coolidgeI don’t want to sound like I’m knocking progress, but new doesn’t always mean improved. For instance, there are movies that simply need to be seen in a movie theatre, preferably with a tub of hot air-popped popcorn balanced between your knees. I love Coolidge Corner’s Big Screen Classics Series because it brings me movies I never had the chance to see in their original format, the way the director intended them to be seen. As computers and wide-screen TVs turn us into crowd-shunning homebodies, I find myself missing the way movie theatres made watching films a kind of public catharsis.

I know I’m not the only person who feels we’re sacrificing something important when we choose our couch over stadium seating. The Big Screen Classics series has been going gangbusters this summer. “The last four movies we showed sold out,” Coolidge Corner Theatre’s Program Coordinator, Mark Anastasio, told me.

In the last two years the theatre has expanded the popular series from one Classic movie a month to one a week in the months of July and August alone, with additional screenings the rest of the year. The theatre’s staff of film aficionados comes up with a list of movie favorites then votes on the final picks. Patrons are also welcome to make suggestions.

“The series is geared to the most beloved films of all time,” Anastasio said. “90% of the movies we show during Big Screen Classics are on 35mm film. There’s something to be said for seeing an old print—if it exists, we’ll run that version.”

One of the unique selling points of the Big Screen Classics series is the way it brings back the idea of moviegoing as an “event,” like seeing live theater. Often there is pre-show entertainment or giveaways. When the Coolidge showed Breakfast at Tiffany’s, a dozen Holly Golightly-wannabes, ranging in age from about 5 to 35, took to the stage to compete in a look-alike contest. When they screened Jaws last summer, Mr. Anastasio had the idea to replicate a scene from the movie where the drunken principles show off their battle scars. 20 people from the audience volunteered to flash their scars and talk about how they earned them.

“There were lots of interesting stories,” Anastasio said, “one guy talked about losing a toe climbing Mt. Everest.”

There’s also the chosen venue. Big Screen Classics are shown in Moviehouse One, by far the grandest space in the theatre, with its tall muraled ceiling, sweeping red curtain, and gold Art Deco flourishes. When you sit in this theater you can easily imagine the days when people would dress up to go to the movies.

And ultimately there’s the experience of seeing a movie you love while sitting amongst a crowd of people who also love that film. I was at The Sound of Music screening earlier this month. It wasn’t just seeing one of my all-time favorite movies on the big-screen that gave me goose bumps—although seeing the opening panorama of the Alps uncut for the first time was itself worth the price of admission. It was also the applause that followed each musical number, the collective hissing whenever the man-hungry baroness was on screen, the laughs at the pained reactions of Captain Von Trapp as he perceived Fraulein Maria turning his straight-laced children into “local urchins.” It was a similar feeling as being at a stadium concert of your favorite band and joining hundreds of other fans wildly applauding the first notes of a classic song. It’s a shared experience that you can’t have at home, no matter how many inches your flat screen TV measures.

Big Screen Classics are shown on Monday nights at 7PM, although you’ll want to get there at least 20 minutes early to claim your place in the line that typically snakes behind the theatre to the back entrance of CVS. Admission is $9.50. Future Big Screen Classic titles include Annie Hall (8/5), Sunset Boulevard (8/12), The Big Lebowski (8/19), The Blues Brothers (8/26), and Jaws (9/2).

~ Jennifer Campaniolo