At Images Cinema, changing of the popcorn guard


WILLIAMSTOWN — It may be celebrating its 100th anniversary this year, but Images Cinema is embracing modern technology as well — in the form of a high-test popcorn maker.

Moviegoers will be treated to free pee-wee sized popcorn samples beginning with a ribbon-cutting at noon until the theater closes Friday night.

The organic kernels will be the first popped by the new machine as it takes its place of honor on a counter behind the lobby-based concession stand.

"It's a Gold Star Super PopMaxx," said Executive Director Douglas Jones. "It runs twice as fast and makes twice as much as the old popper. It's needed, as we grow and expand we bring in more people and more people means more popcorn."

The new machine cost just over $1,000 and has more pizzazz than its predecessor, a relic identified only by the marking "Star Manufacturing."

"The other popper was here when I came here 14 years ago and it wasn't new then," and Janet Curran, the theater's managing director.

"It was a fine and noble machine," Jones said. "It's done us well for many years but it's a little smaller and a little slower than what we need."

Because the former popper couldn't always keep up with demand, popcorn was sometimes delivered to seated patrons when movies were underway.

"It was hard to keep up and delivering the popcorn could get complicated," Curran said. "It only took a couple days of research to find this one. I was kind of obsessed."

"Popcorn machines are kind of expensive," Jones said. "There are machines with all kinds of bells and whistles, all kinds of capabilities."

A changing of the popcorn guard is just the latest in a series of transitions the theater has faced during its nearly 100 year existence. Images has been in operation since 1916, making it one year older than another Northern Berkshires icon, Jack's Hot Dog in North Adams.

The movie house first opened as the Walden Theater. It operates today as a nonprofit community theater, one of a handful of single-screen independent theaters in existence.

Industry transitions include shifting from silent films to "talkies," evolving from black-and-white movies to color motion pictures, and changing from big projectors and movies captured on 35 millimeter films to digital productions. The theater entrance moved from the adjacent alley due to remodeling.

"It is a testament to this community that the theater is still here," Jones said. "There have been many transitions and some are very personal to us."

Theater patrons have changed over the years and there is a seasonal component to the crowds, Jones said.

"There is always an ebb and flow," he said. "You can tell when college students are away on vacation, and you can tell when folks come in during the summer. The summer people are either people who used to live here and come back armed with memories about when they used to live here.

"And there are the people who come to town focused on a destination like The Clark and then find out about Images," he said. "It's a bonus for them, they come in, they see things like the tin ceiling, and it expands what they think of the area."

Numerous events are planned to celebrate the theater's century milestone. On June 25, Images will partner with Sand Springs Pool on Sand Springs Road to offer a dusk showing of "Jaws."

"If people are brave they can watch from the pool," Jones said.

Those who are not brave enough may watch from dry land, he added. Sand Springs plans to sell food and beverages. Tickets are $8 per person and $6 each for senior citizens, children aged 1 through 17 years old, and military veterans.

The 1964 film "Band of Outsiders" will have a one-show only presentation at 7 p.m. July 11, Jones said. The film was directed by Jean-Luc Godard.

July also will feature the 10th annual "Family Flicks Under the Stars," with "Pillow Talk" on July 10; "Inside Out" on July 17; "Groundhog Day" on July 24; and "School of Rock" on July 31. The free showings begin at sundown on the Morgan Lawn at the top of Spring Street.

The "Bright Young Things" monthly family film series offers "April and the Extraordinary World" at 2 p.m. Aug. 6 and 12:30 p.m. Aug. 7. Tickets are set at matinee prices for the showings.

Plans are being discussed for a large public street event during September, but details are not ironed out yet, Jones said.

"We are shooting for a free, public birthday celebration in September," he said.

A silent romantic comedy film, "Safety Last" starring Harold Lloyd, is slated for a Nov. 30 showing. The movie was made during 1923 and the Images presentation is expected to showcase a new score written by Donald Sosin, who is a professional silent film musician. Advance sale tickets will be available later in the year, Jones said.

Family outings to the movies are affordable, Jones said, and he added that motion pictures are an art form easily enjoyed by nearly everyone.

"Movies are a very accessible art form," he said. "Everybody knows how to go to the movies."

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