Michigan Theater is one of the two movie theaters in downtown Ann Arbor.
It’s like a mini opera house.
Everytime I go to this theater, I am almost overwhelmed by the grand interior with the ornate ceiling, walls, stair railing and chandeliers.
Is this really a movie theater?!!
In fact, there are many theaters like this in the U.S. In my home country, Japan, there is no movie theater which is like an opera house. Still very exotic to me after living here for more than 20 years.
The architecture of Michigan Theater is Lombard Romanesque style. According to the source I read, the characteristics of Lombard Romanesque style are rhythmic ornamental arches and lack of very elaborate sculptural embellishment.
Michigan Theater is located on Liberty Street, near the intersection with State St. which is the main street for the University of Michigan main campus. The other movie theater, State Theater, famous for its art deco style architecture, is on the intersection and can be seen from the entrance of Michigan Theater.
View of State Theater from in front of Michigan Theater – these two theaters stand near each other, like close sisters.
Here you will already notice the elaborately decorated ceiling and the walls above the entrance doors. Wow!
Inside – very elegant
The concession is on the left.
If I remember correctly, the son of the director of this theater was a classmate of one of my sons (long time ago) – when you live in a same place for decades, you become sort of a local even if you are from another country.
Gorgeous ceiling and railing upstairs come into sight.
So gorgeous that I want to go upstairs to explore, every time I come here. It’s like the Palace of Versailles…
A closer look at the walls. How elaborate! Americans used to build just as elaborate architecture as Europeans in the early 20th century.
Lots of gold leaf – real gold!
They must have spent a lot of money. In 1927, a local businessman, Angelo Poulos, decided to build a movie theater on Liberty St in Ann Arbor. He hired a Detroit architect, Maurice Finkel. The theater was completed in 1928.
I wonder if any of their descendants live around here?
A corner of the upstairs – it makes me imagine Mozart must have been composing and playing music in a room like this.
Combination of chandeliers and mirrors is very effective in creating a gorgeous interior atmosphere. I read that mirrors were used to enhance the interior effect in the opera houses in Europe in the 18th century. The same technique was used for this theater.
In the 1970s, the attendance dropped and the theater was threatened with demolition, but the local community raised funds and saved the theater. Since then, Michigan Theater Foundation, a non-profit organization, has been running the theater. The theater has been restored and renovated. The Foundation is always accepting donation.
Beautiful railing – how many people touch the railing every day throughout year? It must be a lot of work to maintain it.
Stairs to the balcony seats – I feel as if I were in a Broadway theater or in an opera house.
I found this upstairs. Looks like a very old weight scale. Who in the world will want to be on a weight scale in a movie theater??
The Historic Auditorium
This is the main and large room. It can seat 1,700 people (doesn’t look that large) and is equipped with the original Barton Theatre Pipe Organ. The pipe organ was built in 1927 for this theater.
This auditorium is equipped with very good acoustic system which is suited for classical music performance. The pipe organ is still played now. It sounds great. It’s worth coming to Michigan Theater just to hear the organ!
When the theater was built, it was an era of silent movies. They played live music as they showed the movies. That’s why the auditorium was built to be acoustically superior.
There is another, smaller auditorium in Michigan Theater – the Screening Room. It was added in 1999. I hear it’s equipped with state-of-the-art movie sound system (I have not been to the room myself yet). This room is used for minor films (e.g. speciality, foreign, independent, documentary) that draw small attendance. It’s not easy to notice there are actually two auditoriums in there.
In 1920s, it was eqivalent to going to Disney World (or Disney Land) to go see a movie. Originally, seeing a movie was the working class’s recreation (escaping the reality); the middle class were afraid of movies (the movies were scary or the places where the movies were shown were scary? ) So, they built gorgeous and beautiful opera house-looking movie theaters to attract the middle and the upper class people. The idea worked very well – the middle-class people felt the movie theaters were safe and fun places to take their families. Thus movie theaters became the biggest entertainment/recreational places and the cultural centers for people. This is very interesting.
Film Festivals: You must have heard about Sundance Film Festival, which was founded by Robert Redford and others in the late 1970s. The festival is held annually in Utah around late January. During the festival, some of the films are shown in theaters in some cities beyond Utah. The filmmakers travel to those theaters and there are Q&A sessions, etc. with the audience. This year (2012), there are 9 screening venues in the whole country (Boston, Chicago, NY, etc.), and Michigan Theater is one of them. It was selected for a venue for 2 years in a row. This also means Michigan Theater is the only venue chosen in the entire state of Michigan. This is pretty awesome!
Michigan Theater also hosts the annual Ann Arbor Film Festival every year, around March.
Movies you cannot see anywhere else: Last year (2010), they hosted a series of the legendary Stanley Cubric’s movies – 2001 A Space Oddysey, A Clockwork Orange, Barry Lyndon, etc. Young people may not have seen or heard of any of them, except 2001 A Space Oddysey. When I was a college student, I was crazy about movies and saw a lot of movies including Cubric’s. It’s great to be able to see old great movies on a big screen in a movie theater, not on your small TV screen at home (even a screen of the largest HDTV couldn’t compete with a screen of a movie theater).
A while ago, Michigan Theater hosted the Japanese movie, “Shall We Dance?” starred by Koji Yakusho. Mr. Yakusho is a very big Japanese movie star. Of course I went to see it. Very few Japanese (and other Asian movies) come to Michigan Theater, though. Why? Does the management of Michigan Theater prefer European and American movies?
If they show more Japanese and other Asian movies, they would be an even greater movie theater!
Kids’ movies: They mainly host artistic movies for adults, but they also host movies for families – in a series named “Not Just For Kids”.
Live music performance: Equipped with the excellent acoustic systems, I hear Michigan Theater is a good place for live music performance as well; it explains why it is a home of the Ann Arbor Symphony.
Do you know Jeff Daniel? He co-starred the very funny movie, Dumb & Dumber, in the 1990s with Jim Carrey. He is actually from Chelsea, one of Ann Arbor’s neiboring small towns. He and his family lived in Chelsea (his son was the same age of one of my sons, and they played in the youth baseball league. I remember my son’s team played Mr. Daniel’s son’s team several times – OK, this is enough, who cares, right?). Mr. Daniel can play guitar, and performed a live concert at Michigan Theater. If I remember correctly his son was in a rock band and played with his father in the concert.
About two years ago, Michigan Theater hosted an orchestra concert for children on Peter and the Wolf with narration by the former Univ. of Michigan football coach, Lloyd Carr.
There won’t be any subtitles, of course, because this is America… When I was in Japan when young, I saw so many movies, many of which were American movies with Japanese subtitles. If you are a foreigner (like me) and are not good enough at English to follow the dialogues and the story, it will sometimes be frustrating – I fully understand. You may not really want to spend money to see a movie you won’t be able to understand well. But it may be worth the money to see a movie on a big screen in a big auditorium with great sound system in a beautiful theater! You may want to choose an old film you have already seen – then you will know the story already and it won’t bother you if you can’t understand everything they say in the movie. A place like Michigan Theater makes me feel “this is truly movie-going”. It’s a gorgeous movie theater, rich in history and tradition.
Michigan Theater is a member of the League of Historic American Theaters, and in 2006 it was named the Outstanding Historic Theatre.
The theater’s website: http://www.michtheater.org/