South Carolina – Single Screen Movie theaters
Read the March 2007 SCIWAY News Article | More SC Movie Links
On March 14, 2007, SCIWAY sat down with John Coles and Mark Tiedje of SCMovieTheatres.com for a chat about their website and their contagious passion for classic SC single screen movie theaters, the film experience, and the special memories they foster.
Left to right: Mark and John
Lights. Camera. Action!
- SCIWAY: What started your obsession with movie theaters of the past?
Mark: As a kid in New Jersey, I had a lot of opportunities to go to Radio City Music Hall and I just fell in love with that palace atmosphere. You could see world premiere movies and also experience live stage performances and live music all in the same night. That's where I started associating a particular place with memories.
John: For me it started when Mark was teaching a theater class at the College of Charleston. He took some students on a theater crawl of the old Riviera Theater on King Street in Charleston and I tagged along. Walking through that theater was pure magic. So my obsession didn't start with attending a living theater, but with a venue itself. I was able to use that experience as a springboard for my book Movie Theaters of Charleston: Hollywood Meets the Holy City.
- SCIWAY: How did you make the transition from SC theaters to the memories of the actual people who went to those theaters?
Mark: Some years ago, John and I had started making presentations about SC theaters for the College of Charleston's Speaker's Bureau. We'd show slides and give talks at retirement homes and religious and community centers. We kept meeting people who had so many great moments of their lives linked to the movies. We wanted to bring people together through those memories.
- SCIWAY: Is there an example of that which really stands out?
Mark: During a lecture at the Bishop Gadsden Retirement Community, we found that one of the residents we spoke to, Ms. Margaret Dengate, actually used to make her living as a theater organist in the silent film era. She really seemed to enjoy recalling an earlier part of her life and the role movies played in it. Afterward, we thanked her for her time ...
John: And she said "No, thank you for bringing back memories I didn't want to forget." That inspired us to do more. Sure, we wanted to record the history of theaters in SC, but it's really more about validating people's memories and bringing people together.
- SCIWAY: As you now travel throughout SC talking to people about their movie memories, what's the most extraordinary thing you've uncovered?
John: Pied Piper Malone from 1924. If you've never heard of it, we hadn't either. During our travels, we'd talked to Ms. Mildred Higgins of Georgetown who told us she'd been in this film as a child. We did some research and learned that, in fact, Hollywood had come to Georgetown to shoot scenes for the movie.
Mark: Naturally, we wanted to see the movie but we couldn't find a copy. We contacted the production company, Paramount Pictures. Their archivist had a record of it but not even they had a print.
John: But we kept looking and finally found an archive with a surviving copy. They were in Russia! We emailed them, thinking it would be impossible to communicate with them, much less get a copy. They just asked "Do you want it on VHS or DVD?" But it wasn't cheap so the Georgetown Historical Society and others funded the purchase. A lot of people wanted to get this film back to Georgetown, so that was just great when everything came together and we got the DVD.
Mark and John
- SCIWAY: How exciting was it to go through all that and finally sit down to watch the film?
John: Well, the DVD didn't work at first. It was incompatible with our DVD players, because it was made for a different format. When we learned that it would play in a computer's DVD player we loaded it up but the dialogue titles were all in Russian.
Mark: Remember, this is a silent film. Getting the dialogue titles translated back into English was crucial to understanding and enjoying the film. Thankfully, we found a local interpreter in Charleston we could collaborate with and translate the dialogue back into English. After that, the Georgetown County Museum had the English translations digitally added over the Russian ones.
- SCIWAY: After those delays, you must have been really anxious to finally see Pied Piper Malone?
John: Everyone was. We all felt this was such a big project that a lot of people cared about and it deserved something special. So through the work of the Georgetown Historical Society and Georgetown County Museum, the movie was shown at the Strand Theater in Georgetown.
Mark: For one of the screenings, Ms. Higgins and others who had appeared in the film were driven to the theater and were greeted with a red carpet walk and the applause of attendees. Just like they do in Hollywood.
John: Afterward, a reception at the Joseph Schenk House followed. It's the house in the movie where the heroine lives. So the people who had just seen the movie got to connect with a significant part of the film at the reception.
- SCIWAY: If someone granted you the ability to bring a closed SC movie theater back to life, which one would it be and why?
Mark: I'd say the Gloria which is now the Sottile Theater at the College of Charleston. A little over a year ago we saw some silent films by Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, and Harold Lloyd with the Paragon Ragtime Orchestra performing the original scores live. I just wish I could go down there every Saturday and see movies that way.
John: That's a tough choice. But for me, it always comes back to the Princess theater on King Street in Charleston. They used to have a five-piece orchestra. Just to be able to hear a live orchestra during the movies again ...
- SCIWAY: How long do we have to wait until your upcoming book South Carolina Movie Memories becomes available?
John: One thing this project has taught us is that things are always evolving. And honestly, the Internet has been such a flexible tool in organizing the stories we've created that we're not sure about a publication date. It's great to have a book that you can hold in your hands, but you can't update a print publication the way you can an online copy. So right now, we're not sure. We're still having too much fun talking to people about their movie memories.
Mark: Besides, we haven't been to the Upstate yet!
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