News Column

New Haven Register, Conn., Randall Beach column

June 22, 2013

YellowBrix

June 22--What, I ask you, could be more fun than watching the original "The Thing From Another World" in the balcony of Bridgeport's Bijou Theatre?

Yes, the original "Thing," from 1951, with James Arness, pre-"Gunsmoke," memorably portraying the alien who lands in the Alaska tundra and terrorizes a small crew of military officers and scientists.

I loved it when I was a kid and it's still great.

I was sitting in the renovated remnants of the oldest moviehouse in America. When they started building the original Bijou in 1909, it was going to be an opera house. But as silent movies started becoming popular, the owners forgot about opera. The Bijou began screening silent films in 1910.

This is the only Bijou we've still got in our area; New Haven's Bijou is long gone. When I moved to the Elm City in 1977, that cinema palace was already just a memory.

I had been hearing about Bridgeport's Bijou over the last couple of years as it came back to life. During the 20th century it had evolved into the Rivoli and then Studio Cinema. It ran out of juice and customers in 1996 and closed.

After downtown developer Phil Kuchma bought the property, he had it transformed into a more modern venue and re-opened it two years ago. Christine Brown and Kathy Reynolds own the business and oversee the bookings, including live theater and comedy, fundraisers and private events such as birthday parties and bar mitzvahs.

"It was a 500-seat theater," she said, "but we wanted to create a supper club kind of feel."

We were sitting at one of the series of tables which are at each side of the theater. On the floor are 11 rows of seats. Total capacity: 202.

In another era, the Bijou's balcony was huge, extending far over the floor-level seats. Now there is room up there for only 20 people. But how many theaters today have a balcony of any size?

Brown told me there was no connection between the Bijous of New Haven and Bridgeport. Theaters were given that name because a bijou is a jewel.

Brown said the theater is doing fine financially despite fears it might be difficult attracting crowds to downtown Bridgeport. "People come here from as far away as Westchester County in New York."

Every night is different at the Bijou; check the website (bijoutheatre.com). Upcoming: a summer film series and a "sing-along" to "The Sound of Music" Aug. 18.

When I told Brown I had finally made it to the Bijou because that double bill of "The Thing" and "The Fly" lured me down, she said this film series, "Bedlam at the Bijou," was the creation of Brian Solomon.

"He's really knowledgable about those films," she noted. "People enjoy seeing them on the big screen."

That's what I was anticipating as I spoke with Brown last Thursday afternoon. And a few hours later, in walked the "Bedlam" man, dressed in a black suit, with red shirt and matching red tie.

Solomon has been putting on his horror double bills monthly since last fall. He said they usually attract only 15-20 people. "But we had more than 40 for 'Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein' and 'Young Frankenstein.'"

As we spoke, an hour before the 7 p.m. show time, we were listening to the pre-movie soundtrack Solomon had assembled for the evening. The tunes included Frank Sinatra's "Fly Me to the Moon" and "Come Fly With Me" as well as "Things We Said Today" by the Beatles.

Get it? "Every song has 'fly' or 'thing' in the title," Solomon said with a proud smile.

"I have a website called thevaultofhorror.net," he added. "That's how I made my name as a horror film know-it-all in on-line circles."

Solomon also makes up trivia contests for his events and invites special guests for discussions between the films. Last Thursday he brought in Joe Meyers, entertainment writer for the Connecticut Post.

This was clearly a night for cultists. After 13 folks had assembled, Solomon took the stage. "Our theme for tonight is: 'before they were remakes,'" he announced, noting "The Thing" and "The Fly" (1958) had been redone in the 1980s.

"I wanted to go back and show these originals and give them the attention they deserved," Solomon said.

As I said at the top, 'twas a hoot and a treat seeing "The Thing" in a theater for the first time. I couldn't stay for "The Fly," which I also remember fondly.

Speaking of horrors, beware this: the "24-hour" parking garage across the street from the Bijou. After the attendants go home, you might find the "exit" machines don't like your credit cards and you'll be trapped. A lady with a key card let me follow her out before the gate came back down.

Contact Randall Beach at rbeach@nhregister.com or 203-789-5766.

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(c)2013 the New Haven Register (New Haven, Conn.)

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