Monday, September 5, 2011

BIG SCREEN CLASSICS

There is simply nothing like seeing a movie on the big screen. When the lights go down, blocking your peripheral vision, your attention becomes focused on the story at hand. You become ensconced in the world, characters, and situations playing out before you. That is of course if the filmmakers have done their jobs right. Watching a movie in the theater is a completely different experience than watching one in the comfort of your home. There is no pause button, no talking (respectfully), and no illumination outside of the window to another world being projected 40 to 60 feet high and wide. It may not seem like a big difference, but watching a movie with your friends and family at home couldn’t be more different than watching one in a theater filled with strangers. Something magical happens where all of these people come together and share in the experience of being entertained. Sadly, most films are no longer produced with the big screen in mind. As markets change and technology advances screens become smaller and smaller – not only in a commercial sense, but in the cinematic field as well.

Beginning at the turn of the century movie houses were simply that – houses with a projector inside. Once this new form of entertainment caught on and the demand increased, projectors were moved into what are now considered traditional theaters. The larger auditoriums both accommodated the growing audience and provided the filmmakers with a much larger canvas on which to compose their elaborate perfected productions. During the 1930s, cinemas began replacing traditional theaters as the centerpiece of the community. It was the modern alternative to a night on the town.

It wasn’t until the 1960s that multiplexes came into prominence. Theater owners realized that they could double their profits by splitting their large auditoriums into smaller ones and showing more films. This increased selection insured that the seats would always be filled because tastes were always being met. Theaters were no longer bound to first run films, which may not have been as popular as previous titles and they could run promotions such as a double bill on older movies. As studios produced more films annually it only made sense to cast a wider net on the audience. Offering more selection made it more likely that business would never become static.

By the 1970s the world was changing and so was the way films were produced and presented. Vietnam had brought graphic violence directly into America’s living room. As a result films became more realistic and grittier – showcasing smaller scale stories fueled by the growing counter culture demographic. Tolerance for sex and violence had increased astronomically as did the demand for it on the screen. The first generation of student filmmakers, educated outside the studio system, brought their ideals, experiences and imaginations to life on the screen, and the revenue followed. Thus dawned the era of the blockbuster, which subsequently sealed the fate of single big screen theaters; the multiplexes had won. Although films continued to grow in all directions of storytelling and production value, there was an aesthetic element that was lost over time. The introduction of home video only forced films and filmmakers to further accommodate the small screen. The studios, and even independents, for the most part have forfeited aesthetic composition and execution in favor of cookie cutter assembly line movies all in order to make a quick buck.

The Historic Paramount Theater
Middletown, NY
Photo by L. Lynch
The options to experience the bygone days of cinema are few and far between outside of film study courses and some small screen cable channels. If you're lucky you may be able to catch an isolated midnight screening of a classic film, but these screenings tend to showcase movies with cult followings, or those pertaining to a particular genre. Film festivals have also been known to showcase non-contemporary films out of competition, but again, it is usually an isolated screening. These screenings are typically followed by a discussion or analysis by filmmakers or historians. To see a classic film on the big screen is practically unheard of in mainstream multiplex cinemas. Their screen real estate is to valuable to show anything other than first run features. The only salvation for classic films to be viewed the way they were originally intended (on the big screen), before television and home video, is in an independent theater. Independent theater owners don't have to answer to a corporate office. Often times they'll split their programming to meet the needs of the community while upholding the tradition of classic cinema. Nelson Page of Majestic Star Entertainment is one of those owners.

Mr. Page is the founder and owner of Majestic Star Entertainment with five theaters located in New York (Lafayette Theater in Suffern & The Paramount Theater in Middletown), New Jersey (Cedar Lane Cinemas in Teaneck & Hudson Cinemas in Jersey City) and Pennsylvania (Majestic Cinemas 7 in Matamoras). While the Majestic 7 and Hudson cinemas in Pennsylvania and New Jersey are legit first run multiplexes, the Lafayette, Paramount and Cedar Lane cinemas are original movie palaces; Cedar Lane having been converted into a multiplex in 1985. It is in the New York venues that Mr. Page preserves the integrity of classic cinema with his ongoing film series: Big Screen Classics. The films run for a single showing on a weekly (Lafayette) and monthly (Paramount) schedule. If there is a holiday during the program schedule then a themed presentation is offered. In the past The Ten Commandments (1956) has been played on Easter Sunday and this fall they will be playing Nosferatu (1922) around Halloween and It’s A Wonderful Life (1946) around Christmas. Other titles that have been screened during the series include: The Phantom of the Opera (1925), You Only Live Twice (1967), The Birds (1963), Rocky (1976) and Gojira (1954) - aka: GODZILLA, to name a few.
 

October 28th @ 8PM
w/live music accompaniment
More than the films, which can easily be viewed in any number of convenient ways, it is worth going one of the Big Screen Classics screenings simply for the experience. Each of Mr. Page’s establishments reflects his passion for film. The two theaters that host the Big Screen Classics series are completely renovated and restored to their original luxury. From the lobby to the seating, to the d├ęcor – each theater has its own unique qualities that make it genuine. Mr. Page personally introduces every classic film screening, which is also preceded by a thirty-minute overture on a Wurlitzer pipe organ for that extra flare of authenticity. All silent films, such as The Phantom of the Opera (1925) and the forthcoming Nosferatu (1922), are also accompanied by live music throughout the screening. 

Movies come and go so quickly now that their stop in the theater is almost a formality on their way to financial success or virtual obscurity; an archaic tradition exploited by studio chiefs out in Hollywrong. Film series like Big Screen Classics are a welcomed reminder of how great it can be to go to the movies. If it is true that they don’t make’em like they used to then a good film is worth a second look, after all, they don’t call them classics for nothing.


The Lafayette Theater - 97 Lafayette Avenue, Suffern, NY 10901
Showtime is 11:30am, doors open at 11 for pre-show organ music by Jeff Barker on the Mighty Wurlitzer. All tickets: $7.00

9/17 - The Guns of Navarone
9/24 – Dodsworth
10/1 - Wuthering Heights
10/8 - State of the Union
10/15 - Written on the Wind
10/29 - The Uninvited
11/5 - Bye Bye Birdie
11/12 - Elmer Gantry
11/19 - Winchester '73
11/26 - The Wizard of Oz
12/3 - Bringing Up Baby
12/10 - The Bells of St. Mary's
12/17 - It's a Wonderful Life



The Historic Paramount Theater – 17 South Street, Middletown, NY 10940 
Showtime is 7:30pm (unless noted), doors open at 7 for pre-show organ music by John Baratta on the Mighty Wurlitzer. All tickets: $7.00

9/17 – The Sound of Music
10/8 – Some Like It Hot
10/28 – Nosferatu (8PM w/LIVE musical accompaniment)
11/26 – Duck Soup
12/9 – It’s a Wonderful Life
1/14 – To Catch a Thief


For more information on these films and all of Majestic Star Theaters be sure to check out BigScreenClassics.com and join their mailing list.


"Big Screen Classics" is a registered trademark.