Archive for June, 2009

What’s old is new, and what’s new is even newer

It’s a comfortable May evening at Discovery Green, not too hot, and not too cool. Skies are clear, without a hint of rain – in short, a perfect evening for outdoor entertainment. Surrounding the gently sloping hill of the Green, are the towering downtown structures, some still under construction, and backed to the rear by the George R. Brown Convention Center.

The entertainment of the evening comes in two forms: Live music, as supplied by the Two Star Symphony, and a movie, the latter being the Harold Lloyd silent comedy, “Girl Shy.” It is a combined effort, as the band supplies the musical accompaniment to this film. It is a great means of discovery for the audience, many whom have never seen a Lloyd film before, or heard the Two Star Symphony – and certainly not both at the same time.

It’s been along time since Harold has visited Houston’s downtown district. “Girl Shy” was released in 1924, just a few years before “The Jazz Singer” brought an end to the silent era. I would gamble that it has not been shown anywhere downtown since that time, meaning that it has taken 85 years to make a comeback. For the Discovery Green audience, it is as fresh and funny as it was when it was first released. What’s old is new.

And the music, the fresh approach, quite unlike what might have been played decades earlier, is even newer. Here, then, is the perfect match of the past and the present. For the people at KUHF and Discovery Green, who have planned this and other similar events, it is a successful way to bring a nearly forgotten era of the movies back to life.

During the teens and twenties, the streets of downtown Houston were populated with dozens of theatres, ranging from the early nickelodeons to the massive palaces such as the Metropolitan and Loew’s State (both of which were located a mere 6 blocks from Discovery Green). All are gone now, with the exception of the old Ritz Theatre, which is now used for live functions under the name of the Majestic Metro. The Discovery Green setup, with its inflatable screen and video projection, is a far cry from the old palaces, designed to hold 2,500 people, and built with disappearing orchestra pits.

The crowd doesn’t seem to miss it, instead being comfortable on foldout chairs or picnic blankets. It’s a very different time, and the fact that there is a large turnout for this old, silent, black and white comedy, speaks volumes. What’s old is new, and it is well received for that very reason, as will likely be on June 5 for the presentation of “Metropolis,” with music by the Golden Hornet Project.

And hopefully there will be more to come. Harold would be proud.


Cinema Houston celebrates a vibrant century of movie theatres and moviegoing in Texas’s largest city. This weblog is a companion to the Book, Cinema Houston: From Nickelodeon to Megaplex (University of Texas Press, 2007), and website, www.CinemaHouston.net.

David Welling is a writer and artist who lives in Houston with his wife and two children. His lifelong interest in movies (and the places that show them) led to the writing of Cinema Houston, which included fifteen years of research, and its subsequent website.