Celluloid Seattle: A City at the Movies was the first exhibit to examine the city’s relationship with film. Curated by celebrated Seattle critic Robert Horton, this unique exhibition explored both the image of Seattle captured in films, and how the idea of going to the movies has changed in the city over the years.
From a far-flung Western outpost to being hip, grunge-loving and trendy, Seattle’s image in the movie imagination has changed over the years. Likewise, the city’s residents’ movie-going habits have changed with popular culture from the grand single-screen downtown palaces to mega-multiplexes and back to the intimate theaters of nonprofit film societies.
Along with film clips and historic artifacts, the exhibit allowed visitors to truly engage with the historic movie experience through a set of recreated mini-theatres, interactive games, and activity kiosks.
For several decades during the 1900s, 2nd Ave in Belltown, was known as “Film Row,” seen in this 1918 photo. Film Row was the center of film distribution in the Northwest, housing film exchanges from all the major studios. Theatre managers and owners came to Film Row to preview and select movies to show in their theaters. Universal Film Exchange was the last of these exchanges to close in 1980.
The original cinema palaces welcomed visitors in a grand and exotic scale, with vaulted ceilings, lush tapestries, and ornate features, as uniformed ushers stood by. Celluloid Seattle featured a grand movie palace lobby utilizing artifacts from the Fox (later Music Hall) Theatre.
Up until the 1962 World’s Fair, Seattle’s portrayal on film was a far-flung Western outpost: a rough-hewn place where tugboat captains and lumberjacks roamed. The city’s actual movie-going habits contradicted its frontier image, though. This was the era of the Coliseum, Paramount, Blue Mouse, Orpheum, Fox (Music Hall), and the other grand, elegant movie palaces that showcased Hollywood’s golden age.
Seattle’s Liberty Theatre opened at First Avenue and Pike Street in 1914, intending to be “a theatre which for perfection of appointment, convenience and luxuriousness has no equal this side of Chicago.” The exterior of the theater featured a forty-foot-high Statue of Liberty, illuminated by 1,200 lamps of eight different colors.
When it was built, the movie theater’s concave screen was the largest in the city, stretching 19 feet 4 inches wide by 14 feet 8 inches high. Like most theaters of its era, it showed movies and live performances. Here, dancers pose below the proscenium arch.
Throughout the years, Seattle has been imagined in many different ways. Celluloid Seattle highlighted those films and television shows.
Seattle was initially represented as a gritty frontier town, but that all changed with the 1962 World’s Fair.
The Far Country
North to Alaska
It Happened at the World’s Fair
In the 1970s and 80s, depictions of Seattle changed from economically-strapped and scruffy to a stylish film-noir setting.
Harry and the Hendersons
Hand that Rocks the Cradle
Fabulous Baker Boys
House of Games
Trouble in Mind
The Slender Thread
At the turn of the 1990s, Seattle suddenly became hip, and movies followed to take advantage of it’s it factor.
Life or Something Like It
Sleepless in Seattle
10 Things I Hate About You
Austin Powers, the spy who shagged me
Seattle has always had its homegrown filmmakers who have created their own authentic versions of the city.
Black and Decker Hedgetrimmer Murders
Money Buys Happiness
Inlaws and Outlaws
The Business of Fancydancing
Buffalo Bill’s Defunct
The Heart of the Game
Great Speeches from a Dying World
The Immaculate Conception of Little Dizzle
About a Son
Pearl Jam Twenty by Cameron Crowe
Television has also had its hand in imagining Seattle, although it followed the same path as movies and Hollywood.
Here Come the Brides
The Night Strangler
Celluloid Seattle: A City at the Movies was curated by Robert Horton.
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