Somerville Theatre Brings Classic Films, Cult Favorites Back to the Big Screen

Somerville TheatrePhoto by Jessica Blough.

Every summer, the Somerville Theatre swaps out some of its blockbuster programming and returns to its repertory roots, giving quirky, iconic, and cult-followed films the full movie theater setting.

“What differentiates us from our competitors, the chains that are kind of more generic, is this type of programming, I think,” says Ian Judge, the director of operations for the Somerville Theatre. “It helps to show off the theater. This is a classic setting, so if you’re going to see a classic movie, this is how and where you want to see it.”

Judge grew up down the street from the Somerville Theatre, and got his start in movies as an usher at the Harvard Square Theater, “because I wanted a job that was air conditioned, and I didn’t have to get in early in the day.” He programs the majority of the special series, but sometimes he’ll bring in a guest programmer, like the DJ who put together the “Reel Films, Fake Bands” series in the spring. He also gets input from filmgoers and theater staff.

“The AMC in Somerville has all the bells and whistles, but it’s programmed from Kansas City. People in Kansas City don’t think of Somerville any differently than they do Minneapolis, or Chicago, or wherever else they operate their theaters,” Judge says. 

The annual Play it Cool and Midnight Specials series are a nod to the theater’s repertory days. The Play It Cool series is a double entendre: Judge likes to feature stars who “were the idea of cool at the time,” while pumping in air conditioning and providing a double feature’s worth of relief from the summer heat every Wednesday night. 

This summer, the series takes on “Hollywood on Hollywood,” a meta genre of movies that turns the camera to face what normally stays behind it. The theme is inspired by Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” out today. In order to show “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” in 35mm, as Tarantino intended, the Play It Cool series will take a three-week hiatus and resume on Aug. 21. 

“If you’re into the things that might have inspired the Tarantino picture that’s coming out, then we kind of fed it into that,” Judge says. 

Somerville Theatre
Photo by Jessica Blough.

The Midnight Special series popped up about a decade ago, Judge says, but dates back to when the theater would show midnight movies every weekend back when it was a repertory theater. Each Saturday at midnight, movie-goers can see a different cult favorites: “Pink Floyd — The Wall,” “10 Things I Hate About You,” and “Pulp Fiction,” among others. 

This summer, and as much as possible during other series, the special series are all shown in 35mm film. The Somerville Theatre held onto its film projectors as other theaters switched to digital-only in the last decade, believing “film on film is the way it’s meant to be seen.”

“It’s the same way that you can have the most wonderful print of the Mona Lisa, but people still flock to see the original format,” Judge says. 

Because of the film projectors, Judge says that the theater can get access to archival prints of films through the Academy Film Archive or the Library of Congress, as well as through studios. However, they can run into obstacles when a film has recently been “rereleased” by a big company like Fathom Events, preventing small theaters from showing it. 

“I don’t want to say it’s a bad thing, because it does bring classic movies to audiences that can see them. But Fathom Events is a company that’s owned by several of the big chains. And when they play a movie, we can’t play it for three months or six months or a year, depending on what it is,” Judge says. 

As the seasons change, the theater will transition to its upcoming horror series in time for Halloween, then follow it up with the sci-fi festival in February.