Movie Palaces: The Great American Escape

Movie Palaces: The Great American Escape


For the last four months, the Motion Picture Production class at Rock Valley College has been producing a documentary about movie palaces including the Egyptian in DeKalb, the Capitol and Orpheum in Madison, Wis., and the Coronado Theatre in Rockford. The “rough cut” is finished, and the class is now seeking help from the community to make the documentary the best it can be.

Project overview

In the 1920s, a new phenomenon swept across the American landscape. It was a time of new discoveries, new wealth and a new wave of mass culture. The combination of these things led to what would be known as the movie palace. Movie palaces were designed to transport the theatergoer to another time and place. These atmospheric theatres featured architectural styles from all parts of the globe and allowed people who had never traveled 20 miles from their homes to be transported across oceans and continents. When the Great Depression struck America, ordinary citizens looked for a way to escape the harsh realities of soup lines and destitution.

The movies and the movie palace would become known as the Great Escape. After World War II, America once again went full swing into a building boom. As time went by, the movie palace was replaced by twin theatres and multi-plexes. Without the constant flow of income, it was impossible for theatre owners to keep the palaces open. Many have been converted for other uses, many still stand waiting for a new owner, many have been fully restored, and sadly, most have been destroyed.

Movie Palaces: The Great American Escape tells the story of this phenomenon by featuring The Egyptian Theatre in DeKalb, Ill., The Orpheum and The Capitol theatres in Madison, Wis. and the Coronado Theatre in Rockford, Ill. The documentary attempts to explain the history of these theatres, their rise, fall and rebirth.

In addition to telling the stories of the four theatres, the filmmakers now wish to expand the project so that it is the definitive piece on Movie Palace architecture history and preservation. To do this, more traveling and more interviews with the foreknown experts in the field of architecture, pop-culture and preservation will be required.

This film is intended to educate the public about the important role that these theatres have in culture and why they should be preserved. To achieve this goal, a series of showings is intended in DeKalb, Madison and Rockford. In addition to these show-

Continued on page 22

From page 13

ings, the filmmakers plan to put a DVD copy of the film in every middle and high school in these three cities. The ultimate goal of the filmmakers is to have the documentary aired on PBS.

The work cannot be completed without the support of the community. Sponsorship opportunities are available, and all donations are tax deductible. Checks should be made payable to the Rock Valley College Foundation. Please write “Documentary” in the memo section of your check.

Sponsorship opportunities are: Focus Puller, $5; Key Grip, $25; Gaffer, $50; Best Boy, $75; Director of Photography, $100; Assistant Director, $200; Director, $500; Associate Producer, $1,000; Executive Producer, $5,000.

For more information, contact Brian Shelton, coordinator of the Mass Communication Department, Rock Valley College, (815) 921-3720.

Enjoy The Rock River Times? Help spread the word!