UPDATE (Saturday, May 18, 2014): The 7 pm screening of Ninotchka that was originally scheduled to be offered on May 25 has been postponed. Organizers will screen that at a later date, TBA. In its place, a second screening of The Wizard of Oz will be offered at 7 pm on Sunday, May 25.
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Now that Edmond Town Hall has completed a renovation project that has brought in a new sound system, film projection system, Wi-Fi, and even a new screen for the theater, the Edmond Town Hall Board of Managers and Newtown Cultural Arts Commission (NCAC) have decided to take a step backwards.
About 75 years back, to “The Greatest Year of Film History.”
In 1939, many films that have become classics were released. Ten films were nominated by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for Best Picture honors, among them the landmarks Goodbye Mr Chips, Mr Smith Goes To Washington, Ninotchka, Of Mice And Men, The Wizard of Oz, Wuthering Heights and the one that went on to claim the big prize, Gone With The Wind.
In “Introduction To 1939, Hollywood’s Greatest Year,” an essay written for Turner Classic Movies, Roger Fristoe calls 1939 “Hollywood’s greatest year” and a “historic film year.” Mr Fristoe is a retired film critic and entertainment writer for The Courier-Journal in Louisville, Ky., who now does freelance work for TCM.
“It was a relatively carefree time for the country,” he also wrote. “We had survived the Great Depression, had yet to enter World War II, and were relishing the fruits of the studio system as it reached new heights of productivity and expertise.”
Film buffs may have other years they favor, but Jennifer Rogers, a member of NCAC, and ETH Board of Managers members Karen C. Pierce and Tom Mahoney are going with the year that most point to when asked about the best year of Hollywood.
“1939: The Greatest Year In Film — A 75th Anniversary Celebration” will have its premiere on Sunday, May 25. The Little Princess will be screened that afternoon at 1 pm, The Wizard of Oz will be offered at 4 pm, and Ninotchka will be featured at 7 pm. Films released in 1939 will continue to be featured through the end of the year, usually on the third or fourth Sunday of the month.
Films will generally be screened at 1, 4 and 7 pm, with different films offered during each screening.
Some months will feature three different films on Film Festival Sunday; others will include double features. In October, for instance, organizers plan to offer a day of horror films. There will be one screening of a film directed by Alfred Hitchcock, a screening of The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and a double feature with The Return of Dr X and Son of Frankenstein.
“Just about every major screen star you could think of were making movies at that time,” Ms Rogers said May 12. “They may not be the best film of these actors’ careers, but they’re there,” she added, laughing.
When talks of going digital at Edmond Town Hall began approximately two years ago, Ms Rogers began thinking about the 75th anniversary of films like The Hound of the Baskervilles, the first of a series to star Basil Rathbone as Sherlock Holmes and Nigel Bruce as Dr Watson; or Dark Victory, which starred Best Actress nominee Bette Davis.
Ms Rogers said she and Mr Mahoney began brainstorming a few years ago, but did not take the idea seriously until recently.
“Now this coincides with all of the new technology at Edmond Town Hall, and what better way is there to celebrate new film technology?” she said. The theater debuted its new digital projector system and sound system less than a month ago, with screenings of Gravity and Frozen Sing-A-Long. “A renewal at Edmond Town Hall might be a great way to highlight these historic films.”
Residents may recall a pair of screenings at Edmond Town Hall Theatre done in 2007 of To Kill A Mockingbird. The 1962 Gregory Peck feature was screened that year as part of a series of NewtownREADS programs. Approximately 125 people attended the special showings that April. According to The Bee’s coverage of that day, some people were seeing the film for the first time, while others had seen it before, but never in a theater.
It was the latter group that Karen Pierce was thinking of when she talked this week about the Sunday cinema series.
“Most people who have seen these films have seen them at home, on their television, with commercials and other interruptions,” she said Monday afternoon. “I’ve seen The Wizard of Oz dozens of times, but never in the theater. Same with Gone With The Wind. I’ve seen that on TV but never on the big screen.”
“These films are prime movies to show with restorations, to show to a broad audience,” she added. “No matter how good a home system is, these movies were meant to be seen at the theater…”
“And with a group,” Ms Rogers quickly added. “It’s a great thing, to have a live audience.”
Ms Pierce agreed, saying, “We feed off the emotions around each other.”
Mr Mahoney, Ms Pierce and Ms Rogers are still planning which films will be screened through the end of the year, but said Monday that they are hoping to make the festival special.
“Comedy, drama, westerns, there are so many choices,” Mr Mahoney said.
“We’re really hoping to reach all generations,” said Ms Rogers.
Tickets for most screenings will be $2 each, the regular price of tickets for ETH Theatre. The town hall concession stand will also be open, as usual.
“That part of the movies will be business as usual for us,” said Mr Mahoney.
The length of one film, and the need to supplement it, may necessitate higher ticket prices.
“Gone With The Wind is four hours long, including its intermission, so we will probably have special food and refreshments available during that,” Ms Rogers said. “That’s the one show we may have increased ticket prices for.”
Newtown Chamber of Commerce will be sponsoring the Gone With The Wind event on November 30. Time, ticket cost, and other event details will be announced at a later date, Ms Rogers said this week.
Sponsorships are still being sought. Businesses and organizations that would like to offer financial help for the series can contact Jen Rogers at 203-364-4345.
Monday afternoon, Ms Pierce offered another reason to catch films in the series: appreciation of the art form.
“We have generations so used to special effects, and makeup, that to see an actor who can transform himself into a character without those props is just magical,” she said. “It’s about story lines, and characters. It’s all about what films used to do for us.”