Posted by Pablo Kjolseth on February 7, 2010
As is well known, Morlocks like to steal time machines every now and then. With this in mind I decided to hop in one for a quick ride through the decades to see how cinematic entertainment unfurled through the decades here in my particular corner of Colorado. As I span the last 120 years there are no major shifts in human physiology, from say knuckle-draggers to childlike-Eloi to furry hopping herbivores. But when it comes to their clothes and social graces there are major shifts; it’s the difference between hanging out in Deadwood versus sitting next to The Man With the X-Ray Eyes.
1890s: Hookers ‘n’ booze ‘n’ Edison!
The population here in Boulder, Colorado, hovers around 4,000. To walk around the dirt streets you need to be careful to avoid big piles of manure left by horse buggies, there aren’t a lot of trees downtown yet (those get planted later), and saloons are peopled by cowboys, miners, and farmers. There’s even a “red light” district! Well, for a while anyway. In 1894 a “100-year-flood” roars down the canyon and wipes out these houses of ill-repute that were built along what was then called (I’m not kidding) Water Street. I’m guessing a lot of wives thanked the Lord and shot their spouses full of “I-told-you-so” glances and church attendance probably doubled. The area was rebuilt (and remains) as Canyon Street and the displaced prostitutes presumably went back to free-lancing. But enough of the carnal arts, what about the visual arts? Thomas Edison patents the Kinetoscope in 1891 – a device through which viewers look through a peep-hole to see a moving image and which is the precursor to projected images. The first Kinetoscope viewings in Boulder happen in 1898 at the Chautauqua Auditorium, which is a huge venue with 1300 seats nestled safely far uphill from the troubled waters of Boulder Creek and next to the picturesque Flatirons.
1900s: Cars, new laws, & Méliès.
The first automobile drives into Boulder – it’s a 1902 Mobile Steamer. This is the same year that Georges Méliès wows the world with A Trip to the Moon. But the very first projected film in Boulder is Hooligans of the West, which screens at The Temple Theater (506 seats) in 1906. Speaking of hooligans, some high-and-mighty folks who are tired of too much rowdy behavior on the part of drunken miners decide to get involved in local politics and outlaw alcoholic beverages in 1907, but this doesn’t stop the Crystal Springs Brewery and Ice Company from providing its thirsty clientèle with nice frosty brews. Two other motion-picture theaters eventually open up – all are hand-cranked. Just don’t bother to see films on Sundays as that’d be sacrilegious (and illegal).
1910s: Silent Cinema hits its stride & Prohibition enters the scene.
By now, Boulder has more than doubled in size in the last 20 years with a population around 10,000. D.W. Griffith releases The Birth of a Nation (1915), and Colorado Prohibition kicks in (1916) and this finally kills the local brewery. Colorado’s biggest silent film stars are: Douglas Fairbanks (born in Denver, spend summers in Jamestown), Lon Chaney (Colorado Springs), and Marceline Day (Buster Keaton’s co-star in The Cameraman). Harold Lloyd was born in Nebraska, but spent several years growing up in Colorado. Quite a few silent-film westerns are shot in the area too, including Buck’s Romance, A Matrimonial Deluge, and Pirates of the Plains. Five single-screen venues open up in Boulder that screen motion pictures – including two that are dedicated movie houses averaging over 600 seats each. The Lieutenant Governor (1915) screens at the Curran Theater and stars Boulder’s very own silent-film heart-throb: Eugene O’Brien. He later co-starred with Mary Pickford, Norma Talmadge, and Gloria Swanson. He was also the topic of a previous blog post that can be found here:
1920s: The Roaring Twenties & Talkies.
Women get the right to vote (1920), Robert Flaherty releases Nanook of the North (1922) and The Jazz Singer ushers in The Talkies (1927), but it takes Boulder a couple years to catch up. At this point there are four dedicated Motion Picture Theaters in Boulder, and two of them (the Isis and the Curran) add sound equipment in 1929. On the downside: 200 members of the KKK parade down the main street (1922). On the upside, two years later the President of the University of Colorado, George Norlin, denies a known KKK member and senate candidate from participating in a kick-off at the big football game.
1930′s: Miners & Technicolor.
Mining and farming are still the main occupations in Boulder and people are still finding ways to booze it up until the end of Prohibition in 1933. Tongues were most certainly wagging in 1930 when the former President of The Women’s Christian Temperance Union was arrested for giving “homemade intoxicants” to C.U. students! But on other fronts change is most certainly afoot: roads are getting paved, electric street cars have their last run (1931) and Technicolor has its debut with Walt Disney’s animated talkie: Flowers and Trees (1932). People are also so bummed out by The Depression and bad times in general that they vote and pass on a referendum that allows the theaters to stay open on Sunday – any distractions, even on that day previously reserved for church, were suddenly welcome. Boulder-born John Fante (who’d go on to be a big influence on Charles Bukowski and the Beat Generation) begins his movie career with Dinky (1935), and the first traffic light is installed (1937) at a busy Boulder intersection.
1940′s: WWII & Drive-Ins.
With the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941 the U.S. enters the war and the War Department declares movies an essential industry for morale and propaganda. The Nazi menace can be seen in such films as Casablanca and To Be or Not To Be (both 1942). Toward the end of this decade television and drive-in cinemas start spreading across the land. In Boulder the Moterena Drive-In opens on the east outskirts of town opposite of the mountain foothills. Glenn Miller, a C.U. alum, disappears over the English Channel (1944). This is also the decade that the film series which I currently program was launched. James Sandoe, who was also pivotal in the creation of the Colorado Shakespeare Festival (another ongoing Boulder institution) was the creator of the University Film Series (now known as the International Film Series), and was a passionate film programmer who made his selections based on reviews he read from The New York Times and The New Yorker.
1950′s: The Cold War & the Black List.
Another famous C.U. alum was Dalton Trumbo (he studied at C.U. from 1924 – 1925). He (along with nine other writers and directors) is called before the House Un-American Activities Committee as a witness to testify on the presence of communist leanings in Hollywood. Trumbo refuses to talk. After conviction for contempt of Congress, he is blacklisted and spends 11 months in prison. In local news: Boulder-Denver turnpike opens (1952) as does the Holiday Drive-In Theater on July 9th, 1953. It serves 650 cars and has the latest in-car sound receiver sets and features elevated ramps so that the car windshields are in line with the screen. Given that I still show outdoor films in my backyard, it’s cool to know the original location for the Holiday Drive-In was right here in my current neighborhood – the spirit lives on! But I digress… back to the fifties: The Boulder Theater installs CinemaScope and a new four-track Stereophonic sound system. In 1954 Anthony Mann’s The Glenn Miller Story wins an Oscar. By 1957 the population has ballooned up to 32,000 people and is still a “dry state” – but that’s all about to change in the next decade.
Next week: this Morlock will aim the time machine for the 1960′s and onward.
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