By Barbara Goldman
Classic movie magic will be taking Lexington on a journey through time and cinematic exploration beginning Wednesday, May 25 at the Kentucky Theatre.
The summer series returns to downtown with its 9th season. Patrons should mark their calendars now. This season is packed full of movie memories like never before.
“It’s always good, but for some reason I feel it’s a notch above the other years,” says Kentucky Theatre General Manager Fred Mills, who has been with the theatre since 1963. “It’s going to be great. I think everyone is anticipating this.”
“The film series’ booker has a tough job,” says Mills, referring to Larry Thomas of Cincinnati, Ohio. “We receive hundreds of suggestions. People verbally tell me at the theatre. They write their requests on napkins, and even hand me hand written notes at the concession stand. The response from the public has been just phenomenal.”
Mills assures patrons that all requests are given to Thomas who then speaks to various film companies to determine the rights, contracts, release costs, and print condition.
“We do this because we like to show the best films we can,” says Mills. “We really made an effort this year to ask people for their suggestions.”
Classic film fans that don’t see their favorite flick listed still have a unique opportunity. The series won’t be ending on the scheduled September 7 date. A new date has been added on the following Wednesday, September 14.
Mills explains that the theatre will pick the top three films suggested by the community and offer the public the opportunity to vote and select what film will be shown.
“This is the first time we’ve offered something like this,” says Mills with a smile.
All movies are presented in 35 mm and run on 20-minute reels.
“Some of the movies we show actually premiered in this theatre,” says Mills about the 89-year-old movie palace.
This summer’s films range in premiere date from 1938-1987. Eight of the series’ 17 scheduled films are new prints. The condition of prints, according to Mills, is a huge factor in deciding what films to show.
“In the years past we have not always had such old movies. But this year there were so many films in new print,” says Mills, who added that the series’ booker, Larry Thomas, has indicated this is his favorite booking of all the theatres that he plans.
“It’s quite amazing that we will offer Disney’s Fantasia this summer,” says Mills. “Disney keeps a vault on classic films. They are usually unavailable and unreleased, but somehow we’ve got it. Maybe Larry used his charm.”
The theatre has added several extra shows for the July 13th Disney adventure. In addition to the traditional 1:30 matinee and 7:15 evening slot, there will be 11:00 am, 4:00 pm, and 9:45 pm shows offered.
“This will give folks a chance to enjoy the show during the day or late in the evening,” says Mills.
The price will continue to be the standard $4 per seat for all shows.
“The price is always the same no matter what. And it’s certainly fun entertainment. Some people haven’t missed a Wednesday night since we started,” says Mills. “The community really comes together.”
The theatre manager says he also is elated to see the return of a Kentucky Theatre favorite, The Princess Bride.
“This is one movie that was always popular. We used to play midnight showings until the prints ran out,” says Mills. “We’re excited for our people to see this film in new print.”
“The people that come to see our theatre have a great love of movies. They take their movies seriously and all have their favorites,” says Mills.
Mills says he is especially pleased that the calendar includes a tribute to the late Elizabeth Taylor in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.
“These films have withstood the test of time. The enthusiasm they seem to bring out in people is amazing,” says Mills. “At the end of each movie there is always a spontaneous applause. These actors really knew how to perform and put on a movie. It’s nice to see the audience recognize this and react to it with that applause.”
Mills says he believes that if some of the stars were alive to see how the audience responded, they would be pleased with the films’ reception 40-60 years later.
“I don’t know if people will applaud to today’s films in 40-60 years,” says Mills.
One staple of the series that will return again this summer is the man in the know before the show, “Uncle” Bill Widener. Widener has been a member of Radio Free Lexington since the day 88.1 FM went on the air in 1988 and inspires the airways every Friday from 8-10 pm. This will be his fourth summer introducing films with the Classic Movie Series.
Widener, a self proclaimed hambone, says he enjoys using anything and everything to talk to an audience about what the films meant “then and today.”
“A huge variety of people come to these movies. It’s interesting to see what these movies bring out in the audience. They were made much differently back then,” says Widener. “It was a different world back then.”
Widener says he looks forward to addressing a variety of topics before each film this summer ranging from minority casting to stereotypes. “Casting is everything, it can make or break a film,” says Widener, referring to Breakfast at Tiffany’s in which the leading role originally had been intended for Marilyn Monroe when written by Truman Capote.
Widener’s 10-minute talks with the audience always continue to surprise him.
“All kinds of demographics, that I can’t imagine giving me the time of day, come up to me and say ‘we loved your introduction’ and ask more questions,” said Widener. “I can’t assume people have or have not seen a film.
Widener says he especially is looking forward to seeing a childhood favorite, Fantasia, as well as Sullivan’s Travels, a film loaded with information that inspired the Cohen Brothers’ later film Oh Brother Where Out Thou. He is also extremely excited about the new print of Rosemary’s Baby.
“It’s a nice combination of films,” says Widener. “Remember that, even if you’ve seen these films on DVD, it’s not the same as experiencing it in the theatre.”
Here is the line-up for the 2011 season of the Summer Classics Film Series. All films show at 1:30 and 7:15 and are only $4.
5/25 Grapes of Wrath (1940) Henry Fonda, Jane Darwell, New digitally restored print
6/1 The African Queen (1951) Bogie and Hepburn! New digitally restored print
6/8 Sullivan’s Travels (1941) Joel McCrea, Veronica Lake
6/15 Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961) Audrey Hepburn, George Peppard, New Print, 50th Anniversery of film
6/22 M*A*S*H (1970) Donald Sutherland, Elliot Gould, New print
6/29 Double Feature: Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948) & House of Frankenstein (1944)
7/6 To Kill a Mockingbird (1962) Gregory Peck, Mary Badham, Brock Peters, Robert Duvall
7/13 Fantasia (1940) Walt Disney
7/20 Shadow of a Doubt (1943) Teresa Wright, Joseph Cotton, Macdonald Carey
7/27 The Princess Bride (1987) Robin Wright, Cary Elwes, Mandy Patinkin, New Print
8/3 Mildred Pierce (1945) Joan Crawford, Jack Carson, Zachary Scott
8/10 The Sound of Music (1965) New print, Julie Andrews, Christopher Plummer
8/17 Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958) Elizabeth Taylor, Paul Newman, Burl Ives
8/24 The Wild Bunch (1969) William Holden, Ernest Borgnine
8/31 Rosemary’s Baby (1968) Mia Farrow, Ruth Gordon, John Cassavetes, New Print
9/7 Bringing up Baby (1938) Katharine Hepburn, Cary Grant, Charles Ruggles, Newly restored print
Driving downtown? Free parking can be found in the City Hall Annex in the evening as well as the top level of the Lexington Transit Center.
Give yourself enough time to get to the movie. The final block of city sidewalk construction will be continuing on the Theatre’s Main Street block. Advance tickets go on sale each Sunday for Wednesday’s show.
Go to www.kentuckytheatre.com for more information about the theatre, series, weekly emails, Facebook information, as well as to cast your vote for the last show of the season.
The historic theatre is located at 214 East Main Street in downtown Lexington and can be reached at (859) 231-6997.