My Last Night At The Rialto

Last night was my final shift working at the Rialto Theatre in Raleigh.

A little back story: I first started working at the Colony Theater, owned by Ambassador Entertainment, in late 2009. I had previously worked at the Varsity Theater in Chapel Hill throughout most of the 2000’s, but quit when I got married and moved to Raleigh earlier that year.

It must also be noted that the Varsity was closing down then, which I wrote about in this blog post: My Last Night At The Varsity Theater & THE HANGOVER (June 4, 2009).

The Varsity later re-opened later that year which I also blogged about: The Historic Varsity Theater In Chapel Hill NC Is Reopening! (October 26, 2009) and Visiting The New Varsity Theater On The Verge Of Its Reopening (November 23, 2009).

So I began working at the Colony Theater in December, 2009, and also started working at their sister theater, the Rialto, shortly after. Sometimes I worked at both theaters on the same day; many Fridays I worked matinees at the Colony, then went to work the evening shift at the Rialto.

Sadly, the Colony closed in late 2015. The empty space and blank marquee still remains.

After that, I continued to work at the Rialto, but am leaving now to pursue other opportunities (more on those in future blog posts). I will miss the Rialto greatly as I’ve worked with great people there, and seen many great movies via their first run roster of indies, foreign films, documentaries, and the revival series Monday at the Movies and Cinema Inc.

This last summer has been a great one for the theater as they’ve shown three superlative docs: RBG (about iconic Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg), WON’T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR? (about iconic children’s TV show host Fred Rogers), THREE IDENTICAL STRANGERS (read my review here), and Spike Lee’s excellent BLACKKKLANSMAN (read my review here).

BLACKKKLANSMAN is the movie that was playing on my last night at the 76-year old movie palace, so I highly appreciated that my final shift was in service of a great film (my last movie at the Varsity nearly a decade ago – THE HANGOVER – wasn’t so great a film to leave on).

Heres a pic of the audience waiting to see Lees latest on my last night:

I’ll still visit the Rialto and my friends there, and I’ll still post pictures of its great marquee on this blog. It’s such a grand venue; a real historic part of Raleigh that I hope will be around a long time.

In weeks to come, I’ll update you dear readers (I’m betting there’s more than one of you) with my new adventures and continue spreading Film Babble Blog goodness as I’m still going to be involved heavily with the world of movies.

Farewell Rialto! Thanks so much for all the movie memories!

More later…

The Colony Theater Closes Tomorrow So One Last Ditch Plea For Stories

fter tomorrow night’s showings of BROOKLYN (at 7:15 and 9:20) and TRUMBO (7 and 9:30), the Colony Theater in Raleigh will be ceasing operations. Tonight’s showing of the 1988 action classic DIE HARD, which I wrote about in the N & O last Friday, will be the last Cool Classics screening at the theater (the series moves to the Rialto in January).

A couple of months back after it was announced that the theater was closing, I posted asking local folks to send in their stories about their experiences with the venue, but I only posted a few of them for a few reasons.

First, there were pesky rumors that the rent might be re-negotiated or that new owners would swoop in and continue its long run as an indie theater. I didn’t really believe they were true, but I still had some small hope that the Colony could be saved.

Second, I didn’t get that many stories. My friend, Anthony Rhodes, who worked there several years ago shared several entertaining ones, and there was a funny anecdote that Brian Hill shared about going to see PULP FICTION there with a girl who was tripping on mushrooms, but mostly I got folks emailing that they were sorry that the theater was closing, and that they went to many movies there.

So, in one last ditch effort to try to job folks’ memories I posted this on Facebook today:

The Last Days of The Colony Theater Thread: I was hoping I could get folks to share their favorite movie experience at the Colony as they are closing tomorrow. I’ll start: Three or four years ago, I attended the Colony’s Cool Classics screening of Ridley Scott’s sci-fi horror classic ALIEN.

I sat up close and got more engrossed in the film than any other time I had seen it. Of course, this was largely because I had never seen it on the big screen before, but it was different this time because this time I felt like I was watching the movie back in 1979 when it first came out.

