Christopher P. Jacobs goes to a movie nearly every night. Nice thing about it, he doesn’t have to go far. No starting his car, no drive across town, no ticket to buy.
After dinner in his Grand Forks home, he simply goes downstairs and settles into one of the 20 old (but very comfy) movie seats lined up in four rows in his private theater where friends, neighbors and film students often join him.
The other night, in Chris’ theater, he sat right down front while Jim and I and a couple more friends were in rows two and three. We watched and thoroughly enjoyed “How Green Was My Valley,” a 1941 film that was nominated for 10 Academy Awards. It won three: Best Picture, Best Director and Best Supporting Actor.
After being in Chris’ home theater, I nominate him for two Academy Awards: Home Theater Auditorium Excellence and Best Looney Tunes cartoon from 1941.
I first met Chris years ago when I worked in the features department at the Grand Forks Herald and he was a free-lance writer of movie reviews. He has made a couple of full length feature films himself and knows so much about movies and films and projectors and quality and sound that he teaches Intro to Film and The Art of Moviemaking at the University of North Dakota.
Chris’ love for it all started during his younger years when for more than two decades he worked in theaters where he came to truly appreciate the top quality and sound commercial theaters provide for their customers.
It was after Chris’ house was flooded in 1997 that the flood gates of his home theater dream/project were flung open like never before.
“I’ve had my current HD video setup in the auditorium since 2008,” Chris said, “but I had a semi-permanent screen with about 15 old theatre seats (from the balcony of the old Dakota Theatre when it was torn down) for watching movies on 8mm and 16mm film since high school and college in the 1970s. I added 35mm film capability from about 1989 through the flood of 1997, which destroyed almost everything.”
After completing flood cleanup, Chris swapped things around a bit in the basement. First, he moved the theater area to a different room, and “I switched from film to mainly video projection of DVDs around 2002,” he said, “with HD projection of Blu-rays in 2008, the same year I finally re-installed new wall paneling over the bare studs that were empty since the flood.”
Chris also put in the main section of 12 theatre seats from the old Forx Theatre when it was torn down, and in 2009, he built risers for slight “stadium seating,” he added. “In 2012, I also got some additional old theatre seats from Michigan, N.D.” It was also about that time that Chris added aisle lights, a wider screen, movable drapes, and the capability of projecting 3-D movies in 3-D.
It was after the addition of the HD projector and then the Blu-ray player that Chris felt like he was back in the theaters he worked in first as a manager and then in the projection booth. “It’s not difficult to get addicted to seeing movies projected from Blu-rays onto a big screen,” he said. “Since there are no dedicated ‘art-house.’ or revival cinemas in the area, I like to think of this as a successor to the old film society years with a regular core audience of people who appreciate off-beat, non-mainstream films and have a shared experience watching and discussing them. It’s that theatrical experience and large high-quality picture that makes a difference many people are no longer accustomed to and no longer realize was actually a critical part of how older films were intended to be seen, rather than on fuzzy TV or YouTube video copies.”
Chris’ typical audience is usually from three to five people. “I think my biggest audience has been 11 total,” he said, “with several movies having seven or eight, most recently Ingmar Bergman’s ‘Wild Strawberries,’ and the Oscar nominee, ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel.’ I usually have one or two double-features every week on the monthly schedule I email out, but I often watch something almost every night. I just finished watching the1931 version of ‘The Maltese Falcon.’ There are a few people who try to come over for at least one movie every week or two, others every month or two, and still others a few times per year. A friend from Brainerd, Minn., even tries to drive to Grand Forks once or twice a year whenever I do a weekend marathon.”
Now, let’s return to, “How Green Was My Valley,” one of the thousands of movies Chris has in his library on DVD or Blu-ray.
I wasn’t around in 1941, but I’m guessing the picture we saw on Chris’ screen was as sharp or sharper than it was on a theater screen 74 years ago.
“How Green Was My Valley,” stars several old beautiful and handsome actors: Walter Pidgeon, Maureen O’Hara, Anna Lee, Donald Crisp, and Roddy McDowall. It’s about the Morgans, a close, hard-working Welsh mining family living in the heart of the South Wales Valleys in the 19th century. The story chronicles the destruction of the environment in South Wales’ coal fields and the loss of a way of life and the effects that had on the Morgan family. It is a tremendous movie and deserves all the academy awards it won.
We had a great time watching a classic movie in Chris’ home theater. And there was yet another perk – we got to take our own popcorn.