Destination Film: Ann Arbor's Michigan Theater - Gaspar Noe's Love in 3D

Continuing Destination Film is our visit to Ann Arbor's Michigan Theater.

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Ever since Argentinian provocateur Gaspar Noe's fourth feature Love in 3D hit cinemas and on-demand releasing, the chances of seeing it in America as intended were slim to none.  Case in point, there aren't a lot of theaters out there quick to jump on exhibiting a 3D porno film in their venues.  
While I managed to see Noe's previous two features Irreversible and Enter the Void properly on the big screen, it was looking more and more like home video was going to be my only option for Love.  And then out of nowhere, an announcement was made that downtown Ann Arbor's prestigious Michigan Theater was going to host Love for two nights only and in 3D no less!  Needless to say I jumped on board and met with one of The Movie Sleuth's veteran writers for what promised to be a most uniquely provocative cinematic experience like no other, which brings us to our latest Destination Film piece on this ornate and lovely cinema venue with more than a checkered past behind it: Ann Arbor's Michigan Theater.

Opened in 1928 originally as a multi-functional facility catering not just to film but orchestral concerts, vaudevillian theater and local community theater productions.  The theater venue underwent a series of transformations from it's inception to 1974 when after a massive remodeling job the theater's previous owners, the Butterfield Theater Corporation under the direction of Jerry Hoag, abandoned the theater in 1979 and allowed the space to deteriorate for it's eventual demolition.  For a short time the local community planned on turning the once grand cinema house into a food court and retail center with the hopes of boosting the local economy.  That is until Ann Arbor's local mayor Lou Belcher, Dr. Henry Aldridge and Margaret D. Towsley put their heads together and secured the rights to purchasing the building.  

ann arborWith the help of restoration architect Richard Frank, a plan was made to refurbish the building and in 1999 the theater reopened to the public.  Boasting one of the few venues in the country that can play 16mm, 35mm, 70mm, 3D and digital with one of the few Barton Theater Organs still left intact in the United States, Ann Arbor's Michigan Theater proved to be one of the hottest tickets in the community.  It's also, in addition to being open to the public, a niche venue for paid members for exclusive presentations and the regional Cinetopia International Film Festival.  When it isn't aimed at satisfying the local film community, the auditoriums have proven to be a place for rock concerts, ballet, Broadway theater and live orchestral concerts.  Case in point, according to the Michigan Daily and Ann Arbor News, this is one of the 'best places to see a movie' in any capacity.

First of all, there's nothing quite like attending a venue which proudly displayed the unsafe for work poster for Noe's latest outlaw jaunt and watching the startled and taken aback reactions of passerby stopped dead in their tracks by such a sleazy looking poster was most amusing for yours truly.  Entering the theater itself however provided a feast for the eyes from the lobby which sold alcohol at the concession stand and the multiplex entrance itself which was adorned with golden wallpaper, chandeliers and balcony seating for the grand venue.  Love was delegated to one of the theater's smaller auditoriums yet there was still no shortage of visual splendor to behold upon entering, as a live golden organ was being played prior to showtime with blue and red lighting adorning the ceiling wallpaper.  Immediately I was reminded of Detroit's restored Redford Theater (featured prominently in It Follows) and it's mixture of old fashioned and modern decor, it's organ seated at the front right of the screen and the intricate ceiling wallpaper designs.  The organ played to a full crowd which awaited with eager anticipation to take the 3D plunge Noe had so exquisitely prepared for viewers familiar as well as uninitiated with his work.  Then the lights went down before a warning informing viewers to affix their 3D glasses appeared and the film began.  

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Where I'm used to seeing people bolt from their seats when watching a Noe film, which was common at the Main Art Theater showings for his previous two films, everyone remained in their seats with some knowing chuckling at the self-referencing going on.  Everyone here knew what they were in for and savored up Noe's luscious images almost reverently.  I can't imagine seeing this in a mainstream theater venue like the AMC Forum 30 and the classiness of the Michigan Theater from it's exterior marquee to it's interior design sported a sophisticated appearance and overall artistic experience which reminded you how cinema can be an event and not just another room at the multiplex.  Even if you don't come all the way out to Ann Arbor for something like a Gaspar Noe film, this is a fantastic piece of cinema history that should be experienced for yourself at least once.  Among the few Michigan venues outside of, say, the Redford or Fox Theater, which really give you as much to see on your journey through the theater as the film you'll be seeing itself.

-Andrew Kotwicki

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