Historical society looks back at movies, city’s theaters

By LISA CAPOBIANCO
STAFF WRITER
Starting this Friday, the Bristol Historical Society will transport the city back in time through a two-part program that will not only feature five classic movies from different genres but also will highlight the history of movie theaters in Bristol.
Bob Adamczyk, an active volunteer of the historical society, will facilitate a program called, “Bristol Goes to the Movies,” which will demonstrate how film influenced generations of movie goers. He chose five movies that demonstrate how they affected audiences in America and America in general.
The first part of the program ultimately leads up to the second part, which is a presentation that highlights the history of local theaters that once existed in Bristol. All five movies included in the program were all screened in movie theaters in Bristol.
Popcorn and soft drinks will be available at all showings and a donation of $3 is requested. All films will be shown at the Bristol Historical Society, 98 Summer St.
“Each [movie] I chose for a specific purpose, to show how not only was the industry changing, but also how our attitudes towards the movies were changing as well,” said Adamczyk. “I hope [the audience] will take away an appreciation for older movies. I’m hoping I can draw some younger people in and maybe they’ll get an appreciation of how these older movies affect the more modern movies we’re seeing today because directors borrow from other directors.”
The first part of the program kicks off this Friday at 7 p.m. with a showing of “The Crowd,” a silent dramafilm from 1928. Adamczyk said the film is a “slice-of-life” story of a working-class family during the Jazz Age. Adamczyk  said the film played at the Cameo Theater in Bristol on April 2, 1928. The Cameo on Main Street, which sat up to 1.800 people, was known as “Bristol’s biggest and most elegant theater,” said Adamczyk.
“‘The Crowd’ came out at the very end of the silent era,” said Adamczyk.
Directed by Howard Hawks, “Bringing Up Baby,” the second film included in the program, demonstrates how screwball comedy not only saved Hollywood and local theaters from undergoing turmoil during the Great Depression, but it also showed how those movies pulled people out of their own turmoil during that time, said Adamczyk. Starring Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant, this 1938 screwball comedy will take place on Friday, April 24, 7 p.m.
“Bringing Up Baby” played at the Cameo on April 28, 1938, said Adamczyk.
“It was what kept audiences laughing,” said Adamczyk.
By the 1940s, screwball comedy ran its course, as patriotic war films emerged. But after the war ended, realism began to pour into the films. The program will show this realism through its presentation of “The Naked City” on Friday, May 15 at 7 p.m. “The Naked City” is a “film noir” that came out in 1948, and played at the old Bristol Theater on Prospect Street on April 22 that same year.
“Film Noir,” which translates to “dark film,” began in France and played a huge role in the Hollywood genre of the 1940s and 1950s. Part documentary with a touch of realism, “The Naked City” shows what New York City was actually like during that time. The “noir” part of the film focuses on a fashion model who gets murdered, and the police must determine the suspect.
“‘Film noir’…hit the underside of ourselves, or the darker sides of ourselves,” said Adamczyk, adding how he chose “The Naked City” for its realism.
After surviving for nearly two decades, film noir ran its course by the late 1950s to early 1960s.
In 1967, “The Graduate,” directed by Mike Nichols, was released by Hollywood. A sophisticated sex comedy starring Dustin Hoffman, Anne Bancroft, and Katharine Ross, “The Graduate” was produced just one year before the current rating system that America knows today. The film flew into the face of the old Hollywood Production Code of 1934.
Adamczyk will show “The Graduate” as the last movie presentation in his program on Saturday, July 10 at 7 p.m. The film played at the new Bristol Theater in December 1967.
“Up until 1968, when the new rating system started, all films had to go through a censorship board…the Hollywood Production Code,” said Adamczyk. “This production code really laid down some stringent requirements that all producers, directors, actors and the studios had to follow.”
Meanwhile, Adamczyk’s program will appeal to a younger audience with a showing of “Shane” on Saturday, June 13 at 2 p.m. Known as a “big splashy colorful western,” the film is seen through the eyes of 10-year-old Joey, played by actor Brandon DeWilde. In the 1953 film, Joey idolizes Shane, played by actor Alan Ladd. Adamczyk said the film will bring back the thrill of yesterday when local theaters once showed Saturday matinees, which included cartoons and a “short,” followed by an action-packed movie. “Shane” played at the Cameo on Aug. 19, 1953.
“These Saturday matinees were designed for kids,” said Adamczyk, who encouraged grandparents and grandchildren to see the film together. “Hopefully people will remember what it was like when they were growing up and they went to these Saturday matinees.”
After the last movie showing in July, Adamczyk will begin the second part of his program on Thursday, July 16, which will discuss every movie theater that once existed in Bristol.
Based on his research, Adamczyk said Bristol once had a total of 11 theaters (though they did not exist all at the same time), including 10 alone located in the downtown area.
From concerts, to local theatrical productions put on by churches, or other groups to traveling theater groups and acrobats, these theaters in Bristol featured more than just films, said Adamczyk.
Besides the Cameo and the newer Bristol Theater, other theaters in Bristol included the Bristol Opera House, which was the city’s first professional theater that operated from 1886 to 1912, and the Pasttime, which was a small movie house (located where C.V. Mason is) that operated from 1910-1911. The third theater in Bristol, the Empire, opened in 1913, but closed in 1919 before it was bought by a local grocer who reopened the business and renamed it the “Palace.” After going through a series of owners, it closed its doors in the late 1920s. Another theater, the “Princess,” operated from 1914 until the late 1920s.
“When the Cameo opened, all of these older theaters pretty much closed up,” said Adamczyk.
The old Bristol Theater began in an old armory before being rebuilt into a brand new theater when the armory burned down. When redevelopment came through, the building was sold and moved to Prospect Street (where the Christian Fellowship Center is now located), recalled Adamczyk. In 1940, Anna Flynn bought the building and converted it into the Carberry Theater. Flynn was the first woman in the state to own and operate her own theater.
“That theater had a few incarnations along the way,” said Adamczyk.
Years later, the old Bristol Theater moved into the Carberry Theater, which was remodeled. That remained until 1977, and a year later, the theater was converted into the Carberry Dinner Theater, which lasted for one year.
“The idea was to show old films while you could eat a meal,” said Adamczyk.
The other two theaters in Bristol served as cinema houses, including one which opened downtown in the 1970s, and the Forestville Cinema, which opened in 1987 on Pine Street.
During the second part of the program, the audience will receive a pamphlet that highlights each theater in Bristol. The second part of the program will be included as part of the Historical Society’s Third Thursday Program on July 16 at 7 p.m.

This Friday, the Bristol Historical Society will begin its two-part movie program to show how films such as 'The Crowd,' affected American audiences.

This Friday, the Bristol Historical Society will begin its two-part movie program to show how films such as ‘The Crowd,’ affected American audiences.