Public Enemies Retro Night!

Milwaukee is very rarely the site of movie premieres and red carpets, despite being the proud home of the Oriental Theatre, an authentic 1927 movie palace filled with the kind of ornate minaret towers and stained-glass chandeliers that remind us of the glamour Hollywood is convinced it still hasn’t lost.

Public Enemies, the new Michael Mann thriller starring Johnny Depp as John Dillinger, chose to have its premiere in Chicago, the home of the larger part of Dillinger’s exploits and time on the lam, but that didn’t stop Wisconsin from claiming its chare of ownership over the film. The Wisconsin Historical Society (which itself doubled as a bank vault in the movie) hosted a preview screening and gala auction last Tuesday.

The Oriental also had a to-do on July 1st for the first day of Public Enemies’ official release, with four old-fashioned cars proudly parked in front of the marquee on Farwell Ave (one of which had an official “certificate of involvement” with the film), and a trophy case of Dillinger memorabilia next to the concession stand.

The Landmark Theatres’ website encouraged attendees of opening night to wear their best thirties duds, and this writer participated, as did this writer’s girlfriend- Below, we stand near one of the antique cars (she wears a thrift-store dress, I wear just a suit I have with a Value Village vest. Nonetheless one on-looker asked us where we found the “old-timey” clothes).

While the cars were as antiquated as they could be, the memorabilia certainly intriguing enough (including a wooden gun Dillinger carved and painted to stage a jailbreak, a “death mask” made of his face, and a replica of the last gun he carried in his pocket), it wasn’t exactly cordoned ropes in front of Graumann’s in L. A.

But the people came- there were at least three dozen or so other people in period dress, and a healthy crowd (for the Oriental’s massive main theater) for the 7:00 P. M. showing.

It made me wish there were more Milwaukee movie events. The Milwaukee International Film Festival is certainly well-publicized, but screenings are expensive enough to exclude the majority of movie fans from attending. The Rosebud and Times make an admirable effort to bring in short films and put on midnight showings, but attendance lags and ownership changes have made them undependable and irregular.

It will probably be a while before there’s another film that we feel a particular attachment to as well- Public Enemies was filmed in Columbus, Beaver Dam, Oshkosh, Madison, and Manitowish Waters, Wisconsin. But the crowds at The Oriental’s record-setting Rocky Horror Picture Show tradition confirm that there’s at least some audience for event movies in parts of our town.

Or that some of us just love dressing up.

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