The Egyptian Theater, where the first Hollywood premiere was celebrated more than a century ago with a red carpet in its courtyard decorated with faux hieroglyphs, reopens this week under new management from Netflix.
Part of big screen history, this Los Angeles theater might sound like an unlikely investment for the streaming giant, which made a fortune by convincing viewers to watch movies on their televisions, computers and even phones.
But for Netflix co-CEO Ted Sarandos, the opportunity to save this crumbling institution from tinsel town, and in the process show the rapid transformation from disruptor to key player in the entertainment industry, was obviously can't be missed.
"Hollywood revolves around symbols," Sarandos told AFP.
"The Hollywood sign and this cinema are probably the two most iconic symbols of Hollywood (...) This one, unfortunately, was falling apart."
The cinema first opened its doors in October 1922, with the world premiere of "Robin Hood" by Douglas Fairbanks. Before that event, the growing entertainment industry was concentrated in downtown Los Angeles, a few miles away.
Organizers installed dazzling lighting to dazzle the crowd and rolled out a red carpet in the cinema's inner courtyard for VIP guests, including Charlie Chaplin.
This innovation sought to emulate the royal label of Europe, and became a model for industry premieres.
Over the following decades, the Egyptian Theater faced more difficult times and suffered significant damage from the 1994 Los Angeles earthquake.
It was taken over by the nonprofit American Cinematheque, which repaired the building but had difficulty financing maintenance until Netflix arrived.
The lucrative platform agreed to finance the cinema's renovation work. The cost was not disclosed, but estimates are around $70 million.
"We, as a nonprofit, were stretched thin," said Rick Nicita, president of the American Cinematheque.
«They came and made an excellent alliance with us. "They understood what we were trying to do."
Under the agreement, Netflix will use the cinema during the week for its screenings, starting this Thursday with David Fincher's "The Killer", while the Cinematheque will screen classics such as "Lawrence of Arabia" on the weekends.
"We rent movie theaters all the time, in New York and Los Angeles, for premieres and for our events," Sarandos said.
"So the idea of putting that effort into something that results in the preservation of something great felt like a win for everyone."
– «The next 100 years» -With its ocher walls and columns, its colorful hieroglyphics and a giant metallic scarab hanging above the stage, the cinema was originally designed in the 1920s with the aesthetics of Ancient Egypt.
The employees at the premiere of the original "Robin Hood" were dressed in Egyptian clothing. In a stroke of luck for the promotion, Tutankhamun's tomb was discovered just two weeks later.
During the last restoration, Netflix redesigned the building and the interior patio to simulate the characteristics it had in 1922. It also included state-of-the-art sound and visual equipment.
The move is the latest declaration of intent from a company that has invested heavily in recent years to attract the most renowned directors and actors of the big screen to its films, and to consolidate its position as a company at the heart of the ecosystem. of Hollywood, with respect for its traditions.
The streaming platform also took over the historic Paris Theater in New York a few years ago.
«We have made original films for seven years (…) We have not contributed much to the 100 years [de la historia de Hollywood]», said Sarandos.
"But this is like our starting point for the next 100 years."
The thought of Netflix dominating the movie industry for the next century is probably keeping some movie theater owners up at night.
While rivals such as Apple recently released movies in theaters like "Killers of the Flower Moon" with extended screening periods before going to streaming, Netflix has irritated theater owners by refusing to do the same.
But Sarandos rejects "this whole discussion about whether streaming has been good or bad for the entertainment industry" by pointing to the reopening of the Egyptian Theater.
«Streaming has saved the entertainment industry in many ways. And this is also a symbol of that.