Guest post by Caleb Allison.
Summer is nearly here, which for most is exciting, but it also means IU Cinema will be temporarily closing its doors for a summer hiatus, forcing you to search elsewhere for your daily film fix. If the other local movie theatre options are leaving you cinematically dejected, you might be surprised with some of the truly mesmerizing moviegoing destinations just outside of Bloomington.
The Historic Artcraft Theatre
Turning onto Main Street in Franklin, IN on a clear Saturday night reveals a glowing neon oasis of cinematic delights. Rows of racing golden bulbs on the marquee compete to light up the Artcraft sign. The marvelously restored marquee draws you into a charming, nostalgia-infused moviegoing experience at The Historic Artcraft Theatre. It looks like a cinema you hazily remember from a dream – an ideal creation of your imagination. It doesn’t quite seem real. The Artcraft’s Art Deco styling, Main Street location, affordable ticket pricing and sense of community romance you from beginning to end. Honestly, it doesn’t much matter what’s screening for the night, just that something is. If you’re looking for a charming cinema experience in a community that cares about its city, culture and history, then the Artcraft is the perfect choice.
The theatre has a very, very long history in Franklin, first opening its doors on November 1, 1922, doubling as a silent film theatre and vaudeville house. It boasts a respectable 625 seats with a single screen and proscenium stage with an orchestra pit. The Artcraft is currently owned by Franklin Heritage, Inc., a non-profit, historic preservation organization, which has raised more than $1.5 million in grants and donations to fund the theatre’s extensive renovations.
Their programming consists primarily of weekend revival screenings often projected in 35mm by their beloved projectionist, Steve Blair. From Hollywood classics like All About Eve (1950) to holiday favorites, such as National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989), the Artcraft has a decidedly family-friendly screening mix, but they also host other live stage and musical events. But maybe the most unique and beloved component of the theatre’s programming involves a slew of audience-engaging, pre-screening rituals. To mention a few, they host a raffle with prizes based on props or characters from the upcoming film, a screening of several classic Warner Bros. cartoons, and the singing of the National Anthem set to a video montage with lyrics. It is an experience that changes your moviegoing standards and one not to be missed.
Click here to visit the Artcraft’s website.
The Tivoli Theatre
It’s still light outside but dusk is creeping in. You walk under a clean, unassuming red sign reading Viquesney’s Tivoli Theatre, and take your first steps inside, only to find yourself back outside under a starlit night in a Spanish courtyard. This is the magic of the Tivoli, nestled in the small town of Spencer, IN just 30 minutes outside of Bloomington. It may not have the neon-beamed, Art Deco nostalgia of the Artcraft, but it oozes a new-love romance for cinema you won’t find anywhere else. Once you learn it was designed by a local sculptor, E. M. Viquesney, and had its grand opening in 1928 on New Year’s Eve no less, its romantic pull starts to make sense.
The Tivoli’s exterior is Mission Revival Style, which drew its inspiration from old Spanish missions in California from the late 18th and early 19th century, lending it an air of handsome anachronism. Once inside you can literally stargaze at the ceiling’s twinkling night sky – but wait, it gets better. Those star lights aren’t just any random clustering of twinkles, they’re actually a detailed recreation of the constellation pattern matching the night sky as it would have appeared at 9 p.m. on December 31, 1928 for the theatre’s grand opening! So, as you sit inside the Tivoli, waiting in giddy anticipation for your movie to start, you can look up at the night sky, the same night sky any one of the inaugural 1,200 moviegoers might have seen almost 90 years ago, and thank your lucky stars you’re the sap fortunate enough to be seeing a movie there. That’s history! The theatre screens a healthy balance of first-run and revival films, as well as children-oriented programming, theatre performances and musical concerts. If you aren’t starstruck with the Tivoli yet, their $5.00 ticket prices, if it’s not already free that is, will surely romance your socks off.
Click here to visit the Tivoli’s website.
A sea of warm automobiles silently cool in the fading sun on a breezy summer evening, communally gathered in worship at the altar of the drive-in. A massive white screen framed by lush, verdant trees towers over the drive-in’s 400 car lot, awaiting its weekend baptism of moving images. Chairs unfold, blankets unroll and the smell of popcorn, corn dogs and nachos sit heavy in the air as the first feature of a double bill awakens the starry heavens above the Starlite Drive-In. If you’re a Bloomington Hoosier looking for a movie under a blanket of stars – well, let’s just say you’ve got not one, but now two reasons to count your lucky stars. How do you decide between the romantically starlit recreation of the Tivoli’s grand opening and the open sky Americana of the Starlite? The trick is you don’t, you do both.
The Starlite was originally opened in 1955 by Carl and Ruth Stewart at the height of the drive-in’s postwar popularity. It’s now owned by the Barnhart family, only the Starlite’s fourth owners, and screens weekend double features of first-run films. Located just 15 minutes south of Bloomington on Old State Road 37, this drive-in is literally in our backyard, and speaking of backyards, feel free to bring your pups because they’re pet-friendly. So, if you’re tired of watching streaming movies through the blue haze of your shrunken laptop screen, why not trade it in for the open-air pleasures of your friendly neighborhood drive-in theatre. Think of it this way, you never even have to leave the comfort of your own car… but why wouldn’t you?
Click here to visit the Starlite’s website.
Caleb Allison usually prefers his films slow, cryptic or menacing and doesn’t always understand why. A Ph.D. student at Indiana University, Caleb researches home-video cultures, film history, and production and distribution industries. He is an unrestrained collector of the Criterion Collection, a fan of Super 8 home movies and a Tarkovsky nut.