The Syracuse Cinephile Society began on a whim. Unhappy with the late-1960s film scene, friends Phil Serling and Sam Goldsman hatched a plan, which included renting the back room of a restaurant connected to the Regent Theatre on East Genesee Street so they could screen nostalgic pictures for a small following.
Even though Sterling and Goldsman barely knew how to run a 16mm film projector during the early meetings, the crowds grew and so did the frequency of the events and sizes of the venues. When Serling became president of the Syracuse Cinephile Society, as the group was eventually named, his goal was to preserve, commemorate, and enjoy some of the greatest movies from yesteryear. Despite Serling’s death in 2002, the film fanatics still continue his mission and legacy.
For more than a decade, Gerry Orlando has been the Cinephile president. Before leading the group he was a longtime member, regularly attending events since the 1970s.
This fall, he’s eager to continue the long-running movie series on Monday nights, which has been a Cinephile staple since its inception. For the past seven years, the 7:30 p.m. screenings have taken place at the Spaghetti Warehouse, 680 N. Clinton St. This year’s season, which began Sept. 21 with a showing of The Egg and I, will conclude on Dec. 7. Up next is the 1946 Alfred Hitchcock thriller Notorious, with Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman, slated for Monday, Sept. 28.
Even in an era of overblown blockbusters filling megaplexes, there are those who still take time out for the classics. This is evidenced in the Cinephile membership, which currently boasts 100 movie buffs. A typical Monday evening program will lure around 70 moviegoers of a wide demographic to take in the oldies.
For most viewers, these flicks will be seen in a completely new light. Last spring the society switched from 16mm prints to a digital format after it became harder to track down quality films for its projectors.
The group now uses a presentation projector and licenses digitally restored titles from distributors Swank and Criterion, which allows it to purchase the rights from major studios such as MGM, Universal and Paramount. “Getting access to the studios’ back catalog has been huge for us,” Orlando says. “These are the best possible versions of these classics.” Whether one’s taste leans toward comedies, dramas or Westerns, the Monday-night showcase offers them all.
Orlando is particularly excited about the 1943 Warner Brothers musical This Is The Army, which has received a Hollywood makeover; now it has no scratch lines and its Technicolor has been restored. “That one was in especially bad shape,” Orlando says about the public-domain perennial, “but now it looks like new.
Once the fall’s Monday-night program comes to a close in December, there will be a brief winter hiatus before the screenings return in late March. As the society approaches its 50th anniversary in 2017, and with packed houses every week at the Spaghetti Warehouse, there’s no sign of slowing down. “There’s definitely still an interest in classic film,” says Orlando. “You can see that every Monday night.”
October features begin with the 1947 Betty Grable musical Mother Wore Tights with the 1929 George Burns-Gracie Allen short subject Lambchops on Oct. 5, followed by Jimmy Cagney’s fast-paced 1933 vehicle Picture Snatcher (Oct. 12). Bob Hope and Bing Crosby team for the first time for the 1940 comedy Road to Singapore (Oct. 19). And the annual Halloween-themed event pairs The Mummy’s Hand (1940) with 1934’s Boris Karloff-Bela Lugosi scare package The Black Cat (Oct. 26).
November hits include Joan Crawford and Spencer Tracy in 1937’s Mannequin (Nov. 2); This Is The Army (Nov. 9); a western double feature with William Boyd as Hopalong Cassidy in 1943’s Hoppy Serves A Writ and John Wayne in the 1938 programmer Santa Fe Stampede (Nov. 16); Abbott and Costello in 1943’s Hit The Ice (Nov. 23); and Kirk Douglas in director William Wyler’s 1951 drama Detective Story (Nov. 30). The season ends Dec. 7 with the 1951 musical On Moonlight Bay, which pairs Doris Day and Gordon MacRae.
Andy Belt is a graduate student in the Goldring Arts Journalism program at Syracuse University.