Capitolfest ’21: A Joan-O-Rama!

In our first overnight trip away, Yang and I traveled to the renovated Capitol Theatre in Rome, New York for Capitolfest.  This year’s subjects proved irresistible:  the fabulous Bennett sisters, Joan and Constance!  We were fortunate to see the theatre, designed by Leon H. Lempert and first opened in 1928, returned to much of its original art deco glory.  However, our trip was even more of a treat.  Not only did we get to see two Joan Bennett movies from early in her career that I’ve never seen, but we met up with wonderful friends from the Friends of Joan Bennett FB group:  Kayla Sturm and Eve and Edward Lemon!  It was a fun, heart-warming, and exciting experience.

First, let me tell you about the theatre – and share some images with you, too.  Many of these are courtesy of Eve and Kayla.  You can see that the original marquee is not the same, but the outside still has much of the original feel.  Further, once you enter the lobby, you see wonderful polished wood doors and art deco detailing on the walls and ceiling.

The inside is spacious, seating over 1000 people, with plenty of room on the ground floor and in the balcony.  The latter place is where we Bennettphiles sat.  You can see that the screen is huge, just like in the old days that some of us are life-experienced enough to remember.  Other Lowellians, remember the Strand Theatre, with that ginormous chandelier that none of us wanted to sit under – just in case? There’s me in the lower right corner, wearing my hat and my mask.
Note the organ just below and in front of the stage.  The theatre was built in 1928, so silents still would have played there in the infantine era of sound.  Also, people would love to hear pre-show concerts on that organ – before you got to the raffles, the cartoons, the newsreel, the Lower half of the double bill, then the feature.  Here’s a closeup of the organ.  We had a little concert, ourselves, before the start of Weekends Only.  (Note:  both these shots are courtesy of Kayla Sturm.)
Kayla also took a nifty shot of the gorgeous ceiling decor.
She also photographed one  of my favorite things to shoot:  heads in relief.  I wonder who these guys are? To me, they look like Eisenhower, Marx, and Peter Lorre; but I’m probably wrong.
How about this shot by Kayla of the gorgeous arches?
Even the telephone booths were cool!
There were lots of early, pre-Production Code films by Joan and Constance – plus both Joan and Constance doing their bits against the Nazis in Manhunt and Madame Spy, respectively.  Come to think of it, Joan practically made a cottage industry out of taking down goosesteppers:  Manhunt, Confirm or Deny, The Man I Married, The Wife Takes a Flyer, and Margin for Error.  Who needs John Wayne?! (That’s Kayla’s photo of the Manhunt poster).
Anyway, Yang and I saw two films I’d never seen before:  She Wanted a Millionaire and Weekends OnlyHush Money had also been on the bill, but Disney forced the festival to pull it in a legal CYA move.  That’s the technical term my lawyer nephew gave me.  God bless UCLA for going to bat for the festival and still getting us these two films.  They were something else.  Millionaire is a humdinger, starting out as a romantic comedy and turning into a Gothic piece with a sadistic husband who lures a naif into marriage, using the typical secret passages, peep holes, and untrustworthy servants in his isolated, creepy mansion, but modernizing Otranto’s castle with high tech (for ’32) listening devices.  His manipulations, viciousness, and violence would give Manfred, Brother Ambrose, and Schedoni a run for their money.  Joan does get up the gumption to hang tough and give her tormentor what for; but, darn it all, they have her faint at a crucial moment.  They just had to go all Victorian, didn’t they? Victorian, with the exception of Margaret Hale in North and South, who has to get hit in the head with a rock to go down for the count.
Weekends Only was interesting and enjoyable.  Joan was a snappy, intelligent gal who grows up fast when her rich-girl paradise crashes and burns with the stock market in 1929.  She’s smart and independent, so she’s is no easy victim to sly seductions or aggressive assertions.  We also can tell that this is a pre-Production Code because it’s clear that when she and artist Ben Lyon fall in love and show that they genuinely care for each other there are a couple of fadeouts that indicate the two aren’t off for a round of pinochle.  Of course, misunderstandings do gum up the romantic works; however, things get resolved in a way that suggests their reconciliation is believable.  And the slick rich guy who wants Joan for his mistress bows out with humor.  The depictions of the loft apartments where Joan and Ben Lyons live hint at an almost pre-noir dreaminess.  Black and white is so evocative.  I do wonder what happened to the two portraits painted for the movie. (Thanks to Eve for the shot of the film’s opening on that delicious big screen!)
Anyway, our crew had a wonderful time.  We enjoyed films together.  Traded Joan gossip.  Got to know one another better.  Had a lovely dinner ensemble after the first movie on Friday afternoon on the outside terrace at the Delta Lake Inn – thanks to Eve’s planning!  Gosh, I had a great time.  I can’t wait for another Joan festival to bring us all back together!

Background on the origins of the Capitol Theatre:  Cinema Treasures  and Capitol Arts Complex Homepage.

Images from Weekends Only and She Wanted a Millionaire from IMDb

Thanks again to Kayla Sturm and Eve Lemon for letting me borrow their photos for this blog.

 

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