In 1927, the majestic Landmark Oriental Theater opened for business in the heart of Milwaukee’s East Side. During the Oriental’s beginning era, going to the movies was more of an all-day experience or, at the very least, an evening escapade requiring gowns and feather boas, or tuxedos and top hats.
In some ways, opening night of Sex and the City was reminiscent of this historic time.
A crowd congregated outside of the Oriental Theater hours before the doors even opened for the 7 p.m. showing of Sex and the City. By the look of it, any passersby probably would have assumed that it was a gathering for a wedding reception or graduation party or something of the like based on the pink nail polish, updos, stilettos and sundresses that almost every woman wore that evening.
While the throngs of women weren’t sporting frilly evening dresses, the fancy attire was still quite atypical for modern moviegoers. By no means is this a dramatic exaggeration, either. I think I was the only person who didn’t get the memo about the dress code for the night’s flick. Evidently, Sex and the City on the silver screen was more than just a Friday night movie with the girls, it was an enormous event that corralled the largest bunch of women I’ve ever seen in one enclosed location.
Sex and the City was highly anticipated by many women, including myself. I was a little nervous after reading several reviews that gave Sex and the City a mere satisfactory rating, only three stars. I really didn’t want to be disappointed or leave unsatisfied. But after seeing the movie and falling in love with the characters and story all over again, clearly those critics weren’t fans of the HBO series in the first place. On a whole, the movie was better than I could have envisioned. It was witty and sharp, sensitive and endearing, raunchy and lively, and perfect. I loved it!
I also adore the Oriental Theater, which is why I chose to see my favorite TV show’s big screen debut there. The Oriental has been showing movies for about 75 years and still is able to attract audiences. It first began showing short runs of Hollywood classics and cult double features, and then expanded its repertoire to foreign, specialty and indie films, in addition to a mix of first-run movies and blockbusters in order to keep up with the Joneses.
Eventually, the owners decided to turn the single-screen theater into three smaller theaters because such one-screen cinemas were turning into somewhat of a white elephant in modern times, I read. Currently, the Oriental features one main auditorium that seats about 1,000 people and two 250-seat theaters, says the website.
On my jog to the Oriental from my apartment, I could see the theater’s distinctive minaret towers breaking the East Side’s skyline. My sister and I bought tickets earlier in the week, but rumors surfaced that the show was sold out, so despite having tickets, I was frantic to get there to secure two superb spots for the day’s main feature: Sex and the City.
Running a little late, I quickly hoofed it through the exotic foyer that was decorated with kitschy Indian tiles. I knew that I had to scurry when I glanced over to see that the cashier was continuing to sell admission from the freestanding ticket booth to those unfortunate women who were forced to buy tickets for another show.
As I proceeded into the lobby, I could hear the antique organ blaring from inside the main theater. In front of the stage’s velvet curtain, the organist introduces Friday and Saturday’s 7 p.m. show by tickling the keys of the Kimball Theater Pipe Organ that always projects lush sounds throughout the theater, resounding off the auditorium’s high ceiling.
Amid the large hand-drawn murals that adorn the walls and the sixteen silver leafed elephant heads with coiled trunks that support the inner lobby ceiling beams, I waited in a fast-moving line. Once my ticket was ripped, I immediately made my way into the theater; the popcorn didn’t even have a chance at tempting me this time! All the while, customers stood in snaking lines in front of the concession stand as others shook salt and brewer’s yeast – the Oriental’s signature topping – over their buckets of popcorn.
Exactly one hour prior to the movie’s scheduled start, I entered into the main theater. It was crammed full of women! We were SCREWED! I searched up and down the aisles for two seats, but there was nothing to be found. For being an auditorium that holds nearly 1,000 patrons, there had to be more seats...and then it donned on me – the balcony!
I marched up the grand staircase, passing by the eight porcelain lions that guard it and scored two seats with a fabulous view of the big screen. Perhaps it was due to the anticipation for this night, but as I sat among the packed crowd awaiting my sister’s arrival, I was able to tune out the high-pitched squeals from the overdressed women around me, as well as, the next song by the organist, and could take in the ornate Eastern-themed decor and admire the idols, elephants, dragons and other East Indian symbols, along with the three brass and stained glass chandeliers just as I did when I first saw a film at the Oriental several years ago.
Terry finally showed up just as the lights dimmed. Beneath the glowing eyes of the six larger-than-life Buddhas, the movie started without any commercials in the trailers, which I guess didn’t really matter since the audience talked over them anyway. But when Sex and the City began, the theater instantly hushed as the crowd was ready to hang on Carrie Bradshaw’s every word – with the exception of the collective applause, synchronized oohs and awes, and simultaneous laughter. It was like watching the movie in the comfort of my own home with a thousand of my closest girlfriends. Everyone was in the moment, feeling the same emotions and vocalizing them in unison. It was really something special!
Sex and the City: The Movie is two hours long. Those two hours certainly flew by too. The timing was actually quite perfect since it allowed the story to move its complex plot along realistically without feeling rushed or unfulfilled; and thus, allowing SATC devotees to fall in love at their own pace.
The film picks up four years after the end of the HBO series and everyone is back for the movie. Without divulging too much, throughout the film there are grand romantic gestures and painful breaking of hearts. There are profound moments in which friends lean on one another, and then betray each other moments later. The Sex and the City: The Movie in comparison to the TV series is less frivolous and is notably more substantive. Rather than harp on the foursome’s daily melodramas, the movie focuses more on the desirable and ultimate endgame.
Clearly, an evening film at the Oriental still offers a very rich experience, one that provides much more than just the feature film. But in the case of Sex and the City's opening night, it was all about the flick and then some. Therefore, the Oriental was the ideal venue and backdrop for such an anticipated and beloved movie like Sex and the City.
As the credits scrolled across the screen and that ever so familiar score played for one more time, the audience's pretty dresses and high heels paired with the extravagant décor and chandeliers really made me feel as if I was experiencing something mega extraordinary, as though it was July 2, 1927 and the opening night of Naughty but Nice once again...
Landmark Oriental Theater
2230 North Farwell Avenue
Milwaukee, WI 53202
$9.00 General; $6.50 Bargain (Monday through Friday all shows before 6 p.m., Saturday, Sunday and Holidays first show of the day); $6.50 Senior (62+); $6.50 Child (-12); $7.50 Student
Check website for show times