When blockbusters go missing: anniversary film classics at the Chelsea Theater

Chelsea Film Programmer Matt Brown loads the summer lineup of Chelsea Classics on an electronic poster in the lobby. Photo credit: Diana Newton


By Diana Newton

The onset of summer heat often sends people scurrying into the dark of an air-conditioned movie theater for a blockbuster movie and popcorn. Historically, studios have produced big-budget summer movies whose earnings are expected to compensate for their less profitable ones. While 2023 brought Barbie and Oppenheimer’s unusual juggernaut simultaneous release, 2024 has a distinct deficit of blockbuster titles available for vacay mainstay entertainment.

Why? The film industry has been experiencing seismic shifts over the last few years, disrupting audience viewing habits, the number of films released, and theater profits. Hollywood’s traditional ways of doing business continue to be reshaped by the proliferation of streaming services, corporate consolidation of studios and distributors in Hollywood, and Covid’s devastating impact on theaters. Most recently, the rise in inflation has tightened consumers’ willingness to buy pricier movie tickets, and the months-long strikes by the writers’ and screen actors’ guilds have dented the pipeline of film availability.

So, what can lure more people back into movie theaters this summer? According to Rotten Tomatoes, a widely-used film review aggregator site, “Studios and theaters have been banking on nostalgia and novelty re-releasing beloved movies nationwide to tempt audiences back to the multiplex.” Published schedules of those films that will be brought back and technically updated now abound.

In Chapel Hill, the Chelsea Theater’s Film Programmer Matt Brown says: “The powers-that-be have started to realize the importance of film re-releases and 4K restorations.” Studios recognize that there is real profit from bringing back popular films. For example, Titanic was upgraded to a 3D/4K resolution and re-released last year, grossing $944 million worldwide.

Brown pointed out that “programming classics becomes pretty clear in that we know certain films are going to be having anniversary re-releases.” With that in mind, Brown and his colleagues have woven together a novel summer repertory series–Chelsea Classics–that spans and celebrates eighty years, with anniversary selections from 1944, 1954, 1964, 1974, 1984, and 1994. Whether you want to revisit the soulful, scintillating performance of Prince in Purple Rain or the sadistic turns of Tom Ripley in Purple Noon, the series offers picks that range from music to murder, from Hitchcock to Coppola.

Mystery novelist Patricia Highsmith described Alain Delon as “my perfect Ripley” in the 1960 French film adaptation Purple Noon. Move over, Matt Damon! Photo credit: Film Forum.

Asian Film Masterworks

This repertory rollout highlights American classics and international selections, including several illustrious Asian films and directors. Kicking off this repertory run on June 12, cinephiles can indulge in Chungking Express, the 1994 film about lovelorn cops that catapulted Hong Kong director Wong Kar-Wai to international acclaim. Another 1994 release appearing in the Chelsea lineup is Edward Yang’s A Confucian Confusion, which explores the whims of materialistic young urbanites in Taipei. It has been seventy years since Kurosawa’s thrilling 1954 epic, Seven Samurai (now in 4K restoration), first brought ancient Japanese culture alive in a socially complex conflict between bandits, warriors, and villagers. The camera techniques prove that, as film critic Roger Ebert declared, “Nobody could photograph men in action better than Kurosawa.” Fans of Dune may be interested in 1964’s Woman in the Dunes, in which studying beetles veers into a Japanese battle of the sexes, directed by Hiroshi Teshigahara. Move over, sandworms!

Americana Film Fun on July 4th Weekend

The series punctuates the July 4th holiday period with classic American fare such as Howard Hawks’ 1944 To Have and Have Not, the first pairing of Bogey and Bacall on and off screen. Who knew that this adaptation of a Hemingway novel employed William Faulkner as one of its screenplay writers? There is also a pair of films that weekend with distinctly local connections. Kay Kyser, a popular bandleader and radio personality of the 1930s and 1940s, was a UNC alum and made his home in Chapel Hill until he died in 1985. He and his band appeared in nine films from that era, and the Chelsea Classics series pays homage to them in a double feature—Swing Fever (1943) and Carolina Blues (1944).

From Baseball to Bad Boys

Ray Liotta and Kevin Costner play father and son in the poignant 1989 baseball film Field of Dreams. It will screen twice on Father’s Day as part of the Chelsea Classics series. Photo credit: IMDb

Brown acknowledges that his nostalgia for watching baseball movies with his dad influenced his Father’s Day viewing choice.  Sentimental types can head to a cornfield in Iowa for the magical realism found in Field of Dreams or revisit 1984’s The Natural, which brings Robert Redford to the plate with a touch of mystery and wonder as he seeks the big leagues. For rougher stuff, brace yourself for a memorable dose of Narcan in Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction, mass murderers on the run in Oliver Stone’s Natural Born Killers, or the Coen brothers’ remarkable debut film, Blood Simple (a 4K restoration), in which they reinvented film noir and launched Frances McDormand’s career.

The Chelsea Classics series comprises 32 films, each offered on multiple days and times, starting June 12 and ending on Labor Day. Matt Brown is confident that the series will appeal to viewers of all ages and tastes. After all, “If you build it, they will come.”

Diana Newton is a coach, facilitator, filmmaker, writer, artist, yoga teacher and general Renaissance woman. Her documentary film, The Ties That Bind, is available for streaming on UNC-TV. She lives in Carrboro and is a UNC alum. This reporter can be reached at Info@TheLocalReporter.press

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