Living in the Cinematic Past, if just for a day

I had the opportunity to witness some local history in the Tidewater area of Virginia yesterday afternoon, specifically on the border of the cities of Newport News and Hampton, as a fifty-year old time capsule was opened from the steps of a now-abandoned movie theater.

IMG_2031IMG_2036 As a filmmaker and professor of film and video, yes, I thought it could be an interesting afternoon to see what was buried in the ground of this theater when it opened 50 years ago on September 13, 1965 but the event was a little more special for me than just realizing cinema history.  You see, I also grew up in that area and saw many movies at that theater so the nostalgia was even heightened further for me.  How about all the other locals that can boast the same and even spent their afternoon at the same event.  Well…

The most important part of the unveiling of the time capsule was it was packed by my grandfather 50 years ago as he was the theater manager when it opened and continued to supervise daily operations until he retired.  I remember many movie engagements made special by ushers catering to my sweet tooth at the insistence of my grandfather.  So, when I think back to what got me involved in film as a career and a hobby, I have to reflect on the importance of my early exposure to the beauty of film and its ability to let you escape for a couple of hours.

As a special honor, my father (man in the purple shirt) got to open the canister and pull out the first item:




Besides many envelopes of material dated from the time and items important to the area and the history of the time, there was an envelope that was more personal to my family, including a picture of my father and aunt at the time, the newspaper wedding announcement of my parents as they got married about two months prior to the time capsule burial, as well as a picture of my grandparents in that era (though my grandfather passed away nearly fifteen years ago, the time capsule unveiling yesterday would have been his 106th birthday – to the day):


One thing you must understand was the theater business was much different than today as you did not rely on the monopoly of a big theater chain to drive business but you had to create your own magic outside the theater doors to bring them inside.  My grandfather was one of the best at promotion, even if it meant marching circus animals down a busy city street to announce the premiere of the original “Tarzan” movie at the theater.

Also, filling a theater meant attracting big name celebrities of the time just to urge patrons to spend their hard-earned money on a  theater seat.  Of all the items in the time capsule, this personalized and signed photo of the Beatles would fetch a pretty penny for any music fan:

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However, as much as we get lost in the mystery and magic that is film, sometimes it is the simplest things that mean the most to someone and their own life, as is exhibited when my father met a man who introduced himself and thanked us because my grandfather had given him his first job many years ago and it changed his life:

IMG_2017 So, when you attend your nearby neighborhood movie theater and take the experience for granted, think about all the people involved in giving you those two hours of escape.  Think about all the thousands of cast and crew of the movie, as well as, the many involved in the distribution companies and the actual movie theater itself, right down to the person at the concession stand selling you a tub of popcorn, just so you have the opportunity to let your imagination imagine a different time and different place and, most importantly, a different life.  Movies are certainly magical!

***Here is a link to the story from a local newspaper:

Daily Press – Time Capsule 1965