Classic movies hit the big screen

Aitkin’s Rialto Theatre shows a marquee proclaiming its next show. The movie theater will be showing a mix of classic films through the end of July due to film production being stopped because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The theater hopes to pick up first-run films again.

If there is one staple to the summer, it’s the summer box office slate.

This year, things are different. Kirk Peysar, who runs the Rialto Theatre in Aitkin, explained just how much changed when the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

“Going into the COVID situation, the movie studios withdrew their release schedule, and pulled all these movies out of the market,” Peysar explained. “For the most part, the full summer release was pulled off the market.”

So as a response, Peysar made use of a list of re-released classic films to fill the theater’s slate for June and July, bringing in a number of different hits.

“This is a response to the world, to the movie industry,” Peysar said. “It’s not normal that we’d bring in a slate of what they call repertory product, or what they call the classics.”

Starting with the “The Wizard of Oz” last Friday, the Rialto will show a summer slate of big hits. After that, Peysar said he is hopeful Disney will release the live-action remake of “Mulan” July 24.

Taking a look at the summer slate, the Rialto kicks off with “The Wizard of Oz” – the 1939 release with Judy Garland.

“We thought that would be a great one to start off with,” explained Peysar. Garland was originally from Grand Rapids, and performed on stage at the old opera house in what is now the Historic Butler Building.

“That was live theater, traveling troupes,” Peysar said. “Judy Garland performed there as a very young person, and probably a number of times.”

“Wizard” will run through June 25. Next on the slate is “E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial.”

Peysar said he had been working at the theater for six years when the hit classic came out.

“It was huge,” Peysar said. “‘E.T.’ was a favorite everywhere. I enjoyed it.”

After “E.T.,” “Grease” will be coming to the theater July 3 – right before the holiday weekend.

“Back in those years, they were doing a set of musicals,” Peysar said. “We had ‘Saturday Night Fever,’ ‘Grease,’ and there was ‘Tommy.’”

Following the musical classic is the Prince classic, “Purple Rain,” on July 10. Prince, of course, grew up in Minnesota and died here as well. The pop star recorded numerous scenes for the film in the state, as well.

“There are a lot of scenes that took place at The First Avenue, which is downtown Minneapolis,” Peysar said.

To round out the schedule, one of the biggest movie hits of all time – the Spielberg/Williams classic “Jaws” – will hit the big screen.

“Can’t you just hear the music?” Peysar said. “That movie came out the year I started working at the movie theater.”

“I’ve seen ‘Jaws’ in excess of 40 times,” he added.

After that, Peysar expects to continue mixing re-releases with new films. He said bringing previous hits back to the big screen is a special delight, giving people a chance to see films they may have only previously seen on television or DVD.

“Movies are made for that, the big-screen format,” Peysar said. “You kind of have to (channel) the phrase, ‘the show must go on.’”

Closed for three full months due to the pandemic, Peysar is excited to get people back in the seats, though health guidelines will limit seating to about 68 people for social distancing. He is planning extra showings to allow for more people to come.

“It feels right to come back with some of the greatest and most popular movies,” he said. For more on movie times, etc., call the theater at 218-927-2824.

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