this
kind of like seance thing,

we're all holding
hands and everything.

And then we take the crystal.

She's like all the energy's
been sucked into the crystals.

You put them into a bag
and he tied it really tight

and he hands it to me.

You must release
these into the nature.

Everything worked after he left.

Never had a problem with
the phones, the faxes,

email, you know internet.

- Charlie opened the theater
and it was quite an event.

- Just you know, it's
a complete circus.

What was interesting
to me was the fact that

I didn't know what
the hell I was doing.

- This guy bought the
silent movie theater

having never seen a silent
movie before in his life.

And through sheer force of will,

he reimagined it,
he beautified it

without understanding
what was so great

about silent movies.

- He did not know a
lot about silent films.

- In the beginning,
actually very quickly

he alienated himself
sort of from the serious

silent film fan and community.

Because he wasn't
showing any obscurities.

- And in some peculiar way we
all felt like we owned it too.

We had invested a lot,
and here was some guy

we didn't know who knew
nothing about film.

They told me that
I was a scam, I'm a sham,

a con, a huckster.

You know they called
me all these things

like who is this guy,
he's not for real.

- They crucified Charlie.

Which I thought was unfair.

It wasn't any of
these grand filmmakers

that came forth to
save this theater.

It was this little
singer songwriter.

- Bad, are you kidding me?

I was sold out for eight
weeks straight for Nosferatu.

A public domain film that I had.

I mean it was just pure profit.

That was a great run.

Hey man, all publicity is
good publicity you know.

Even if they caught me
in bed with a hooker.

That would just be
really good for me

in more ways than one.

- Charlie's defense,
he didn't have

the amazing collection
of films that the theater

had had before.

This was a guy that had to rent

or procure from
private collectors

whatever he was gonna run.

- And he had a completely
different crowd in there.

It's not like the old gang.

You know, it's much younger.

He got more people in.

- One of the great things
about the newly reconstituted

Silent Movie Theatre under
Charlie Lustman's management was

he attracted big crowds.

- He thought of it more
broadly as more of a stage show

with him at the center.

♪ You call me on the telephone

♪ To ask if I am all alone

♪ And when I watch
a video today ♪

♪ You gotta be kidding me

- I thought that was marvelous.

He learned showmanship.

♪ So what you

♪ Take me to a
silent picture show ♪

♪ Help me

- This was a show.

And they're looking back at it

like it's some kind of artifact.

Nobody was getting it.

♪ And take me to the
Silent Picture show ♪

- The theater still had
the power to make converts.

And for that reason, I
certainly thought it was

important enough to stay
for the next five years.

- Whether you love Charlie
or you hated Charlie,

Charlie has to get the credit
that he kept the theater open.

- Those xenons would be struck
and we'd open the curtain

and people would applaud
just for the main title.

- Well Keaton was
our number one star.

Keaton really kept
me in business.

- I accept, hey Charlie
you cannot just show Keaton

and Lloyd and Chaplin and
Chaplin and Lloyd and Keaton

all the time.

- I just realized
that comedy's king

'cause I really didn't
like the dramas that much.

They were a little
too melodramatic,

they weren't that great.

There were just some
that were great.

You put on a Mernaut
picture, it was like wow!

- Charlie would
often run "Sunrise".

He ran it a number of times
as a tribute to Larry.

- I wanted to kind
of show that good

prevails over evil.

So I ran the movie on the
anniversary of the murder.

And we packed the house, right.

Ready to show the film,
we turn the machine on

and it stopped.

- The film was getting
torn up in the gate.

So I immediately
stopped the projector.

And Charlie, Charlie.

- Get on up, come on
you guys are like,

and there it goes.

And it goes back on and
they were on the picture.

At the end of the picture,

there was a bunch of
people came in the booth,

some different people.

And said "You know, we don't
like you manipulating us.

"Wow, how'd you do that?"

Projectors went down and it
was Larry up on the screen.

- People who knew Lawrence say

that for that split second,
they saw him on the screen.

- Folks, we didn't put any
picture of Lawrence Austin

on the screen.

- The films he ran
in the beginning,

"The Wedding March",
"Metropolis", "Big Parade".

It was terrific, it really was.

- Quickly he learned that
he couldn't sustain that

and profit, and in
fact he realized

he was never gonna profit on
running silent films alone.

So he beefed up his
special events business.

- What he realized by
booking these events

is that we could make more
money with one good wedding

than we could running
silent movies for six days.

- That was the only for
profit silent cinema

left in the world.

And there was a reason for that.

Because you can't live
off silents alone.

And you can't.

- The films were a
casualty of that.

We showed fewer
and fewer silents.

Until at the end it
was a few times a year.

- The last couple years
that Charlie had this place

we were making more
money than ever.

But we were burned out.

- Then I got sick.

- He felt a smooth place
above his upper teeth.

- Rare sarcoma, cancer
in my upper jawbone.

- It does seem like it's,

the theater has a
troubled history.

That's kind of part of it.

- I decided I gotta
check out completely.

