Movies return to downtown Warren
By ANDY GRAY
WARREN — Alex Bodie of Warren only knew the line “Of all the gin joints …” as the title of a Fall Out Boy song.
“I saw a clip and realized that must be where the song title comes from,” she said as she waited with David Wheeler for “Casablanca” to start at the Robins Theatre. “David said there’s going to be all sorts of familiar references (in the movie), and now I’ll know where they came from.”
The 1942 Oscar winner for Best Picture is the first event in more than three months at the 97-year-old theater, which reopened in January after a two-year restoration project.
Movies always were planned to be part of the entertainment mix at the venue. But with state directives limiting the options for concerts and theatrical productions, classic movies became a way to gauge the willingness for public gatherings. The 1939 classic “The Wizard of Oz” will be shown at 2 and 7 p.m. today.
“I wish it was under different terms,” said Mark Marvin, whose Downtown Development Group purchased the theater and oversaw the restoration. “After COVID and everything else going on, this is the best way to start to see if people are comfortable coming back.”
Attendance was capped at 350 people or 25 percent capacity. Ken Haidaris, president of promoter Sunrise Entertainment, said shortly before show time that they’d sold about 260 tickets. As someone who also is a downtown restaurant owner, Haidaris said he was as happy by the number of cars and people he saw on downtown streets as he was about the people inside the theater.
“It was a ghost town down here for the last three months,” Haidaris said.
Several changes were made in order to comply with state directives. Plastic was installed in the concession stand windows and hand-sanitizing stations were added throughout the theater. All employees and volunteers wore masks. Masks were optional for spectators, but everyone had to have their temperature taken before entering the theater.
A video that mixed classic movie trailers and newsreel footage with images from the Robins restoration process played on the screen before the movie, and a Bugs Bunny cartoon was shown before the World War II love story.
Some, like Bodie and Wheeler, were seeing their first event at the theater. Others had fond memories of attending movies there before it closed in the mid-’70s.
Ray Dravesky, a Cortland native who now lives in Sharon, Pa., saw “My Fair Lady” there in 1964 and “The Sound of Music” the following year.
“I can’t say enough terrific things about what they’ve done to this theater,” Dravesky said. “It’s my first time here since 1972.”
David Gloss, also of Sharon added, “If only we could get the guys who did this to take over the one (the Columbia Theatre) in Sharon.”
Both are big fans of “Casablanca,” and Gloss said, “The meaning of the movie is something we should be paying attention to today — don’t fall asleep at the wheel when freedom is at stake.”
Vincent Venetti of Warren said he is a big fan of the movie’s star, Humphrey Bogart.
“He makes any movie, no matter what it is,” Venetti said.
Richard and Becky Robinson hadn’t been in the theater since taking a tour during the first Warren Homecoming weekend, before the restoration process started.
“We walked in, and I was horrified at how terrible it looked,” Becky Robinson said about that first visit. “They could have made a scary movie here.”
Both were impressed with what they saw and were planning on coming back for the matinee of “The Wizard of Oz.”
“I want to see on a big screen some of these movies I’ve only watched on TV,” Richard Robinson said. “If they had a sci-fi film festival here, that would be great.”
Both Marvin and Haidaris said if this weekend is successful, they would continue to book films at the Robins.