Step back in time with free classic movies
Classic movies and Sundays are a winning combination on their own, but at Zumbrota State Theatre, you get a history-immersion experience to boot. With period-accurate news reels, advertisements, cartoons, and skits running before each Sunday’s film, going to the cinema feels like stepping back into the 1930s and -40s.
"Each week ends up being like a time capsule," said Stacy Drenckhahn, who organizes the Classic Movie Sundays each week.
Drenckhahn is also in charge of selecting what runs before the movies. "I try to be really sensitive to what we find," she said.
She shies away from war reels, which cinema was rife with during WWII, and leans more toward automobile advertisements and entertaining cartoons, a mainstay of early cinema reels. The crown jewel of these ads might be the one for a car with a pull-out record player so drivers could take their music with them.
This year, movie-goers were treated to Superman episodes from the 1940s, as well as cartoons featuring the first appearances of Popeye and Tweety Bird.
"He looked really funny because he was beige. But that was the beginning of Tweety Bird," said Drenckhahn.
Sometimes the reels are educational shorts, like a quick documentary on how smoke fliers (those planes that spell things in the sky) operated. Live-action comedies like "The Three Stooges" and "Abbott and Costello" are also perennial favorites.
Drenckhahn tries to pair shorts with the same time period as the movies. But for movies from the 1930s, there weren’t a lot of really funny commercials. That didn’t happen until after WWII, which is when the ads began targeting kids.
The films and the shorts that run before them are all in the public domain, which means the theater is free from paying royalties. That’s how the films stay free - a big part of the mission.
"The whole idea was to bring affordable programming and movies at the same time, back to the State Theater," said Drenckhahn. "It was one way for people to come with their families or themselves and not spend a huge fortune. I have a large family and for us to go to a movie, it’s an event."
At the State Theater, though, you can get popcorn, candy, and a pop for five bucks. The theater also serves beer and wine. The butter on top? All proceeds from concessions go toward renovations for the theater, which has been under construction since the Zumbrota Arts Council bought it several years back.
Last Friday, the theater held a soft opening for its newly renovated restrooms and concession area. At the final three films of this season’s schedule, you’ll be able to make use of the new facilities.
"Beat the Devil" 1953
"It’s an action comedy," Drenckhahn said. "They’re going on a trip and then there’s crime. It’s probably not the best Humphrey Bogart movie ever made, but these movies have fallen into the public domain for one reason or another. … For that one, there’s a whole lot of … adverts and time period commercials we’ll put in there beforehand."
"Riders of Destiny" 1933
Drenckhahn described this flick as a "musical romance Western."
"Father’s Little Dividend" 1951
"It’s a sequel," said Drenckhahn. "It was made the year after ‘The Father of the Bride,’ it’s really funny. Spencer Tracy in ‘Father of the Bride’ is paying for this huge wedding and it’s his little baby girl who’s getting married. So now, in ‘Father’s Dividend,’ she’s having a baby and he spent all his money the year before on the wedding. This baby likes everyone but him, the grandfather. He takes the baby to town and he loses the baby, it’s this whole drama. It’s funny. It’s kind of a suspenseful comedy romance."