Cinema 24, the 24-hour movie channel
offshoot launched last summer by public broadcaster WCNY-Channel 24, is
close to celebrating its first anniversary. So there’s no better time
to celebrate with a party—which doubles, natch, as a fund-raiser.
On Sunday, May 17, Eastwood’s Palace
Theatre, 2384 James St., will host the benefit, which begins with a 4
p.m. screening of the 1996 movie comedy Big Night, starring
Tony Shalhoub and Stanley Tucci as squabbling brothers who own an
Italian restaurant in New Jersey during the 1950s. (For Bill DeLapp’s
vintage review of Big Night, click here.) The movie builds to a centerpiece featuring
a lavish six-course meal, which leads to the second act at the Palace:
a recreation of the film’s gastronomic main event, beginning at 6 p.m.
in the Palace’s classy upstairs venue for special events.
Admission is a two-tiered affair. Those who wish to only see Big Night
will be charged $9, which includes soda and popcorn. The film-dinner
combo package, however, costs $85 per person, $150 per couple, but the
feast will be worth it: Palace owner Michael Heagerty and Paul Valenti,
general manager of the theater’s catering service, are in charge of the
belt-loosening meal, which includes a mammoth timpano filled with
pasta, meats, sauce and cheese, plus chicken pastini soup, tri-color
risotto, sauteed asparagus with lemon butter, roast chicken Italiano,
stuffed roast tenderloin of pork and plenty of wine.
The dinner’s head count will be limited
to between 50 and 70 ravenous WCNY supporters, so start fasting now.
Kendall Phillips, who handles the hosting chores for Channel 24’s
Saturday “Classic Movie Night” franchise, will also be on hand prior to
the dinner to dispense flick factoids galore. For dinner reservations,
Proceeds from the Big Night bash
will be earmarked to beef up the programming on Cinema 24, which can be
accessed via digital channel 24.3 or on Time Warner Cable’s channel
852. The station signed on in July 2008 with a then-reported stronghold
of nearly 140 public-domain titles, those random flicks that have for
various reasons eluded copyright renewal status and are now available
for mass consumption at bargain prices. Depending on the running times,
three to four movies are usually presented each day in six-hour chunks,
with those programming blocks broadcast four times within a 24-hour
Citing viewer success with Cinema 24,
the station has embarked on a fund-raising goal of $24,000 to add more
buried Tinseltown treasures, with some new-old titles getting sprinkled
into May’s schedule. Cinema 24’s slate is further augmented with titles
from Channel 24’s “Classic Movie Night” that have been repurposed as
the “Take 2 Tuesday” franchise on Tuesdays; these movies, from
distributor American Public Television, boast star-heavy entries
(upcoming are Hitchcock’s Suspicion on June 9 and Kubrick’s Lolita
on June 30) with top-shelf visual quality. A key drawback, alas, is
Cinema 24’s persistence to plunk its opaque logo at the bottom right of
the screen throughout their presentations; it’s a bothersome
distraction, plain and simple.
When Cinema 24 began, however, it looked
like WCNY programmers simply went to the nearest discount store and
loaded a shopping cart with dollar DVDs. Scratched-up prints riddled
with splices, reel-change codes (those ragged circles that appear every
10 minutes or so, as a signal for long-ago station personnel to stop
the movie projector and insert the commercials) and, regarding the
non-black-and-white entries, faded colors of reds-turned-orange and
blues-now-purple are the frequent hallmarks of many Cinema 24 features.
In a strange way, those aren’t
necessarily bad attributes. For viewers of a certain age, watching
Cinema 24 is like time-warping to the mid-1960s, when these movies
first began popping up on Salt City channels. The 16mm prints were far
from pristine, but then again TV reception wasn’t much better in an era
of rabbit-ear antennas, vertical hold knobs and “ghosting” signals.
(Some studios also took the cheap way out by syndicating
black-and-white prints of color movies; then WSYR-Channel 3, as an
example, ran a black-and-white version of the Technicolor 1943 comedy Heaven Can Wait throughout the 1960s.)
