Modern, old-school weave movie magic

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Saturday, Oct. 31
PITTSFIELD -- The public will have to wait a few more weeks before the city's new Beacon Cinema makes its North Street debut on Friday, Nov. 20, with a midnight showing of the vampire flick "New Moon," the latest in the popular "Twilight" series, followed by the premier of Walt Disney's 3D-animated movie, "A Christmas Carol," later that day.

The Eagle got a sneak peak of the state-of-the-art movie theater on Friday afternoon, however, and from the building's original tin ceilings and woodwork to its state-of-the-art Dolby digital sound system, the public is in for an architectural and theatrical experience that's sure to stimulate the senses.

The behind-the-scenes look included a tour of the six-screen, 850-seat cinema, which evokes memories of an old neighborhood picture house -- albeit with modern upgrades such as stadium seating, which is designed give moviegoers a comfortable viewing experience, and a bar serving wine and beer.

Patrons will be treated to a fully stocked concession area, replete with popcorn, soda and candy, as well as fine wine and beer.

Yes, folks, the Beacon has a liquor license. But there's no risk of it becoming another neighborhood bar, according to Richard Stanley, project manager and co-owner of the Beacon, since the theater will only be serving legal-age adult patrons who come to watch a movie. To put it bluntly, no walk-ins allowed, so you can scratch off the venue if you're intent on a pub crawl. And the space is 100 percent handicapped accessible, replete with a $250,000 escalator and an elevator to whisk patrons to the upper level theaters.

On that note, the Beacon will have three ground-floor theaters and three second-floor theaters. The original wood trim and wood floors of the Kinnell-Kresge building, which houses the Beacon, were painstakingly restored as was the original tin ceiling, which had to be removed panel by panel for cleaning and repainting before it was replaced.

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The theater's replica lighting hews closely to the original period lighting of the 91-year-old building, which also includes office, retail and restaurant space and enormous windows looking out at some North Street's more impressive buildings, including the former Berkshire Loan & Trust Building.

Stanley said the upstairs "Chameleon Room" will serve a variety of functions, as its name suggests, maybe providing a venue for an office or birthday party on one occasion and a venue for a board meeting on another. The possibilities for the spacious, handsomely finished room are great, according to Stanley.

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Despite maintaining the classic look of an old movie theater -- the Beacon's facade is reminiscent of a Hopper painting -- there's nothing old about the technology utilized in this $22.4 million project, which is part of Pittsfield's ongoing effort to turn its commercial core into a vibrant, year-round arts and dining destination in the Berkshires.

Gone are the days of the old projection room, where film reels had to be carefully swapped to ensure a seamless showing of the "Creature from Black Lagoon" or "The French Connection." The 21st century "projection room" at the Beacon includes a main server from which movies are uploaded, then beamed to whichever screen on which they're scheduled to be shown.

Stanley praised architect Stephen Green, of Clark & Green, for "really working on laying out this place." Without Green, Stanley said, the project would not have come together.

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A ribbon-cutting ceremony will take place on Nov. 20 at 11:30 a.m., and tickets for the midnight showing of "New Moon" will go on sale on Nov. 1 and may be purchased through the theater's Web site at www.thebeaconcinema.com.

On Nov. 19, the day before the vampire movie debuts, the Beacon plans to hold an American Red Cross blood drive at the theater, beginning around 4:30 p.m. The theater's Web site should have more details once they're finalized.

The blood drive "is only fitting since we're opening with a vampire movie," said Stanley, who's optimistic the midnight opening will draw a crowd.

"I think we have a good chance of selling out," he said.

To reach Conor Berry:
cberry@berkshireeagle.com;
(413) 496-6249.


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