Movies on the Roof - A History
Over the 9 days leading up to our Final Season Premier, we’re posting some memories from each of our first 9 seasons. Feel free to enjoy, comment, share your own experiences, and post any pictures you have!
Year 1: 2010
We started Movies on the Roof in 2010, when the City of Chicago cancelled the Grant Park Summer Movie Series. One of the reasons we moved to our building in 2004 was the close proximity to the Grant Park movies, so we were understandably devastated. But then we realized we could just do it ourselves!
The spring of 2010 was spent experimenting with what we would need to pull this off. The Ramford House motto* meant we wanted to make our little screenings as professional-seeming as possible. We rented a popcorn maker for opening night, and made sure we had plenty of snacks and drinks on-hond. We’d built that first screen frame from PVC (it was aspect-ratio adjustable!).
(* Ramford House words: “We don’t f*ck around”)
We remembered sitting in Grant Park and listening to the same 6 songs play on repeat every week all summer long before the movies, and decided to do better. We created custom playlists for each movie, from the top hits of its release year.
Since this had to be more than just a movie screening, we keep adding more content: a talk about the importance of each movie, then a pre-show of newsreels and cartoons to set context. Once we started we knew couldn’t stop. We made T-shirts, and had an official sponsor (https://www.moviepostershop.com/) who donated posters for each movie. We even built our first website before our first night (http://www.ramfordhouse.com/MotR/archive/2010/).
Rebecca Fons cut our first trailer together, setting an incredibly high bar for the next nine years. We’ll never understand how she pulled that magic together and it’s awesome! It added a level of polish that delighted us.
Coming up with the list of movies was a fun and vigorous exercise. We developed the few guidelines that we still adhere to today: American Classic Cinema, which means nothing newer than 20 years old. Each movie should be great on its own, and important to film history, but also entertaining and unlikely to leave the audience feeling regret over spending their Tuesday night with us. The visibility to the public was a slight consideration as well: there’s a reason more - ahem - mature content never made it onscreen.
The program each summer aims to a wide range, ideally representing each decade from the 1920s or 1930s through the early 1990s. Not every movie has to be well known, and we tried to sneak in a couple of movies in each summer that we love and would be new to most people.
Though we didn’t have a ‘theme’, we did enjoy finding movies that talk to each other, for example “A Fistful of Dollars” and “The Searchers” from our first year.
What better movie to start with, of course, than “Casablanca”? It’s the epitome of “classic” but as each generation finds it, they recognize the sheer entertainment of it. It’s beautiful, thrilling, romantic, and hilarious. The preshow was choppy, the intro was unrehearsed, we had a little sprinkle of rain, but it was a success!
Other highlights from the first year: discovering how funny “It Happened One Night” still is after nearly 80 years, feeling the whole roof jump at “Wait Until Dark”, and putting “Ghosbusters” in the film pantheon with the rest of the classics. By the end, we knew we would do it again in 2011.
The 2010 List:
2 A Fistful of Dollars
3 Singin' in the Rain
4 On the Waterfront
5 It Happened One Night
6 The Killers
7 Wait Until Dark
8 The Searchers
9 The Philadelphia Story
10 Touch of Evil
12 The Manchurian Candidate
13 The Sting