Even the silent films of the 1920s had sound: that reassuring whir of spinning reels as they rolled out miles of film to eager audiences.
That sound is quickly disappearing in movie theaters across America as digital projectors and computers replace celluloid. The reasons are mainly financial.
“It’s not expensive to make a hard drive with a movie on it,” said Philip Cowan, director of Tacoma’s independent movie house, the Grand Cinema. Prints, on the other hand, can cost thousands of dollars each.
Cowan estimates that studios will stop making 35 mm prints within the next year or two. Already, two-thirds of the nation’s theaters are digital. Small theaters like the Grand, Tacoma’s Blue Mouse and Olympia’s Capitol Theater are facing huge conversion costs.
Beginning tonight, the Grand is pushing back, or at least holding on, against the inevitable with a new monthly series of vintage films that will only be shown in their original 35 mm print form.
“There’s just a certain richness that film has that digital does not,” Cowan said, but he acknowledged not all movie enthusiasts agree.
Grand projectionist Justin Giallo is programming the “Grindhouse Theater” series.
Grindhouse is a genre of low-budget, cult, horror and exploitation films that were popular from the late 1950s to early 1980s. Film directors Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez were heavily influenced by them. Both directors have made homages to the genre, including a collaboration on a 2007 film called “Grindhouse.”
The timelines and boundaries of the genre are a bit squishy, but Giallo said these aren’t highfalutin art films. “They’re fun. They’re for the crowd.”
The films Giallo has selected will include blaxploitation, spaghetti Westerns, kung fu, and Italian horror.
“These prints are not easy to get ahold of,” Giallo said. “If the movie doesn’t exist on 35, I won’t play it.”
Beyond the film versus digital aspect, the films Giallo has selected are important culturally, he said.
“They are all highly influential to films today. Even on culture. I think a younger audience needs to see these,” Giallo said.
Giallo offers these takes on his first three films in the series:
Tonight and Saturday: Sam Raimi’s “The Evil Dead” (1981) – “Nobody dislikes ‘The Evil Dead.’ It’s highly influential on the horror-comedy genre.” The print is newly restored and uncut. “Burn Notice” star Bruce Campbell got his start with this film.
Aug. 24-25: Dario Argento’s “Demons” (1985) – “It helped spark demon exploitation films of the 1980s. It’s got a rocking ’80s metal soundtrack. One of the lead actresses (Geretta Geretta) will be Skyping us live before the film.”
Sep. 28-29: Dan O’Bannon’s “The Return of the Living Dead” (1985) – This comedy/horror film “made an impact on how people look at zombies.” It unleashed the first brain-eating zombies on the world.
Giallo said that those who attend the series should expect more than just a film. “It’s not just going to be a film screening. It’s going to be an event,” he said.
The screenings will include trivia and giveaways. This weekend’s swag includes T-shirts from Rotten Cotton, movie bobblehead dolls from Colt Collectibles, autographed head shots, and VIP passes to Crypticon Seattle.
Giallo has only programmed the series through September and while Halloween suggests obvious subject matter for October, he also has a thematic subject in mind for November’s film.
“I’d like to do a cannibal film ... because of Thanksgiving.” ‘The Evil Dead’
When: 9:09 tonight and Saturday
Where: Grand Cinema, 606 S. Fawcett Ave., Tacoma
Information: 253-593-4474, firstname.lastname@example.org 253-597-8541