The Last Picture Show

50 years ago Marfa had two movie theaters. Now there are none.

The challenges of screening a theater-quality motion picture in Marfa.

     When the Alamo Drafthouse's Rolling Roadshow fires up its 35mm projector on the downtown streets of Marfa, on July 2 it will mark only the second time a theatrical-quality movie of any type has been shown in Marfa in more than 35 years.

     When George Stevens and the Warner Bros. crew took over the tiny west Texas town for the location filming of Giant, there were two functioning movie houses on the city's main street, The Palace and The Texas.

     Located practically across the street from each other, the two defunct movie houses were a mute testimony to better economic times when the town was a major cattle shipping point and home to the Highland Hereford Association.

     During the location shoot, movies of the stars (Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson, James Dean) were shown at The Palace, while George Stevens used the nearby Texas Theater to screen his dailies.

     Today both buildings are still standing, but no longer used for films. The Palace is a private residence, while The Texas is an office. To screen the digitally enhanced version of Giant two years ago a theater-quality digital projector was trucked in by Texas Instruments: their DLP Cinema system. That screening was held in the courtyard of the Hotel Paisano to commemorate the DVD release of Giant. Although the DLP Cinema does not use film and sprockets, it still has a rather noisy cooling system that is usually housed in a projection room at a theater. The problem was where to place the projector so the fan noise would not distract audience. There was another issue of the 3-square-foot footprint that the DLP Cinema would require. Texas Instrument's Phil Hoelscher finally determined that the projector should be placed in an upstairs room, with a window that looked out on the hotel's courtyard. The image was projected through an open window, across the courtyard, to a screen hanging from the balconies on the opposite side. Fan noise was eliminated by placing the DLP Cinema inside the building, while the audience is seated outdoors.

     For the 50th Anniversary of Giant, we are going retro: You've seen the digital. Let's go back to the original! A 35mm print will be provided by Warner Bros. This is one of only four tech prints of the revered Texas film residing in the Warner Bros. vaults. The Alamo Drafthouse and Cinema's Rolling Roadshow will truck in a theater-quality 35mm projector, sound system and screen. To accommodate larger crowds, the screening will take place on Highland Avenue in downtown Marfa, in front of the Hotel Paisano.

     Only $50 ticket holders will be permitted to sit in front of the screen, in a specially roped-off area. The "ticket" will be a custom-made lawn chair, emblazoned with the Giant logo on back. The organizers will be able to tell at a glance who is, and who is not, a ticket holder by their chair. Anyone standing, or sitting in a non-standard chair, will be asked to move outside the roped-off area.

     There have been screenings of digital prints and of classic films, but this will truly be a night to remember as you sit and watch Giant in the very spot where Liz, Rock and Jimmy hung out during that location filming back in 1955.

     For this special screening we are asking you, the ticket holder, to dress like characters from the movie. If you don't own any "ranch wear," then please dress as if it were 1955 again. For one night, we are trying to make the old hotel look just like it did during the location filming.

     Probably the most touching reminder that this was a place where the stars once walked is a display in the lobby of the Hotel Paisano containing autographed photos from many of the movie's actors and actresses. It has remained there for nearly 50 years as evidence of the greatness that once inhabited these halls.

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