That’s right, I seriously felt transported into not just the world of the movie but the world of the theater that had probably shown the movie back then. Those who are well acquainted with the décor of the shag carpeting on the walls can probably imagine the feeling somewhat as the theater never lost its ‘70s looks. This vivid memory of that ALIEN screening is one I’ll never forget – when the Colony became a time machine.

Anybody else got a favorite movie experience at the Colony story?

Here are some responses:

Matt Pennachi (Former Cinema Overdrive Series curator): I’m not sure how to craft it into a story that is actually interesting to read, but having a chance to run SLAP SHOT on 35mm was a real thrill to me. In particular, having the opportunity to run the National Film Board of Canada cartoon of “The Sweater” (which was a childhood favorite of mine) before the film was awesome…..particularly when I had to manually chance the masking from scope to flat as we transitioned from the cartoon to the feature.

Jennifer Love (Rialto Theater Manager): When Ambassador first bought the Colony, I remember being there when the new floor carpeting was being installed and helping paint the restrooms. Someone had decided to be creative on the stalls and go for that speckled look. We had old toothbrushes and dipped them in white paint and splattered spots onto the stall walls. That’s how we did it and why there are so many different sizes of spots. I think I had more white paint splatters on me than the stalls!

I also worked matinees back when Colony ran them everyday. Food lion was being constructed next door at that time. Clif and I worked the unexpected hit, LIFE IS BEAUTIFUL and a sold out show around the holidays (can’t remember which) of SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE. just the 2 of us! I still don’t know how we did that. My favorite memories are of the midnight late shows. They played in house one: THE ABYSS, HEAVY METAL, THE SHINING and so many more. I know everyone will continue to love the Colony and all the memories made there. Good times.

Daniel Matti (Schoolkids Records Manager): I saw 13 ASSASSINS twice there. The only Takashi Miike film I’ve seen in theaters. I will miss the Colony.

Joel Frady (Fellow Film Critic): REQUIEM FOR A DREAM in 2000 –
there must have been 50 or so people in the right theater, and when the credits
rolled not a single person moved. Then, when the lights came up everyone slowly
exited – but nobody said a word. We were almost back to NC State when I finally
broke the silence with “Who wants a fucking Dairy Queen Blizzard?”

Joe Corey (Cinema Overdrive host): Fond memory of going over for a midnight screening of FASTER PUSSYCAT KILL! KILL! for the projectionist inspection. Also the joy of attending my first Cinema Overdrive and feeling at home. It was good to attend a program where I had utter trust in whatever Adam (Hulin) and Matt (Pennachi) programmed. Was so grateful for the months that I hosted the series while Adam was away.

Goodbye, Colony Theater (1972-2015). I, and many others, will miss you greatly.

More later…

The Raleigh-Cary Area Finally Gets Around To Celebrating Orson Welles’ 100th Birthday

The 100th anniversary of the birth of legendary film-maker Orson Welles was half a year ago (May 6th to be exact), but here in N.C. it’s better late than never to celebrate as special showings of some of the man’s best work are hitting local screens this month.

Earlier this month The Cary Theater in downtown Cary hosted a Cinema Studies Screening of Orson Welles’ 1957 thriller TOUCH OF EVIL, presented by the Modern School of Film, and kicked off a Sunday afternoon series of November Welles screenings with the director’s 1942 adaptation of Booth Tarkington’s 1918 novel THE MAGNIFICIENT AMBERSONS.

The Sunday series continues at The Cary with Welles’ most acclaimed film, 1941’s CITIZEN KANE on the 15th at 2 pm. I previously wrote about seeing KANE at the theater last year (my first visit to the newly refurbished venue).

The following Sunday, the 22nd, the lesser known, but still essential, THE STRANGER (1946) will be featured, and the series wraps up on the 29th with Welles’ final completed film F FOR FAKE (1973).

