The news that Harvard Square’s only mainstream movie theater will close in early July was met with sadness by Cambridge residents and Harvard students this week.
In the wake of the announcement that the AMC cinema chain will shutter the theater, community members recalled the theater’s history, from its 1920s beginning to its 28-year tradition of midnight showings of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.” The showings are organized by the Full Body Cast, a rotating group of actors that perform along with the screening of the film.
Students especially decried the loss of the cinema because of its convenient location, just across the street from the Yard.
“My friends and I really hate going into Boston to see movies,” said Henry B. Regan ’15, a Cambridge resident who estimated that he went to the theater two or three times a month. “It’s going to be tough to see movies during the school year.”
According to Sarah L. Burks, a preservation planner for the Cambridge Historical Commission, the theater was built in 1925 as the University Theater. In its original incarnation, the theater was a single-screen cinema with a stage and balcony. Numerous stage plays and musical groups performed at the theater; according to a 1986 Boston Globe article, the venue hosted Bob Dylan, the Clash, Bonnie Raitt, Tom Waits, Hall and Oates, and Bruce Springsteen.
Burks said that major architectural changes took place in 1982, when the marquee moved from Mass. Ave. to Church Street. The single screening room was divided in two.
Ned R. Hinkle, creative director at the Brattle Theater in Harvard Square, said that the number of screens increased to five when Loews purchased the theater in the late 1980s.
“They started playing more Hollywood movies,” Hinkle said. “I used to go to the Harvard Square when I was in high school and see these amazing double features. It was somewhat similar to the Brattle, but its focus was more on cult films.”
Cambridge resident Remy R. Prevost, a Harvard Law School library employee, said that he was disheartened to learn that the Full Body Cast’s longtime midnight showings of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” would have to find a new location.
“That’s an established thing,” Prevost said. “I was born and raised here, and I remember going there in high school in 1989 just to see what it was all about.”
Originally, the FBC's midnight showings were at the Exeter Street Theater in Boston. In 1984, when that cinema closed, the Full Body Cast moved the ritual screenings to Harvard Square.
During the screenings, FBC members provide an energetic interpretation of the onscreen action. Viewers are treated to bawdy skits, sarcastic commentary on the dialogue, and shouted instructions for performing the “Time Warp,” the film's signature dance.
Those who have not attended a midnight screening before are labelled as “Rocky Horror virgins.” Before the show begins, they will be labelled with a “V” drawn in lipstick and brought to the front of the auditorium to have their virginity symbolically taken.
FBC member Arthur F. Laurie, who has been performing with the group since its Exeter Street Theater days, said that he was struck by the beauty of the Harvard Square Theater when the FBC moved there.
“Eventually it just became one of the places you went to in Harvard Square, like the Coop or the [Out of Town news],” Laurie said.