Red carpet? Check. Movie star? Check. Popcorn? Check.
Last night's grand opening of the AFI Silver Theatre in Silver Spring had all the trappings of Hollywood. No stuffy artistes here. We're talking a big, glitzy, old-fashioned night at the movies.
"The very idea that we can finally have popcorn, a marquee and foot traffic means it's finally the movies!" said American Film Institute co-director James Hindman. "Not cinema. The movies!"
After years of dark screens, it's show time once more for the historic theater, which has been transformed from a crumbling art deco shell into a state-of-the-art film and cultural center. Actor Clint Eastwood was guest of honor at the Silver's first offering: a screening and discussion of "The Ox-Bow Incident," one of his favorite films.
A loud and adoring group of Eastwood fans lined the curb across from the theater. When he stepped out of his black limo, they erupted.
"People screaming in the street in Silver Spring!" said Montgomery County Executive Doug Duncan in wonderment. "The last time they did that, they were throwing things!"
For those who weren't around to watch the suburb's downtown slide, suffice it to say that "down at the heels" is putting it mildly. But Discovery Communications opened its new downtown headquarters Monday. And now . . . Clint! Make my day!
"I love this theater," said Eastwood, stepping into the outer lobby. "And I've only seen this much of it."
The actor grew up with the grand movie palaces, as did many of the 400 guests at the grand opening. The $20 million renovation has painstakingly attempted to re-create the art deco style, sweep and mood while adding the latest technical trappings.
Just hours before the grand opening, the lobby looked (fittingly enough) like a Keystone Kops clip: people racing around, popcorn popping, lights not working, a thousand details yet to fall into place. "I'm nervous, I'm excited," said AFI Silver Deputy Director Ray Barry, far too jazzed to stand still. "We need to finish programming the digital cinema projectors."
The only tranquil spot was Silver Director Murray Horwitz. "There's truly some twisted show business impulse inside of me: The closer I get to opening night, the calmer I get," said Horwitz, a former professional clown. He broke into a huge grin. "It's a show! I love doing shows!"
And a show it was, complete with a ribbon-cutting in the form of two spools and a "film" ribbon; popcorn and mixed drinks; and VIPS like Sen. Paul Sarbanes, Steve and Cokie Roberts, Jim Kimsey, Bill and Janet Cohen and the always enthusiastic Jack Valenti, head of the Motion Picture Association of America.
"I am a history buff," said Valenti. "This is cinema history."
The Silver is part of the American Film Institute, which is based in Los Angeles. AFI is one of the country's leading noncommercial film exhibitors, screening old movies, independent films, shorts, documentaries and other work unavailable elsewhere. Although some films will still be shown at the AFI's former home at the Kennedy Center, the Silver will become the institute's primary exhibition space.
Over the past few days, passersby have studied the schedule of films posted and stuck their heads in the door, said Horwitz. "They asked, 'How do we become members?' -- and I'm, like, yes! Why, in this day and age, should people come to a movie theater like this? . . . Honestly, having spent all my time in show business, I don't know. But they do come, and it's magic."
Last night's premiere was the first in a week of events celebrating the revival of the 1938 theater and Montgomery County's $400 million effort to remake downtown Silver Spring into a bustling arts and entertainment center.
A series of invitational screenings will continue through Thursday, and the Silver officially welcomes the public next weekend with an open house and three films, including "Four Daughters," the movie shown on the Silver's original opening night in 1938.
But last night was Eastwood's. The actor-director received a standing ovation before he settled into one of the plush seats next to his wife, Dina Ruiz Eastwood.
The organ played "Hooray for Hollywood" as guests found their seats. There were heartfelt speeches with heartfelt thanks for all who made the AFI Silver happen, especially AFI Director Jean Picker Firstenberg, who grew up watching films in the great movie theaters of New York.
Then the moment everyone was waiting for: The lights went down, the curtain parted and the screen lit up with Henry Fonda's unshaven face.
The Silver selected "The Ox-Bow Incident," which is celebrating its 60th anniversary this year, because it's one of Eastwood's early influences. The film, directed by William Wellman, explores nonviolence and mob justice. Eastwood first saw it as a boy, and it stuck with him. "I thought I was seeing a western, but it was the first moralist movie I'd ever seen," he said.
After the screening, Eastwood took the stage with film critic Richard Schickel to discuss the movie. This added-on element -- actors, directors and other experts discussing their work -- is one of the things the Silver hopes will bring the entire region to their corner of the world.
Then a short clip of "Mystic River" was previewed; the upcoming movie is directed by Eastwood and stars Sean Penn and Tim Robbins. When the lights came up, Eastwood was presented with AFI Silver's first Legacy Award, recognizing his contributions to the art of filmmaking.
(Do you feel lucky, punk? The guests last night certainly were. The take-home goody bag for everyone included the complete DVD set of "Dirty Harry" movies.)
"This is going to be such a hit," said Sarbanes at evening's end. ". . . I love to go to good movies, and at AFI you can sort of count on it being a good movie."