Summer at the movies

Paramount Theater opens its doors to the public for viewing classic
films in the summer heat. Each screening had a different theme based on genre. photo by Sarah Garrett

Paramount Theater opens its doors to the public for viewing classic films in the summer heat. Each screening had a different theme based on genre. photo by Sarah Garrett

Katie Busby and Sarah Garrett

In the heat of the Austin summer, the Paramount, a downtown theater, provides a respite from the sun with their film series. Inside the building, snacks, drinks, and cushy red chairs await guests. A variety of movies are shown all summer long giving people many opportunities to visit. 


This year marks the 48th anniversary of the Summer Classic Film Series which is hosted in the downtown Austin theaters, the Paramount and Stateside. It consists of films in a variety of genres–ranging from musicals to sci-fi to anime to a good rom com. Screening times vary in times of day sometimes with multiple movies showing a day and with many showing every week. 


Paramount Theater film programmer Stephen Jannise is responsible for the movies featured during the film series. He described the usually monthslong process of picking films and researching in order to create a diverse and fun series for the summer. Jannise said he chose many different movies, such as “The Princess Bride”, “The Sound of Music”, and “To Kill a Mockingbird”, so everyone gets a chance to watch something new or something they love. 


“I always have a running list of films I’m interested in showing,” Jannise said. “Sometimes they’re films I’ve just seen on Turner Classic Movies or elsewhere. Other times they’re films I didn’t have space for the previous summer. At the beginning of every year, I also look at what films are celebrating major anniversaries that year and also which films have recently been restored by the studios. I use all of that information to start planning the summer schedule in the winter, and I usually have it completely booked by early April.”


Jannise also picks out creative titles for the film categories each week, doing his best to organize the films in a cohesive manner. After the movies are organized he also comes up with names that he thinks group all the films together and will spark people’s interest. Some categories include “Screwball Through the Years,” “Hitchcock Week,” and “An Epic Finish.”


“When I have my full list of films I’m interested in showing, I usually start to see some themes where I could group some of the films together under those themes,” Jannise said. “Sometimes the theme leads me to think of other films not already on the list that would be a great fit. The idea behind doing themed weeks is that hopefully, if you recognize some of the more popular films in that given theme, you might also be interested in giving the less well-known ones a try too.”


Anderson High School junior Emily Steer enjoyed watching “His Girl Friday through the Summer Classic Film Series. The film was categorized under “Screwball Through the Years”, which Steer found suitable for the comedic manner of the story. 


“I think that’s a very fitting genre,” Steer said. “Through all its hysterics, it’s still a rom-com.”


Steer also said she enjoyed watching a classic movie in a historical location. Built in 1935, the Paramount’s State Theater was the first theater in Austin built for the purpose of screening movies, according to Paramount Theater. 


“[The Paramount] is a part of Austin’s history, and I think it’s a place that everyone can enjoy,” Steer said. “It really made me feel like I was going back in time and being able to watch a movie where it really came out.”


Jannise agreed that the Paramount is a fantastic place to screen movies and films. He appreciates the antiquity of the theater and the efforts to preserve its cinematic history.


“Throughout the first half of the 20th century, the Paramount was the place to see movies –especially big event movies–, and thanks to the tireless work of many people over the years to carefully preserve the theater, it remains a unique and fun place to see movies that is different from any other movie venue,” Jannise said. “Not many theaters like the Paramount continue to operate, much less show movies on a frequent basis, so to be able to see classic films in this classic theater is a real treat.”


Jannise also believes that sharing classic movies with younger generations is important so that they can learn from them as much as he did. He recalled watching famous movies and the impact they had on his life and perspective of the cinematography world.


“When we’re young, it’s natural that we mostly stick to the films released in our lifetimes,” Jannise said. “I know I wore out several videos and DVDs of my favorite movies when I was a kid, but the more I watched Turner Classic Movies with my parents and went to see classic films at the old movie palace in my hometown, the more I realized that those old movies haven’t aged a bit. They still have so much to tell us, and they offer younger generations a window into the past.”


Nonetheless, not everyone enjoys the traditional ‘classic’ movie genre. Leah Evans, who visited the screening series, was thrilled to learn that the “classics” film series included more recently produced films as well.


“I really enjoyed that they had a variety of titles that could fit into ´classics’ other than just old black and white movies because not everyone really likes those or has had a connection with them,” Evans said. “That’s why I think it’s nice that they have movies like ‘Howl’s Moving Castle’, a classic Studio Ghibli film.”


Evans had never seen “Howl’s Moving Castle and enjoyed watching it in-person after years of isolation. She also appreciated the ingenuity of the program, and being able to experience a new film in an interesting location. 


“I think [the film series] it’s a really cool idea,” Evans said. “Especially after the pandemic it’s nice to just be able to watch a movie in person.” 


Jannise also said that watching a movie at home is not quite the same as watching one in a theater. He believes that watching a movie on the big screen is the true way to make movie memories and hopes that more people will fall in love with the experience of going to the movies. 


“Before I started this job, I attended many films at the Paramount as a fan and made a lot of new discoveries,” Jannise said. “In this world of countless distractions, I know that I wouldn’t have responded as well to several of those films if I had watched them at home with all the things that can compete for my attention. I will never forget what it was like to see ‘Sweet Smell of Success’ or ‘The Hustler’ or ‘Cabaret for the first time at the Paramount, and it just wouldn’t have been the same on my TV.”


Paramount Theater’s Summer Classic Film Series provides an opportunity for people to immerse themselves in classic movies of all types. From Studio Ghibli Classics like ‘Howl’s Moving Castle’, to musical Classics like ‘Grease’, to classic ‘90s movies such as ‘Clueless, the Summer Classic Film series is a great experience, according to Jannise.


 “If you’re thinking of watching ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ or ‘The Godfather’ for the first time, I encourage you to do it at the Paramount,” Jannise said. “It’ll be an experience you never forget.”