There’s an old animated short film by that name, played in movie theaters long before my time. It was directed by famed animation director Dave Fleischer (think “Betty Boop,” …
There’s an old animated short film by that name, played in movie theaters long before my time. It was directed by famed animation director Dave Fleischer (think “Betty Boop,” “Cartoon Alley” and “Popeye,” to name just a few). He was responsible for the 1957 animated film mentioned in the title He also directed the far-more-memorable “Let’s All Go to the Lobby,” which had lyrics that many of you (I’m far too young) might recall.
And yet both cartoons played in my head when I heard that Sullivan County’s beloved Callicoon Theater was re-opening last weekend with Steven Spielberg’s spanking-new remake of the 1961 classic megahit musical-film version of “West Side Story.”
When I originally heard that Spielberg had chosen to make his mark on the film, I was not thrilled. “You don’t mess with a classic,” I muttered to the dog, who likes musicals but had not seen the original, which starred Natalie Wood, Richard Beymer, Rita Moreno and Russ Tamblyn. “It’s perfect just as it is,” I continued to grouse.
I sent a smart note of derision to Mr. Spielberg expressing my concerns, but his response must have gotten lost in the mail. What was more important was that after being forced to completely shut down due to COVID-19 restrictions, Krissy Smith, owner and proprietor of the Art Deco Quonset-hut movie theater and live performance space, was once again free to welcome movie lovers back to the Callicoon Theater, which offers year-round programming, including new film releases, cult classics, film festivals and live events.
I went a few minutes early, hoping to grab a quick chat with Smith, who smiled when she saw me, until I realized she was actually looking at the dog. “Do you have a minute?” I asked, knowing how busy the crew was, as they prepared to open for the matinee. “We officially opened last night,” she said, “and we had a nice, robust audience, especially since the film opened in December. And it’s fantastic.”
“Hmmm,” I responded. “I’ll be the judge of that.”
Asking how she’s even managed during the shutdown, Smith sighed audibly. “It’s been rough,” she said. “All movie theaters were mandated to remain closed until March of 2021, and did, but there were still a lot of rules and restrictions in place after that. Now we’re back to our regular schedule and, although masks are required in the lobby and public areas, once patrons are comfortably distanced in the theater itself, they can enjoy their snacks and the film experience without being masked, which is great.”
I had heard through the grapevine that during the hiatus, Krissy had removed a few rows of seats and built out an actual stage, so inquired about that. “We’re going to start doing more live programming at the theatre,” she enthused, “which will include live music, play readings, and also it’s there to support the new cinema programming as well. One of the most successful events we held last year was being able to host local filmmaker Todd Stephens and a special screening of his movie “Swan Song” as part of last year’s Big Eddy Film Festival, which gave him the opportunity to do a Q&A with a live audience. The added stage gives us more flexibility.”
Since the doors had yet to open, Krissy allowed me a quick look at the empty theater and beautiful new stage, and I see her point. It looks gorgeous and the added space left plenty of seats for film buffs like myself, so I took animator Fleischer’s advice and “went on out to the lobby to get ourselves a treat.” As the doors opened and patrons flooded in, I recognized a few, including the River Reporter’s Eileen Hennessey and Kathy Leggio, who was about to celebrate her Valentine’s Day wedding anniversary with her husband Danny. “So you chose ‘West Side Story’?” I asked. “Arguably one of the most romantic films of all time,” I added. “I’m praying that Spielberg got it right.”
“And they still use real butter on the popcorn,” Eileen added with glee. “It’s fantastic!”
You know what? So was the film. Against my better judgment, I found Spielberg’s take on “West Side Story” to be a labor of love and a true homage to the original, directed, filmed, choreographed and performed with such style and talent that I couldn’t find even one flaw. His inclusion of adding original cast member Rita Moreno in a very special way made it that much more magical and the entire film is gorgeous. It’s stunning; it’s incredibly emotional and tells an old story that still holds true today. Since Mr. Spielberg never answered my somewhat curt message, I’m going to assume he took on this Herculean task to bring this timeless classic to a whole new generation, who might have otherwise might never experience the sheer brilliance (IMHO) of “West Side Story,” originally conceived for Broadway by legendary choreographer/director Jerome Robbins, aided and abetted by the insanely talented writer Arthur Laurents, with music by the incomparable Leonard Bernstein and lyrics written by the magical Stephen Sondheim.
On another note, the also-fabulous theatre at the Hurleyville Performing Arts Centre (HPAC) reopens on Friday, February 18, with the action/adventure film “Uncharted,” starring Tom Holland, Mark Wahlberg, Sophia Ali, Tati Gabrielle and Antonio Banderas. I guess Dharma the Wonder Dog and I will be heading across town for that, too, since she’s a big fan of Wahlberg.
For more information about the Callicoon Movie Theater call 845/887-4460 and for HPAC movie info call 845/985-4722. Let’s all go to the movies!
Fun fact: many scenes in the original 1961 movie version of “West Side Story” were filmed around the about-to-be-demolished tenements of West 68th Street between Amsterdam Avenue and West End Avenue on New York’s West Side, an area about to be redeveloped as the Lincoln Center Urban Renewal Project.
Additional fun fact: “A lot of the films I’ve made probably could have worked just as well 50 years ago, and that’s just because I have a lot of old-fashioned values.”—Steven Spielberg
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