Public Domain Theater (a random childhood memory)

When I was a kid in the early 1980s, the public library had a children’s movie program once a week during the summer. My mom, and I think most of the other parents who took advantage of it, would drop us off at the library and go do her shopping or whatever other errands she needed to run, while we sat in a darkened wing of the library and watched movies.

I’m guessing they were legally only allowed to show things that  were in the public domain. Because everything they showed was old. Some of it as old as the 1920s.

Sometimes they would show silent movies and cartoons, which was a problem because the audience included children too young to read. The older children were expected to read it out loud for the younger ones.

Many of the cartoons I saw there, I later learned were so old that they were significant in the development of animation!

Things I can remember seeing there:

  • Lotte Reiniger’s Cinderella – 1922 silent, black and white “cartoon” where all the characters are just black silhouettes. You can imagine how this confused the hell out of a bunch of 80s kids.
  • Max and Dave Fleischer’s Gulliver’s Travels – 1939 technicolor feature film, the first such released by a non-Disney studio. The high budgets of this and their only other feature, Mr. Bug Goes to Town, contributed to the Fleischer studio losing its independence and becoming part of Paramount.
  • Lev Atomanov’s The Snow Queen – 1957 animated feature from the USSR. The fact that this got an American dub release in 1959, with an all-star cast, seems like it must have been a triumph of Cold War diplomacy.
  • Some weird, silent (but color?!) thing with puppets.

Question to my librarian friends, do ya’ll still do stuff like this?

 

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