This three screen theater has been operated by Landmark Theaters for over 30 years. The building was built in 1927 and has long been an important part of the Milwaukee landscape. It is located about a mile north of the downtown area, five blocks west of Lake Michigan. Surrounded by quircky shops, alternative health care providers, and inexpensive one-room apartments, the theater is a fixture in Milwaukee's eclectic Eastside neighbhorhood. On Fridays and Saturday before the start of the evening movies, the Kimball Theatre Pipe Organ can be heard to introduce the film, just as it did decades ago. This is the third largest pipe organ of its kind in the entire world. In 2009, the theatre opened its own bar that servces alcohol in addition to typical movie theatre concessions. This was more than likely done in an effort to compete with another popular local theatre, The Rosebud. Movie goers are welcome to bring their food and beverages into the theater auditorium, and they can enjoy items before, during, and after the show.
When the theater opened just before the Great Depression, it featured two minaret towers, six Buddhas, three stained glass chandeliers, and several hand drawn murals. There were also a bevy of elephants in sculpture and two dimensional art, as well as ornate draperies. Restoration has worked to keep as much of the original flavor of the theater intact as possible. The Oriental is thought to be the only movie theater built to reflect East Indian Dycor.
The Oriental has always shown a unique batch of movies and rarely has typical Hollywood blockbusters on its marquee. They often share classics and cult movies with the public, as well as a variety of independent films, often recognized at various film festivals. Foreign films, documentaries, art-house flicks, and live performances are also part of the Oriental's docket. The Milwaukee rock band the Violent Femmes got their start at the Oriental when The Pretenders needed a fill-in opening act. They invited the band from the sidewalk in front of the theatre to perform and thus was launched a relatively popular alternative act. Currently, the Oriental offers no live performances.
In 1998, the theater was turned into a triplex, adding two additional theaters under the balcony area. The Oriental is currently the world record holder for longest continuous running film and every second Saturday of the month at midnight features an interactive performance of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. There is a live performance of the movie, as usually occurs at showing around the country, by the Sensual Dreams cast of performers. Those who have never visited the Oriental are encouraged to attend for a showing of this cult classic. Come prepared for off-color fun, gallows humor, and adult fun, and go home feeling like a kid again.
The theater is used as a part of the annual Milwaukee film fesitval. The festival took a hiatus, but returned in 2009, smaller, more organized, and offering the same low budget entertainment festival patrons have come to adore. The Oriental Theater in Milwaukee is a part of the city's eclectic history.
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