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Keeping it reel with classic movies

On a cold Sunday afternoon in February, Kimberly and Scott Walters drove from Dunkirk to Buffalo to watch a movie.

It wasn’t a premiere with stars in attendance, nor the newest blockbuster that led them on a nearly hour drive from Chautauqua County to the Regal Elmwood – it was a 75-year-old detective thriller, “The Maltese Falcon.”

The Humphrey Bogart film was shown as part of the Turner Classic Movies Big Screen Classics, a monthly film series held in nearly 900 movie theaters nationwide, including Regal’s Elmwood and Transit cinemas.

“Humphrey Bogart is his favorite actor,” Kimberly said of her husband, Scott. “And we like the old movies.”

They’re not alone.

[Read the list of where you can see classic movies in Buffalo]

Once called “repertory movies” that were relegated to art house or midnight screenings, classic films and the newer “contemporary” classics are now being shown nearly anywhere you can see a movie.

Local independent moviehouses including Dipson Theatres, North Park, Hamburg Palace, Aurora and Palace Lockport, plus non-traditional venues such as the Screening Room Cinema Café and the Lancaster Opera House showcase these films on a fairly regular basis as part of special events, holiday screenings and various retrospectives. The area also boasts two long-running film series from which you can get your fix of the classics – the Buffalo Film Seminars and the Old Chestnut Film Society.

Fro 16 years, Diane Christian and Bruce Jackson of the University at Buffalo have been leading the Buffalo Film Seminars. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News)

“We love watching the classics because, like all great art, they move us, make us happy, inspire, teach us,” said Diane Christian, who, along with her husband, Bruce Jackson, has led the Buffalo Film Seminars as part of a University at Buffalo class for 16 years. The series, which has shown more than 450 films, is held Tuesday nights at Dipson Amherst Theatre, and is often at full capacity with a mixed audience of UB students and film fans.

For many theaters, classic movies are a way to offer more programming to their audience while addressing competition from such streaming services as Netflix that keep people glued to their couch.

“The trend has been evolving over the last 10 years or so with the rise in popularity of streaming companies like Netflix and Hulu. So we’re giving people similar options as a way to pull them out of their homes,” said Jeremy Mills, general manager of the Dipson Eastern Hills and the marketing and promotions coordinator for Dipson Theatres.

“People who watch Turner Classic Movies or who would go to Buffalo Film Seminars to see ‘Once Upon a Time in the West’ are a different crowd than those who want to see ‘Deadpool.’ Classic movie fans are as dedicated as Marvel comics fans or fans of a big comedy star. And they come as much for the discussion as for the film,” Mills said alluding to the conversations held before and after many of the movies in formal and informal settings.

The fans

If you’ve never been to a classic movie you may be surprised to see the audience is a mix of ages from millennials to senior citizens, but that’s nothing new to the people who run the screenings.

“We have always had a great mix of college kids through senior citizens for most of our classic titles,” said Bob Golibersuch, owner of the Screening Room Cinema Cafe. “We have seen more and more younger people look to experience some of the older movies, especially on a big screen.”

Classic movie buffs Kim and Cameron Whitfield attended the TCM Big Screen Classics showing of "The Maltese Falcon" at the Regal Elmwood.

That’s true of newlyweds Kim and Cameron Whitfield, who attended “The Maltese Falcon” at Regal Elmwood and brought their friend Kayla Betacchini, 28, to see the film for the first time. The Whitfields call themselves “old souls.” Their first date was seeing “Casablanca,” and when the recent Buffalo transplants were married in December in San Francisco, it was with a vintage classic movie theme.

“Classic movies are all I watch,” said Cameron Whitfield, 27, naming Bogart, Cary Grant and Jimmy Stewart as his favorite actors. “We love the style of black and white films. There’s a different sensibility; things are gentlemanly,” he laughed.

Tracy Snyder, 28, was named after Katherine Hepburn’s character in “The Philadelphia Story.” She fondly recalls watching classic movies like “Now Voyager” on Turner Classic Movies with her mother.