On Friday, November 13th, the Colony Theater in North Raleigh is opening the new 4k digital restoration of Carol Reed’s 1949 film-noir masterpiece THE THIRD MAN for a week long run. While Welles didn’t direct, many film buffs feel that his film-making fingerprints such as use of deep focus, long takes, and abstract angles are all over the sublime post-WW II thriller. There’s no doubt to his contribution in his writing of his own dialogue as the iconic Harry Lime character, especially when it comes to the famous “Cuckoo Clock” speech.

As the Colony Theater is sadly closing next month, it’s great that they’re showing such a classic piece of cinema as THE THIRD MAN before shutting down (The Colony will also be showing such notable films as THE PRINCESS BRIDE, THE WIZARD OF OZ, and DARK STAR in the weeks ahead, click here for more info).

I have to work this Sunday so I’ll be missing The Cary’s screening of CITIZEN KANE, but I will be attending The North Carolina Museum of Art’s showing of the film on Friday, November 20th. It’ll be my first visit to the redesigned SECU Auditorium, and I’m taking my 17-year old nephew Linus, who’s never seen it or much in black and white for that matter.

Last summer, I was talking to Linus about the Netflix superhero series Daredevil and how good Vincent D’Onofrio is as the villain Wilson Fisk, and I mentioned that D’Onofrio had played Orson Welles more than once (in Tim Burton’s ED WOOD, and in his own short film FIVE MINUTES, MR. WELLES, which you can watch here).

“Who’s Orson Welles?” Linus asked, and, well, I was a bit taken back. Still, as this happens a lot when I babbling about some old thing to kids who are completely disconnected to it, I dropped the subject.

More recently, Linus told me that he may want to study film in college – he’s not sure where he’ll go to college, mind you – and I said that he really ought to see CITIZEN KANE – it’s Film 101.

My first experience with Welles was seeing THE MUPPET MOVIE with my grandmother when I was 9, something I’ve written about before. Welles had a cameo in the film as the powerful head of a movie studio who signs up Kermit and gang to be stars (“prepare the standard ‘Rich and Famous’ contract for Kermit the Frog and Company

My grandmother, who is still alive, told me who Welles was – KANE, the “War of the Worlds” radio show, etc. – and the seed was planted, but it was years before I actually watched any of his work.

So now I’m attempting to pass on my Orson obsession, or, better yet, the movie-loving gene to my nephew – we’ll see how that goes.

For those of you out there that are new to Welles, there is a great documentary that came out last year, Chuck Workman’s MAGICIAN: THE ASTONISHING LIFE AND WORK OF ORSON WELLES, available now on Blu ray and DVD. It gives a fairly thorough overview of Welles career in 91 minutes, and despite its overly tidy summing up of some messy material, it makes for a good introduction to the man.

Scores of vivid vintage photographs, generous samplings of archival footage, and sound-bites from insightful interviews from the likes of Norman Lloyd, biographer Simon Callow, Steven Spielberg, Buck Henry, and Peter Bogdonavich help tell Welles’ tale, and it’s cool to see clips of Welles being portrayed by the aforementioned D’Onofrio, Christian McKay in Richard Linklater’s ME AND ORSON WELLES, Liev Schreiber in Benjamin Ross’s 1999 HBO telefilm RKO 281, and Jean Guerin in Peter Jackson’s 1994 crime drama HEAVENLY CREATURES in the mix. *

Of course, it’s the words from Welles himself that are the most notable. Some choice quotes: “I’m ashamed of Rosebud, it’s a rather tawdry device – it doesn’t stand up very well, ” “You know, I always liked Hollywood very much – it just wasn’t reciprocated,” and “I would’ve sold my soul to play THE GODFATHER, but I never get those parts offered to me.”

Well, that’s enough Welles for now. Hope to see a lot of folks coming out to see these classics on the big screen in Cary and Raleigh. And, by the way, this post is part of my new “Drag a kid to KANE” initiative. Yeah, that’s right – I’m really trying to start that as “a thing.”

