The latest idea for energizing downtown Rock Hill's nightlife scene is a real classic. Actually, five of them.
Starting Friday night, the newly renovated amphitheater at City Hall will be transformed into an outdoor cinema showing classic films under the stars. A 20-foot-wide projection screen will flicker to life weekly at dusk, illuminating 1950s icons such as Gene Kelly, Gregory Peck and Marilyn Monroe.
For downtown boosters, a suspenseful ending looms: What kind of crowd will turn out to watch films made so long ago -- starring actors unfamiliar to many younger audiences?
"'Shrek' is on cable TV at least once a week," said Candy Randall, the city's downtown development manager, who chose the films. "I just don't think you can go wrong with a classic. (And) I think there's a real nostalgia to the outdoor movies -- middle-age parents wanting to relive what they saw when they were a kid."
The best of the best
Rather than try to compete with animated, Disney-type movies, Randall said she opted for films that would appeal to a cross-section of families and young adults. All are on the American Film Institute's Top 100 list.
Outdoor movies have become trendy summertime draws in cities around the country, from Freedom Park in Charlotte to the Charles River Esplanade in Boston.
But it could be a risky venture for Rock Hill, especially because of the choices. Will parents want to bring their young children to "Some Like It Hot" starring the sultry diva Marilyn Monroe? Will teens and 20-somethings flock to "Singin' In the Rain," a film made three decades before they were born?
Interviews with movie watchers across town on Monday showed the difficulties posed by these questions.
• "It's a great idea, but I don't think those are really young children movies," said Kylie Carroll, as she left Manchester Cinemas after seeing "WALL-E" with her two children, ages 4 and 2 1/2. "It's not going to hold their attention."
• "I'd go see everything but 'Singin' In the Rain,'" said Jimmy Demby, 37, as he perused the aisles at Blockbuster on Cherry Road. "My wife, she'd like it. I don't like musicals."
• "'Willy Wonka' and 'E.T.,' those will be good for kids," said 13-year-old Will Evans, who browsed the DVDs at Target. "The other ones, I don't know much about. Kids my age, they like comedies."
What others are doing
Other cities have chosen more recent hits. At the Gulf Coast Town Center in Fort Myers, Fla., organizers chose "Spider-Man 3" and "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix." Between 700 and 800 people showed up for each.
"We picked the most recent Blockbuster releases," said Ashleigh Henry, the center's marketing director. "Whatever was big in the theaters that's just coming out in a recent release. So far, it's been very successful."
However, classic films were the choice in Albuquerque, N.M., where viewers were treated to "Viva Las Vegas," "Vertigo" and "Breakfast at Tiffany's."
Rock Hill is paying $2,800 per week to rent the screen, plus $250 in license fees for the rights to show each selection, Randall said. If the series proves successful, the city says it might buy a screen of its own and host outdoor movies throughout the year.
As for the upcoming pictures, Randall says moviegoers shouldn't knock the classics without at least giving them a chance.
"We may find one's going to do better than the other," she said. "But we really wanted to get that across-the-board gamut of great films."