Sure, Cinema 24’s selections boast lots
of dodgy visuals (artifacting, in which the screen gets temporarily
pixilated with teensy boxes, is a common occurrence), while comparisons
to identical features on cable’s Turner Classic Movies are inevitable.
Differences do crop up; Orson Welles’ The Trial had no end credits on Cinema 24, as opposed to TCM’s version, while TCM’s print of the Jane Russell bosom buddies western The Outlaw didn’t have the postscript found on Cinema 24. And while the print for the Randolph Scott horse opera Abilene Town
was a splices-galore veteran with more than its fair share of projector
run-throughs over the years, a dollar DVD of the same title yielded an
ever-so-slightly improved, splice-free visual representation. Like
snowflakes, it seems no two public-domain prints of a certain title are
Movie studios aren’t nearly as lax as
they once were when it comes time to renewing copyrights, yet two films
actually became more popular after they fell into public domain.
Director Frank Capra’s 1947 holiday treat It’s a Wonderful Life
received a second shot at screen immortality in the mid-1970s when TV
stations began airing the heartwarming fantasy during the yuletide;
then video labels also hopped on the bandwagon with numerous VHS and
DVD incarnations. Life eventually escaped public-domain hell
because the film’s original story and music score were found to be
legally copyrighted; in 1994 NBC-TV purchased exclusive long-term
broadcast rights to the classic, as the network traditionally saves it
for Christmas Eve showings.
That fate won’t happen to director George Romero’s 1968 Night of the Living Dead,
which quickly entered the public domain because its copyright notice
was conspicuously missing from the original print. Cinema 24 has kept
this zombie-munching epic in steady rotation, with its somewhat smudgy
print actually enhancing the nightmarish experience.
Of course, the connection between films
that land in the public domain and their much-duped prints of
suspicious origin could easily be rectified by certain studios that
still have the original negatives in their possession. Studios are less
likely to strike new prints, however, because the profit motive has
been undercut by those dollar-store versions. In 2005 MGM Home
Entertainment issued a crisply restored, letterboxed version of the
1964 Vincent Price thriller The Last Man on Earth, which was then used as the source for a dollar DVD rip that even retained the MGM logo!
For Cinema 24, however, there’s still
gold in them thar public-domain hills, as the recent newbies to the
lineup demonstrate that the station intends to schedule more
theme-related packages a la TCM. Recent programming blocks have been
devoted to director Roger Corman’s drive-in cheapies (including 1961’s
inspired horror comedy Creature from the Haunted Sea, which was
the old Allied Artists 16mm TV print with a new prologue created by
director Monte Hellman to add more running time to the hour-long
original); a science-fiction blowout that featured a dubbed-and-dopey
trio of Italian-made oddities plus 1956’s Menace from Outer Space, actually a collection of episodes from the old kiddie TV series Rocky Jones, Space Ranger; and a batch of East Side Kids yarns for those with a jones for the thespian gifts of Leo Gorcey and Huntz Hall.
Another upcoming salute includes a
three-day passel of Roy Rogers horse operas on Thursday, May 14,
Friday, May 15, and Sunday, May 17. And there will be plenty of vintage
oaters featuring John Wayne over the Memorial Day weekend, plus a May
24 telecast of 1963’s boisterous western McLintock!, one of the
Duke’s biggest box-office hits whose copyright renewal was neglected
along the way—and another example of some of the conspicuous nuggets to
be mined from the public-domain landscape.
There will always be far too many
deserving movies to receive deluxe overhauls from organizations such as
the Library of Congress and the UCLA Archives. Yet Cinema 24 offers a
different form of restoration: By simply resurrecting long-forgotten
programmers that will likely never be made to look brand new again,
these cinematic orphans offer the sort of really-old-school
entertainment that will never show up on a Netflix queue.
Rock around the toque: 1st District Councilor Michael Heagerty turns chef for the Palace’s Big Night feast. MICHAEL DAVIS PHOTO
Food for thought: Cast members (including Stanley Tucci and Tony Shalhoub in the
center) in the ad campaign for Big Night, part of Sunday’s Cinema 24 benefit at the Palace.