Classic movie series to open at Oldcastle

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BENNINGTON — For the first time since the last downtown movie theater closed - decades, in fact - classic movies will once again headline on Main St.

Oldcastle Theatre Company, in its stated objective to move to year-round programming and help the downtown in Bennington generate foot traffic for local businesses, will bring back movies to Main St.

"One of our goals when we moved to Main Street was to keep the theatre as busy as possible," according to Oldcastle's producing artistic director Eric Peterson. "We want to bring people downtown to stimulate nightlife so the streets will be filled folks shopping, and dining in our many restaurants. Come spring, they can also enjoy the parks."

Peterson continued by saying that Oldcastle's already established series of music performances will continue during the theater off-season, and the addition of movies will "be one more fun reason to visit downtown Bennington."

Oldcastle will offer two movie series. Independent films are to run Tuesday nights and classic movies on Thursday evenings, with both series showing at 7 p.m.

Classic movies will kick off on Thursday evening, January 19th with a showing of "It Happened One Night," Frank Capra's classic 1934 film.

According to Peterson, its selection to open the series was no accident, since it was the first movie to win all five of the top Academy Awards when it was voted Best Film, Best Director (Capra), Best Actor (Clark Gable), Best Actress (Claudette Colbert) and Best Screenplay (Robert Riskin).

The movie tells the story of a coddled socialite trying to get out from under her father's influence, and then falls in love with a roguish reporter.

Depression-era audiences loved the movie despite the fact that neither Gable nor Colbert took to the script. Also, Colbert had worked on one of Capra's movies in 1927 that had been such a disaster that she swore never again to collaborate with him.

After a number of other performers passed on the role, Colbert settled on the assignments only when her salary was doubled to $50,000.

Former newspaper reporter and editor, and Oldcastle immediate past board president Chuck Putney weighed in on the first classic offering, providing industry history context.

"`It Happened One Night' is one of the best of the `rich girl meets reporter' films," Putney said. "Given it was produced in the depths of the Depression, what it says about the affluent and the not-so-affluent provides some comic social commentary. The chemistry between Gable and Colbert is terrific, and Gable started a trend by taking off his tee shirt on screen, as he could get away with it."

According to Peterson, other films in the first series will include Charles Chaplin's masterpiece "Modern Times," two Howard Hawks films, "Bringing Up Baby" with Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn, and "His Girl Friday," with Grant teamed with Rosalind Russell in the movie version of the classic stage hit, "The Front Page," currently being revived on Broadway.

The comedy series will be followed by films directed by Robert Altman, who Peterson said "threw away the stiff conventions of glossy Hollywood filmmaking, to thrust audiences into an immersive universe that was radical at the time and hugely influential."

Altman began directing serial television programs such as the beloved and critically acclaimed World War II series "Combat," and eventually made several of the most important films of the 1970s.

The Altman series will include "McCabe and Mrs. Miller" with Julie Christie and Warren Beatty, "MASH" with Donald Sutherland and Elliot Gould, and "Nashville," considered by many critics to one of the greatest films of the last 50 years.

Dates for all the films will be announced soon, Peterson said.

Putney added that there is a clear link between the mission of professional theater companies and the showing of classic films, even if the two use different approaches to deliver their messages.

"Film has more flexibility and opportunities for special effects," Putney said. "Live theater provides greater intimacy and immediacy. What you're seeing on stage might be different from the night before and the night after."

While the audience doesn't interact with the performers in films, Putney continued, it does respond immediately to players on the stage.

"It's a contrast," he said. "Fortunately, with our modern equipment and comfortable space we can do both."

"It Happened One Night," will show at 7 p.m., Jan. 19th, at Oldcastle Theatre Company, 331 Main St. in Bennington. Tickets are $5.

Call 802-447-0564 or visit: oldcastletheatre.org.

Reach award-winning freelance journalist Telly Halkias @TellyHalkias

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