And at the same time, I
finally got some interest

from one party who wanted
to take over the theater

and loved the theater
just the way it was

and wanted to run the
silent movies and so forth

and they bought it and
here they are today

running pictures and
I'm back to the music.

- Here again, the theater
continues to be surprising.

- Couldn't believe it.

I was absolutely shocked.

- Seems that the theater
outlasted everyone once again.

♪ You can't measure love
by auto rod or meter ♪

♪ But fill your heart
with love each day ♪

♪ Your life goes sweeter

♪ So put a little love
in everything you do ♪

♪ Love will boomerang
right back to you ♪

♪ Now don't forget it

♪ Love will boomerang
right back to you ♪

- Seems like
everybody has a story

or everybody trying to get
into film at some point

would come and check
it out and maybe see

their first silent films here.

Kind of became a joke
to me for a while

because I would go to
parties and so many people

would insist that they were here

the night that Lawrence
Austin was murdered.

There were more people
here that are in the venue.

It's like Woodstock.

It is physically impossible
that as many people

claimed to be here managed
to all find seats that night.

- Hey!


Howdy, holy fucking
shit, everybody, right?

- We may seem like
sacrilegious new punks

for trying to take
over the place.

But we love the
stuff, and in reality,

we're probably the
straightest laced people

who've ever been in the venue.

The most we ever did
was crack open a beer

and I can't imagine the things
that go on here at night.

- The guys now
look, seem amazing.

They seem to really love the
theater and it's still there

and it's still
showing silent films,

they're making room for them.

- It really wasn't as much
maybe about a nostalgia

as it has been, this theater
or it's previous film buffs

have been, you know.

There's always gonna
be a little of that.

- I don't wanna come here and
have a nostalgic experience.

I'm not even sure that I
could trust that nostalgia.

- But the experience was
as true as it should be

and probably the
best as it will get.

- The reality of it
is, it's a business.

And to stay viable as a
business, you have to look

at various avenues.

And let's face it,

they haven't been making
silent films since 1929.

- The responses actually
has been a little warmer

than I expected.

I think initially we had a
lot of email and phone calls

and a couple people who
came in and made comments

like what are you doing to
my Silent Movie Theatre?

A very kind of like
personal feeling

like how can you bring in sound,

how can you start
showing Russ Meyer films,

this kind of thing.

- We didn't wanna mess
with too much though

because the place was
so beautiful as it is.

So everything is very delicate.

Like getting a couch
that would still fit in

with the deco aesthetic.

- Sounds ironic,
but I've gotta say

this is a house of
disappointment and
compromise to me.

But I mean that in
the very best sense.

Because at least it's
within a dream endeavored.

- Within just one
week at this theater,

you're gonna see
movies that could be

up to 100 years apart.

And that's the whole
history of cinema.

And that's what's
exciting to me.

- This is the smallest
projection booth

I have actually ever been in.

And they put digital
projection in.

You know, we've got
the slide projector.

16 millimeter and 35 so
it's really really crowded.

- The number one challenge
for revival house

is getting asses in seats.

You can show the most
amazing things in the world

but if people aren't here,
it's like it never happened.

- People do have
many alternatives.

They can Netflix many titles.

They can torrent the
film and download it

off the internet.

Or they just can get caught
up in watching Youtube.

The death of the movie theater

has been predicted
for a long time now.

Television really took
a big chunk out of it

as everybody remembers.

But it didn't disappear.

- It should be a spectacle
that is overwhelming

at some level.

Until that TV set is eight
times as high as I am,

there is simply a
physical reaction

to having that face
be bigger than you

that is more totemic,
more spiritual,

more altar-like.

But the number one,
size, sound, volume,

all these other things,

the number one I really believe

is the audience itself.

I love the moment in the film

where everyone kind
of gasps together.

I sometimes go like, this
movie's not even gonna work

if I don't have 40 people in.

- If the place is
packed, it's great,

there's nothing like it.

Mr. Bob Mitchell!

- It's a nice space.

And it's a space that
you wanna hang out in.

A lot of ways, it's what's
made the Silent Movie Theatre

a great venue.

Because there is
a sort of history

of theatricality to the place

that we can continue
pretty easily.

- As we move on and on
and on into the future,

that art becomes more and
more and more valuable

to our world.

And that's one of
the only places left.

- It's about the movies.

I won't be here forever.

The Harkham's won't
be here forever.

Obviously Mr. Hampton,
Mr. Austin and Charlie,

they worked here.

And this place goes on.

- The theater just
has a magic about it.

It just hangs in there
despite all the many problems

it's had over the years.

And it's not the most
comfortable theater in the world

but it's unique.

♪ You

♪ You keep me living in sin

♪ You laugh at me and then

♪ You say that you love me

♪ But I cannot see

♪ You're lying to me

♪ Didn't care for me

♪ You said that you
were honest and true ♪

♪ Love how could anyone
ever believe in you ♪

♪ You deny the chance
of loving you ♪

♪ What could it have been

♪ You keep me always
living in sin ♪