A mural that graced Washington's Biograph Theatre for years is now displayed at the AFI Silver Theatre and Cultural Center in Silver Spring, Md. It’s made up of hundreds of old movie posters. (John Kelly/The Washington Post)

Alan Rubin calls the Biograph Theatre a 29-year film festival. From its opening in 1967 to its closure in 1996, the movie house in a former Nash automobile dealership on M Street in Georgetown was a home for eclectic, independent films you couldn’t see anywhere else.

The Biograph was also, in its way, an art gallery, said Rubin, the co-founder who ran it until the final credits. A piece of that art — unseen for decades — is at the AFI Silver Theatre and Cultural Center in Silver Spring. It’s a movie-mad mural that once graced a hallway at the Biograph.

“The Biograph had all these posters,” said Allyn “AJ” Johnson, who started working at the theater selling concessions when he was 14. These were mostly “one-sheets,” advertising posters measuring about 27 by 41 inches. They’d been piling up for years.

“What to do with them?” Johnson said. “I decided to make a collage.”

Rubin agreed to supply the necessary materials and cover his staff’s payroll time.

It took them nearly a year to scissor the faces, scenes and titles from the posters, then arrange them and glue them onto half-inch plywood boards with contact cement spray. The panels were affixed to the wall with strong adhesive. The effect is like being dropped into a blender of classic cinema, up to about 1975.

There’s “Blazing Saddles” next to “Jaws.” There’s Woody Allen’s nebbishy face accessorized with Tim Curry’s pouting, lipsticked lips from “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.” There’s Vegas-era Elvis Presley singing into the wrapper of a Mounds bar.

There’s the classic Disney cartoon “Alice in Wonderland” topped with. … Who is that?

“That’s Barbarella,” Johnson said. “I know that by heart.”

The Biograph lost its lease, and the space became — of course — a CVS. Rubin, who had hung some of his own paintings in the theater, became a full-time artist. (“I am 46 years old, but if you add in the shipping and handling, I’m 82,” he said.)

Johnson — by that time a contractor and developer — returned to salvage the mural.

“I had my guys almost cut the concrete wall to get it down,” said Johnson, 61.

Said Rubin: “Over the 23 years since we closed, AJ and I have had many discussions about what to do with the mural that he carefully wrapped and stored at his residence.”

The AFI seemed a fitting home. The mural is hanging in the lobby, where it makes a perfect counterpoint to Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” currently showing in Theater 1.

Have a seat

For reasons that will soon become clear, I asked Johnson his favorite place to sit in the Biograph.

“Back row, left,” he said. “That was my favorite spot. I also watched a lot from the [projection] booth. With ‘Pink Flamingos’ we’d pack the theater. Then I’d usually watch it from the booth.”

I don’t know anything about the booth at the AFI Silver, but I do know about the seats in Theater 1: They’re brand new, replaced in July.

The 398 seats are very similar to the ones installed in the refurbished theater when it reopened in 2003, but they’re very different from those originally in the space, which dates to 1938.

“When it opened, there were roughly 1,000 seats,” said Ray Barry, director of the AFI Silver.

Of course, Americans were smaller then.

The new seats rock a little, but they don’t recline, the way so many do these days.

“We weren’t really interested in providing sleeping accommodation,” Barry said.

The seats do have cupholders, which would have confused a moviegoer from the 1930s. There was no concession stand then.

“Nobody believes that, but I have the original drawings of the theater,” Barry said.

Back then, there were only two stalls in the men’s room and two in the ladies.

“I don’t know how they actually did that,” Barry said.

Screen time

If you’re in the mood for old movie houses, head to the National Building Museum for the exhibit “Flickering Treasures: Rediscovering Baltimore’s Forgotten Movie Theaters.” The exhibit recounts the rise and fall of that city’s movie theaters, from tiny screens erected temporarily in storefronts to grand palaces with uniformed ushers.

The exhibit is based on photographs by Baltimore Sun photographer Amy Davis, who set out to capture what remains of those old dreamscapes, whether they were transformed into churches or taken by the wrecking ball.

In conjunction with “Flickering Treasures,” the AFI Silver is screening movies that celebrate … the movies. The series continues Saturday with “Have You Seen My Movie?” Others include “The Blob” (Aug. 10), “The Tingler” (Aug. 17) and “Matinee” (Aug. 24).

Twitter: @johnkelly

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