Dryden closing for renovations

11:48 PM, Dec 30, 2012

A screening of Gone with the Wind at the Dryden Theatre. (Photo provided by George Eastman House)/

Written By Stuart Low | Staff writer


Last hurrah before closing
To Catch a Thief and Desire will be screened as part of the New Year’s Eve Jewel Heist Double Feature at George Eastman House Dryden Theatre, 900 East Ave. The films start at 7 p.m.
Cinema Paradiso will be the last film shown before renovation. The movie screens at 8 p.m.
Tickets for both are $8; $6 for students. Call (585) 271-3361 or go to dryden.eastman
Several events are planned to celebrate the Dryden Theatre’s renovation. At 8 p.m. March 2, Oscar-winning director and writer Alexander Payne (About Schmidt, Election) presents his 2009 film Sideways.
At 8 p.m. April 6, Oscar-nominated director James Ivory (Room with a View, Remains of the Day) introduces his 1995 movie Jefferson in Paris. A series of his films will be screened every Wednesday in April.
Advance tickets go on sale Feb. 2 for the Payne event and in March for the Ivory event. Go to eastmanhouse.org or call (585) 271-3361.

Coming soon to a movie theater near you: Plush new seats, a balcony roomy enough to stretch your legs and a state-of-the-art digital projector.

George Eastman House has launched the last phase of the decade-long renovation of its 61-year-old Dryden Theatre. This $595,000 facelift will be invisible to the public until March 2, when Oscar-winning director Alexander Payne reopens the venue with a screening of his film Sideways.

That 2009 hit celebrates the joys of wine — and moviegoers may find it apt that the new carpet, chair fabric and walls boast intoxicating shades of deep purple. The familiar gold curtain that rises before each show will remain, but the movie screen behind will be new.

The construction crew also will install brighter ceiling lights and a new loop system for hard-of-hearing moviegoers. A high-precision Barco digital projector will be hauled to the projection booth to use for recent digital movie formats.

We want every film to be a special event,” said Paolo Cherchi Usai, senior curator in Eastman House’s motion picture department. “The new Dryden will provide an immersive visual experience, comparable to what major film museums already are doing.”

Films is a large part of the museum’s collections and also runs graduate programs and does major work in film preservation. It has one of the largest and most significant archives in the nation, for example housing Martin Scorcese’s films. So a state-of-the-art theater is equivalent to the exhibit space in the rest of the Eastman House and other museums.

Venues with similarly advanced capabilities for screening vintage and modern movies include the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., and the Academy Film Archive in Los Angeles.

The Dryden already has four projectors used for early nitrate and safety film. George Eastman House regularly restores vintage movies and screens them at the Dryden. A total of 300 films are shown there each year, drawing roughly 35,000 viewers.

The renovation will reduce the number of Dryden seats from 535 to 500, creating more space in the cramped balcony. The new chairs will be wider and firmer, and a few also will bulge with pride. The museum will put a name of your choice on a seat for $1,000 to $1,500 (see details at eastmanhouse.org/takeaseat).

Meanwhile, the theater has sold most of its old chairs to local nostalgia buffs for $10 apiece.

The renovation will be financed with a $500,000 grant from the New York state Senate and $95,000 from private and corporate donors. The Senate also funded $380,000 in upgrades to the Dryden’s lobby and box offices in 2001 and gave $510,000 for new projects, speakers and amplifiers in 2007.

Eastman House doesn’t want its movie fans to suffer withdrawal pangs while the Dryden goes dark for the next two months. Movies will be shown during museum hours in the Curtis Theatre on Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays.

When the Dryden reopens on March 2, many visitors will stare at the decor and wonder: Why all this purple? Is the theater planning a tribute to Prince’s Purple Rain or Whoopi Goldberg’s The Color Purple?

There’s a more practical reason, says Cherchi Usai.

The ideal color for movie theaters is pure black, helping viewers to focus on the screen,” he explained. “We made a slight compromise. Given the beauty of Dryden’s architecture, we decided to use a color that also is dark but pleasing to the eye.”