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Russell House Theater, USC (changes)   11 comments

Posted at 12:47 am in Uncategorized

Walking through The Russell House this fall, I was struck, looking at the Russell House Theater coming attractions, how much the place had changed in focus.

When I was at USC, from 1980 through 1985, the theater was mainly a classics house. Sunday through Thursday, they would play a different film every night, and I probably averaged three or four movies a week, and ones I probably never would have seen otherwise. In particular, I recall Lost Horizon, Goodbye, Mr. Chips, Lolita, The Pound, Cinderella Liberty, Les Parapluies de Cherbourg, Double Indemnity, Farewell, My Lovely, The Magic Christian, Singin' In The Rain, Citizen Kane, The Philidelphia Story, Bringing Up Baby, Sahara, Casablanca, The Maltese Falcon, Captain Blood, The Private Lives of Elizabeth & Essex, Kiss Me Deadly, The Man With the X-Ray Eyes, The In-Laws, Stagecoach, Rio Bravo, The Quiet Man, The African Queen, Dr. Strangelove, A Clockwork Orange, The Lady Vanishes, The 39 Steps, The Birds, The General, Intolerance, Wings, Advise & Consent, and The Best Years of Our Lives -- to name a few!

I was a bit disheartened that as far as I could see from looking at the lobby placards, the theater is apparently no longer functioning as an exposure to cinema, but more as a second run dollar theather. Granted anyone who wants can always rent or buy all the pictures I saw, but there's still something about sitting in a theater with a bunch of people and a good movie, or a fun movie, and there's something about serendipity -- sitting down to a movie you never heard of because it's just a buck, and it beats studying and finding against the odds that its something you'll remember for the rest of your life..

Written by ted on February 22nd, 2009

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11 Responses to 'Russell House Theater, USC (changes)'

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  1. I was a member of the Cineamatic Arts Committee at USC in the early 1980s and at one time we had what was considered one of the top 10 college film programs in the world. Film reps were always telling us how amazed and impressed they were with our selection of classic, silents, forgien, and independent films, often being the SC premiere of the latter. We ran these types of films Sunday through Wed.

    The weekend were used to show recently ran movies which really paid our bills. Our biggest hits of the latter included anything related to Monty Python, SNL or odd cult films.

    Sometimes we would have a festival honoring an actor, filmaker or genre. Though we had some real quirky things like a John Waters film festival (with Waters coming to town), a Worst Film festival and our most infamous "Lesbian Vampire Double Feature (one of our most sucessful programs ever!) On a differnt note, we hosted the SC premiere of the restored version of Able Gances' epic Napoleon.

    What really was the begaining of the end for us was when another committee brought the touring production of "Evita" to Columbia to the Township. Since "Annie" had been a mega hit for them the year before, they expected Evita to do as well. Unfotrtunately,they learned the hard way that Columbia would spend $$$ to see a musical about a cute red head orphan, but not the wife of a South American dictator and they lost their shirts.

    The lossess were so baf that the committee chairman was forced to resign and all of the other committees had their budgets slashed to make up the difference, We went from 7 to five nights a week of movies for the remainder of the semester, most from the school's collection. The next year we went back to 7 but the budget was still less than what it had been and the program continued to decline and the came VCRs and the rest is history.

    At least some of the legacy of the old Cineamatic Arts Committee lives on. The Nicklelodeon was started by former members of the committee.


    22 Feb 09 at 11:40 am

  2. Y'all done good!


    23 Feb 09 at 2:05 am

  3. Hard to believe, but they now have academic team tournaments in there, as the USC Challenge is held in the theater every year, the opening, along with the finals.


    23 Feb 09 at 4:58 pm

  4. The Russell House theater had been operating as a "second run" or dollar theater by the time I started working for USC's Tech Services in 1992 as a projectionist (amongst many, many other things).

    We had a 16mm projector that we'd use show art/classics in one of the ballrooms from time to time. The sound was generally as bad as the print.

    The first time I saw the Rocky Horror Picture Show was on that 16mm surrounded by costumed crazies. I wondered why nobody wanted that shift. Let's Do The Time Warp Again. Indeed.

    I also showed the entire Star Wars trilogy one weekend. Han Shot First.

    It was a decent gig, asides from the fact that the exhaust vent from China Wok (Manchu Wok?) emptied into the hallway next to the projection booth. Only massive amounts of cigarette smoke could mask the smell of hot grease and cheap, cheap food.

    We could earn almost triple pay by assembling and taking down other prints while the movie was showing.

    I vividly remember picking up the entire weekend schedule when everyone else had something better to do (like working local crew at a concert) and the movie was Groundhog Day.

    2 shows Thursday, 2 shows Friday and 2 shows Saturday. Groundhog Day.

    I nearly lost my mind.

    The other great things about working for Technical Services at the Russell house (asides from the friendship of the other misfits working there) was having a sub-master key and being able to get away with parking out by the loading dock any time of day.

    Good times.


    2 Apr 09 at 3:17 pm

  5. When I was around 10 or 11 in 1965/66 I saw so many truly classic films I never would have seen otherwise - this was the era where fuzzy Channel 25 WOLO would show the same MGM classic movie cut to shreds 2, sometimes 3 times a day. I guess I made friends w/ whoever admitted the students at Russell House and have vivid memories of seeing for the first time movies like The Misfits, The African Queen, Casablanca, many foreign & avant garde films I never saw on TV or at theatres like the Ritz (my favorite downtown 1st run theatre). I remember in the 1970s Brian dePalma insulted the audience and SC, basically calling us dumb hicks (I forget which of his films they showed, but he was too violent & nihilistic for me). I didn't have the knowledge of film I have today but knew I'd see something great in that theatre and enjoyed sitting with the college students. Columbia was somehow separated from the outside world then - a kind of cultural bubble - Russell House movies were a glimpse of something outside. The world is different now of course.


    7 Jul 10 at 4:00 am

  6. I remember the John Waters couldn't go anywhere without seeing a bill for it nor could you open the Gamecock without seeing a story about it. Being young, naive and from Bennettsville....which was a million miles from anywhere....I had pretty much no idea what JW was about. Watched "Pink Flamingos" and thought that my Grandmother would be disappointed in me! I also saw "Eating Raoul" and "Attack of the Killer Tomatos".

    Scott Johnson

    30 Aug 10 at 8:46 am

  7. I was one of the people behind John Waters week. We actually had him come to the theatre and give a lecture. I had a chance to spend some time with the filmaker and ask him some questions. Waters was very nice and polite and wore lavender hush puppies.

    A year or two ago I took my wife to see Pink Flamingos at the Nick. I told someone about our John Waters week at USC and that my visit with him and was was mobbed by people who wanted to hear more. (which was at once both flattering and creepy.)


    30 Aug 10 at 12:34 pm

  8. I hate to nitpick but I noticed that lobby in the main post is missing a second b


    5 Jul 11 at 11:51 am

  9. Fixed..


    5 Jul 11 at 11:56 am

  10. 1986-7 - first place i ever saw original Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, Pink Floyd's The Wall, and...the first and only time I ever saw Emmanuelle in Bangkok

    got kicked out

    9 May 18 at 9:19 pm

  11. She had better oompa loompas..


    10 May 18 at 12:11 am

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