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Retro theater opens in Charlotte

Except for the zombies, the Retro Movie Series at Ballantyne Village has gone smoothly.

For the first time since the Visulite Theater abandoned films in the early 1980s, a local venue is showing classics on a big screen and using 35mm prints -- and selling tickets for just $5.

"We want to expose everyone to classic cinema, be it a 'Casablanca' or a right-field alternative like 'A Clockwork Orange,"' says manager Leon Putman, who started this trend in June 2006.

"Studios don't have decent prints of certain titles, but we want to stick to film. The only time we've had to use a DVD was for 'Night of the Living Dead,' because the print was so scratched we couldn't show it. The audience was fine with it."

That audience now averages 350 per weekend, says Putman, who usually puts these films in the biggest of five auditoriums at 9:40 p.m. and midnight on Fridays and Saturdays. (He sometimes adds matinees.)

The revival system probably works because of sheer numbers: The population of this region has doubled over a quarter-century, and the Ballantyne area is part of that boom. Maybe moviegoers have also realized that, however much they improve their home systems, they still want to share emotional highs and lows.

People at last week's "Orange" watched in rapt horror as Malcolm McDowell and his droogs abused victims to the tune of "Singin' in the Rain." They oohed when director Stanley Kubrick pulled off deft shots.

Mark Callahan, who's 55, has come to various retro series for a year. "It's the magic of that big screen," he says. "I remember sitting down front for (Kubrick's) '2001' almost 40 years ago. That's the experience I want to have."

Yet the majority were under 30. Daniel Moore, who attends York Technical College in Rock Hill, has a 57-inch high-definition TV and surround sound at home. But he regularly drives up from Fort Mill, because "I prefer to see films with other people. When they laugh, when they're scared, even if you aren't, you start to pick up on that mood."

Putman names "Casablanca" and "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" as top grossers; the latter had folks reciting lines and making coconut hoofbeats. (He can't get "The Rocky Horror Picture Show," he says, because of constant national demand: "A print is never available.")

"Batman" plays today at 9:40 p.m. and midnight at Ballantyne Village Theatre, 14815 John J. Delaney Dr., 704-369-5101.

Putman will take at least a month off from retro series now, because he's about to start booking all his own movies

Putman has been happily surprised, but Sam Shapiro could've told him there's a hunger for such flicks. Shapiro has programmed free films for 14 years for the Public Library of Charlotte & Mecklenburg County; he's now running Joseph Mankiewicz movies at ImaginOn, showing "Suddenly Last Summer" on Sunday and "Sleuth" on July 29 -- but on DVD.

"We (recently) showed the silent films 'Safety Last' and 'Our Hospitality,' and it was an amazing communal experience," says Shapiro. "We had a live pianist, and people from all age levels were laughing on cue. There's no comparison between Turner Classic Movies and a theater."

Putman will take at least a month off from retro series now, because he's about to start booking all his own movies. (Ballantyne has ended its booking contract with Landmark Theatres.)

He set the bar high last fall with retro series for horror and holiday pictures, though he may choose other themes. Whatever he picks, his motto will remain the same as Alex the droog's: "The colors of the real world only seem really real when you viddy them on a screen."H6Retro Movie Series

"Batman" plays today at 9:40 p.m. and midnight at Ballantyne Village Theatre, 14815 John J. Delaney Dr., 704-369-5101. "The Big Lebowski" runs Friday and Saturday; a title to be named will play Aug. 3-4.

Want to pick?

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