“Classic movies and the stars who are in them become like old friends. I feel like every time you watch one, even if you’ve seen it dozens of times, you can find something new,” Snyder said. “Classic films can be so relevant today and yet remain a blast from the past, beautifully crafted moments on the screen, forever frozen in time. I love that.”

She has attended many of the local TCM screenings, where she said she discovered the brilliance of Bogie in “The Maltese Falcon” and saw “Double Indemnity” and “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” for the first time.

Her mother, Pam Snyder, loves classic movies because “no matter what year it was made, they are timeless because they’re about human emotions and feelings, which don’t change,” she said. “They’re well written, with wit and intelligence, great directors, and the acting is superb, giving the audience truth and wonderful characters. There are some films no matter how many times you see them, you see something new. … to me that’s the sign of a classic film.”

The big screen

But if you can watch these movies at home on TCM and or on streaming services on your wall-sized TV, why bother leaving the house to see them?

That’s an easy question to answer for Mike Mazgajewski and Anna Likos of Riverside, TCM devotees who frequently attend classic film screenings.

“To see them on the big screen you see them how they were meant to be seen,” Mazgajewski said. “And there’s nothing like going to the movies. There’s no distractions. You are here for two hours and you can get lost in the film.”

It’s all in the added details for Kim Whitfield, 29, who calls Spencer Tracey and Katharine Hepburn her favorite duo. “The big screen offers something you can’t get in [high-definition] 1080p,” she said. “You get more details. I’ve seen things in the theater I’ve never seen before.”

Then there’s the classic movie community experience.

Movie buffs join students for Buffalo Film Seminars at the Dipson Amherst Theatre. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News)

“People enjoy being together with like-minded fans,” said Tom Lucas, head of studio relations at Fathom Entertainment, an alternative entertainment content provider that has partnered with TCM and other studios to bring movies, concerts, opera, sports and live events to more than 800 cinemas. “And even though people have big screens at home and have new options, in the movie theater it’s a bigger screen and better sound and it is powerful.”

Ben Mankiewicz, a popular host on Turner Classic Movies, also stresses the importance of the communal experience of seeing the movies at theaters.

“We don’t just show these movies – we curate these movies. That way when you go to the theater, you get the sort of experience you get on TCM, except with an added bonus of seeing it on big screen and seeing it with people who share your passion,” said Mankiewicz, who recorded the introduction to “The Ten Commandments,” showing March 20 and 23 at Elmwood Regal and Transit.

“There is something about the shared experience that is the difference of watching the Super Bowl on TV or seeing it at Levi Stadium,” he added. “It is a different experience. You are connected to people. I don’t want to overstate it too much, but anytime anyone can offer any sort of genuine human connection in an age when there is less and less of it, I think that’s great and I love that we’re doing that.”

The communal experience is something mother and daughter Tracy and Pam Snyder enjoyed at the TCM Film Festival in 2013. “You’re sharing what you love the most, classic films, with people from all over country who feel the same way you do. It was stimulating, exciting and great fun,” Pam Snyder said.

The new classics

Think of a classic movie and you probably see a black and white film from Hollywood’s Golden Age. But films from the 1970s to even the 1990s are gaining the spotlight with the designation contemporary classics.

“There has been a trend toward more modern classics, as those who grew up in the ’80s/’90s now want to re-experience these movies on the big screen,” said the Screening Room’s Golibersuch. “Some of our busiest movies over the last couple years have been more modern titles such as ‘Clue,’ ‘Big Trouble in Little China,’ ‘E.T.’ and ‘Alien.’ ”

Diane Christian said the Buffalo Film Seminars have made it a point to show a range of film art, starting each series with a silent and usually working up to a film from the present.

“ ‘Classic’ for us doesn’t primarily mean ‘old’; it means fine,” Christian said. “We choose films that we find of high quality, ‘classic’ because they’re excellent enough to truly last. ‘Once Upon a Time in the West’ is as good, as classic, as ‘Pandora’s Box.’ That is, as Blake would say, ‘Genius is equal in every age.’ ”

Traditional or contemporary classics, for some film buffs there are never enough chances to see these films. As Kim Whitfield enthusiastically begged: “Please show us more classic moves in theaters.”

email: truberto@buffnews.com

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