Egyptian Theatre to Show Nitrate Films

The Hollywood venue will be one of the few spots able to screen the vintage reels following a projection booth update.

When a cinema goes for a major update in its projection booth, it typically adds a whole buffet of bells and whistles. A full tech upgrade is the norm, in short, the sort of upgrade that includes the latest cutting-edge whizbangery that guarantees a theater is ready to face the near future.

The Egyptian Theatre, however, is about to take a tantalizing trip to the past via its next projection booth update: It's kitting out its technology in order to screen nitrate movies, movies that were made with a film stock not seen in regular use since the beginning of the 1950s.

"Cellulose nitrate was the standard film stock in commercial use from the earliest days of cinema until it was discontinued in 1951," says a statement from the Hollywood landmark. "Widely agreed to possess a uniquely beautiful image quality, the stock was highly flammable and was replaced by cellulose acetate 'safety' film." 

Some nitrate films didn't stand the test of time, but those that have can only be viewed at "a handful of theaters equipped to screen them" around the country. The Egyptian will soon join that small and rare class once the retrofitting is complete.

The Film Foundation, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, and Turner Classic Movies, the Academy Film Archive, and American Cinematheque are all working with on the major projection booth project.

"When I was told that one of the most beautiful movie theaters in the country could be retrofitted for nitrate projection, I was overjoyed, moved, and excited by the potention," said filmmaker Martin Scorsese, the founder of the Film Foundation.

"I hope this is the beginning of a trend. The art of cinema developed with nitrate from its beginnings to the early '50s, and the silver content gave us a luminosity and a richness that was never quite matched by the safer stocks that followed or digital reproduction," continued the director.

The Egyptian Theatre, which was founded by cinema-creating visionary Sid Graumann, will mark its centennial in 2022. As for its current projectors, the ones that can screen 35mm and 70mm on widely used film stock?

Those machines remain at the Hollywood Boulevard venue. But with the projection booth update, the theater will be equipped to screen a notable breadth of movie types, including those historic, hard-to-find, silver-rich nitrate works that many thought they'd never experience in a theatrical setting.

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