October 7, 1998
A Night to Remember...Uh, I Mean Forget!
by Dustin Putman
Back in 1926, the Tivoli Theater, located in my hometown of Frederick, Maryland, opened its doors, and became the most popular movie theater in the city, showing all of the latest old motion pictures. After the great flood of 1976, the place was nearly destroyed, but was able to open up again two years later as The Weinberg Center, but was no longer a movie haven, but an arts building primarily used for plays and music concerts. It's been that way for twenty years.
Early last summer, I read in the local newspaper that the Weinberg Center was finally going to reopen the "Tivoli," due to large amounts of request mail, and a film series of great old classics would be shown there throughout the 1998-99 season, about once or twice a month. This article intrigued me because, alas, I had not been around to see the Tivoli when it had been alive, and now I was going to get a chance to see the building in the way it was meant to be used for.
Last night, October 6th, was the premiere night at the Tivoli, and they were showing the 1941 masterpiece by Orson Welles, "Citizen Kane." I had never seen the picture, and so I thought of it as a chance to see it for the first time in the way it was meant to be viewed...on the big screen!
It was to begin at 7:30, and there was to be a member of the American Film Institute there to speak to the audience prior to viewing the film.
So last night, my brother, Rudy, and I trudged through downtown Frederick to the Tivoli to see "Citizen Kane." Out in the front of the Tivoli, the billboard read, "October 6 - Premiere Night - Citizen Kane." This was surely going to be a night to remember! Or, at least, I thought it would be.
After buying our tickets, my brother and I took our assigned seats in the auditorium, which was Row F, Front Orchestra. By the time 7:30 rolled around, the theater was almost packed. A gentleman who worked there made his way to the front stage and told us that they were running about ten minutes late because a long line had formed at the ticket booth and they were having trouble with the projector...not a good sign on "Premiere Night at the Tivoli," if you ask me.
By the time 7:40 arrived, the same man walked to the front stage again and began what felt like an Academy Awards acceptance speech, as he rattled on for ten minutes thanking various people who helped in getting the Weinberg Center set up for this "very special night." At around 8:00, the AFI member finally came to the stage and began a lecture about the history behind "Citizen Kane." What was supposed to be a 5-minute speech quickly formed into a 25-minute one, as he rambled on and on about the making of the film, and about Welles, and about the writer Herman J. Mankiewicz. In no way was his "little" presentation interesting or insightful or entertaining. In fact, it was downright boring, and all I could think of was, "Come on, start the movie! It's gotta be better than listening to this guy talk!"
Finally, at around 8:20, he got off the stage, and "Citizen Kane" began. "I hope the print of the film is a good one, " a man behind me said to his wife. "I'm sure it is," his wife replied. Well, by the time the opening credits popped on the screen, I knew we, the audience, were headed for trouble. The print obviously was one from when the film was originally released in 1941, for it had many scratches on it. The picture also kept jumping, and the sound was so muffled that I couldn't understand half of what they were saying. And to top it all off, 25 minutes into the picture, the projector shut off, and the lights momentarily came up. A few seconds later, the projector popped to life again, and the lights darkened. I began to watch the film, and I tried to put all of these mishaps behind me, but again, the sound was so bad that it felt like watching a foreign-language film without the subtitles. And above all that, my bottom was starting to get really sore since I was sitting in what was probably the most uncomfortable seat I've ever sat in. I had to keep moving around in the chair, in fear that I may have to be transported to the hospital before the movie was over. And so on "Citizen Kane" went, and then...and this was the final straw...about 75 minutes into it, the film was cut short, and it said, "End of Part 4." It was then that I realized my worst fear was coming to life. What I came to realize was that the workers at the Weinberg Center were so cheap, and so uncaring for the people of Frederick, some of which probably had to drive a long way to get there, that they hadn't even bothered to get a new film projector. Yes, that's right, it was the same exact one from 1976, when the flood almost destroyed the place, and they had to physically change the reels. As the lights went up once again, the woman behind me said to her husband, "The copy we have at home is better than this one."
After having a discussion with my brother, we got up and decided to leave. We didn't care about seeing the rest of the movie when we both felt like fools who had been swindled out of 12 bucks, 13 if you count the tiny drink we got. As we walked out of the building, I realized that practically half the audience was leaving. It was obvious everyone felt the same way we were feeling, which was cheated. I took a look at my admit ticket and it read, "No refunds or exchanges." Go figure. It was 9:30 on the dot, and we went home.
This unfortunate experience has left a sour taste in my mouth ever since last night. So many things have been floating around in my head, not the least being hatred for those who actually thought this "Premiere Night at the Tivoli" was actually any good. I mean, why go to all of the trouble to bring motion pictures back to that downtown theater if they have no respect for the people, or the filmmakers, by showing us a nearly haphazard print of what is widely considered the greatest film ever made? But really, isn't that the way America works nowadays? Although I haven't been alive very long, I have a feeling people were a little more honest back in the 20's, when the Tivoli first opened.