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Max Laemmle Introduced L.A. to the Best in Foreign Movies

Max Laemmle, who died Friday evening at the age of 82, did not much resemble a Pied Piper. He was short, balding and bespectacled. But for most of the half-century that he was a motion picture exhibitor in Los Angeles, he led us all to the best foreign films the world produced.

I often said that I would have left daily film-reviewing sooner than I did, except that the dwindling, often-derivative flow of Hollywood product was interrupted by the films Max imported for his longtime base, the Los Feliz on Vermont, and later for his flagship, the Royal, and a lengthening chain of other Laemmle theaters.

He was a shrewd businessman with a knack for reaching and holding the art-film audience. But first and last he was a man who loved good movies, loved them as much as--and perhaps even more than--his most devout customers.

His heroes were Ingmar Bergman, Francois Truffaut, Claude Lelouch, Federico Fellini, Akira Kurosawa. He brought their films to town, as well as the difficult and sometimes obstreperous films of Jean-Luc Godard and Mario Bellocchio. He welcomed new voices as well as the established masters.

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At times, the films were near the cutting edge of the social tolerances of the moment. But Max knew his audiences as well as his own taste. He never played material that was calculatedly exploitative, and he never violated his customers’ trust and confidence.

The Laemmle Theaters will continue under the management of Max’s son Bob and grandson Gregory. But Max’s tireless quest and boundless enthusiasm for fine new films was unique among exhibitors. He enriched the film scene in this film capital, and he will be missed.


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