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Boiling Sand
Happy Centenary, Abbeville Opera House
Categories: Getting Personal

While surfing the Net, I discovered that the theatre that gave me two of my seminal 1960s moviegoing experiences has just turned 100.

The Abbeville Opera House in South Carolina was completed in 1908 as a legitimate stage house, but within a few months films were presented there too. The stage+screen programming continued until talking pictures cames along, when it became the city’s sole cinema.

To modern movieviewers, the town of Abbeville and its theatre on the courthouse square is best know as the location where a major studio film was shot about 20 years ago: the one where Julia Roberts runs away from her abusive husband and ends up living next door to the only straight guy in America who does community theatre.

The town itself is quite picturesque and charming, and used to be an unbelievable place for snaring antiques (e.g., a 1920s candybox with a picture of Gloria Swanson on the lid). My mom grew up near Abbeville (settled by French Hugenots, hence the name), so as a kid there were periodic Sentimental Journeys back to the land.

But as an urban kid, I was pretty bored on these trips; so my high point of the week would be a trip across the street from the hotel to see a movie. And at this theatre, I was initiated into two of the cultural benchmarks of 1960s cinema: I saw my first Roger Corman movie here [A DOUBLE FEATURE!!!] and my first James Bond flick.

The Corman films were Monte Hellman’s BEAST FROM HAUNTED CAVE and that polysemic and indispensible low-budget masterpiece, THE WASP WOMAN. The Bond movie was the one now looked back and referred to as the “Thinking Man’s Bond Picture” — FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE.

Today, the theatre has reverted to its legitimate stage roots, performing community theatre. Probably a good thing, despite my cultural proclivities, since the only letterbox and stereophonic sound film I saw in that small theatre was a rough viewing experience, with speakers shaking the walls and tacked-on side screens to accomodate the widescreen throw of the projector, which — in that small space — was like watching plasma TV from about a foot away.

So, happy hundredth, Abbeville Opera House! I hope one evening to return and enjoy the hospitality of your house.

Doug / PoMo Joan

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