Movie Line Goes Lightly Around The Block

The movie line, two and three abreast, wound down the street and snaked around the corner.

In all, nearly 1,000 film fans — anxious, yet well-mannered — had been queuing up.

But not for a “Star Wars'” prequel sequel. And not for anything starring Tom Cruise, Julia Roberts, Will Smith, Adam Sandler or one of the Rocks, Chris or The.

Nor were they awaiting a toilet-humored, teen-age sex farce or another vehicle for violence. Nor an exercise in special effects and chase scenes masquerading as a feature-length movie.

And, no, they hadn’t come to see something indecipherable, gimmicky and pretentious in the guise of “edgy.”

But for “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” where the only thing gratuitous was the romance.

As in an ending that reminds you why folks still cry at weddings. As in “Moon River” by Henry Mancini. As in Audrey Hepburn as Holly Golightly. As in classy and feminine. Remember that combination?

The street was Franklin, and the corner was its intersection with Polk. What a delight to have been part of a nearly filled Tampa Theatre for this weekend matinee, one of 13 in its Sunday Classic Movie Series.

Movies as they used to make them; theaters as they used to build them; crowds as they used to attract them. And entertain them. An older demographic, skewed toward females. But a lot of couples. Not a backward-baseball-capped, 15-year-old boy in sight.

Exact attendance was 955 — compared to an average of 468 for other Classic Series’ Sundays. For all Tampa Theater screenings, the average is about 100.

John Bell, director of Tampa Theatre, couldn’t have been happier with the response to “Breakfast At Tiffany’s” had he been playing the Mighty Wurlitzer himself.

“It was gratifying — for me and all staff members — to have that kind of turnout,” gushes Bell. “That’s what it’s all about.”

The bottom line, says Bell of the classic series, now in its ninth year, “is getting people in this place. That they may take away a memory that is lasting and positive. But do it in a way that generates resources that lets us do what we do.”

The “take,” including concessions, from “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” was about $6,000, estimates Bell. Box office gross from the $5 tickets was approximately $3,700. (Some of the 955 patrons were card-carrying, annual Tampa Theatre members who didn’t have to pay — or, yes, wait in line.)

“This is not a profit operation,” points out Bell. “We pay our bills. But that’s not our mission. It’s about getting people into this place. It’s about creating lasting memories filled with beauty, color and light. There’s something special about watching a film here. It’s like a time warp. We do it because, well, because it’s fun.”

But there are frustrations. Putting together such a series is not merely a matter of asking for input and ordering up a classic. Lack of quality 35-millimeter film prints is a serious issue. In fact, it’s the reason why movies such as “Patton” and “Flight of the Phoenix” aren’t included in this summer’s series.

In a lot of cases, explains Bell, studios are unwilling to incur the expense of striking a new film print from a negative (and more if it has to be restored) when little more than negligible profits likely loom on distribution.

“It’s an issue for our nation’s film heritage,” says Bell. “Studios are just not taking care of their inventory of prints.”

But a lot of what they do take care of is targeted by Bell. That includes: “A Night At The Opera” (July 21), “The Gang’s All Here” (July 28), “The Greatest Show on Earth” (Aug. 4), “Sweet Smell of Success” (Aug. 11), “Gone With The Wind” (Aug. 18) and the original, silent version of “Peter Pan” (Aug. 25).

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