* I posted about actors who’ve played Welles back in 2008 as well: A Birthday Tribute To Orson Welles With 10 Welles Wannabes (5/5/08)

More later…

Former Employee Anthony Rhodes Shares Some Colony Theater Stories

Earlier this month I posted about The Colony Theater’s closing and asked for folks to send in their stories about their experiences at the venue. I’ve only posted one so far – Brian Hill’s amusing story about seeing PULP FICTION at the Colony back in ’94 – but for this installment I’ve got several that were sent in by Anthony Rhodes, a friend who I used to work with at the theater several years ago.

Anthony, who is the front man for the Raleigh band Army of Dog (pictured above), worked at the Colony from December 2006 – March 2011. 

First up, Anthony recalls how he got his job at the theater:

“I’m a musician. I used to be an aspiring writer. I never got anything published. I wasn’t terribly good at writing. I’m better at music, I guess – I’ve had some marginal success in that world, at least. But some friends and I put out a literary journal back in 2006. It was mostly local writers, and we were proud of it. We even managed to get Quail Ridge Books to put our journal on their shelves.

Shortly after that, we created a MySpace page. And the very first friend request we got from from The Colony Theater. We of course accepted it.

A couple weeks before that, I’d fallen on hard times and I was looking for a second job. And because of that MySpace request, I messaged the theater through the literary journal page on MySpace. I asked if they had any openings.

The Colony Theater MySpace account messaged me back, and offered me a job. It was from the general manager – he was the one who’d bought our literary journal, and he’d liked it enough to send us a friend request. And that’s how I came to work at The Colony.”

This story Anthony calls “I Guess You Didn’t Realize”:

“The register wasn’t a register – it was a cash drawer, and we all had to do the math in our heads. Us employees – we had just about every price of every possible combination of everything, and the resulting change you were owed, memorized in our heads.

Unless you paid with a $50 dollar bill. Because nobody ever did that. But sometimes, people did.

People are used to handing you money and immediately getting their tickets or concessions, without pause. If as a patron, you hand us a $50 dollar bill, we didn’t have that memorized, and we had to think for a moment.

One night, such a patron handed me a $50 dollar bill when his total was going to be $16. So I took a moment to think about what his change would be, instead of immediately knowing it, had he handed me a $20 dollar bill.

He became impatient, very quickly. And he started yelling numbers at me – a counterproductive thing to do when someone is doing math in their head.

And he totally messed up my internal math, and I got it wrong. He yelled at me for it, but I quickly corrected the error, and I gave him correct change. He told me I was a fucking moron, and gave me the finger.

Now the thing about working at The Colony was, at one moment you might be at the ticket window, and the next, you might be selling concessions. Your duties ebbed and flowed with the crowd and the line (or lack thereof at the ticket window).

And so as he came inside, I found myself also taking his concession order. He seemed surprised.

‘Yeah, you didn’t know I’d be making your food too, did you?’ I said.

He looked a bit sheepish and ordered his concessions. He later came out of the movie and apologized to me, got a refill on his popcorn, and left a generous $5 in the tip jar.”

Anthony’s next recollection concerns when Godfrey Cheshire’s MOVING MIDWAY premiered at the Colony in 2007:

“In 2007 the theater hosted the premiere of the award winning documentary, MOVING MIDWAY.

The cinematographer/co-producer was present, and he was a very nice guy. We’re used to premieres like this, and often, the people behind the movie acted very entitled and aloof and treated us employees like shit. Not this guy.

He told us about his movie and answered our questions, and we talked about other movies, and other things in general.

A few months later, my Uncle Charlie died. At the graveside service, I stood a ways back, just taking it all in. A man walked up to me. He said ‘you look familiar.’ I told him he did too. I asked him his name. He said ‘I’m Jay Spain.’

I told him it didn’t ring a bell. He said he was in movies, and I asked him to name a couple as I worked at a theater – maybe our paths had crossed.

He said he produced MOVING MIDWAY. But he didn’t want to make that a thing. He was just there to pay his respects to his Uncle Charlie. My Uncle Charlie.

Jay Spain and I are cousins, and we’re still in touch now all these years later. Because of The Colony Theater and our Uncle Charlie.”

Finally, Anthony has a anecdote that he dubbs “My Dark Passenger”:

“For my five year run at the Colony, my shifts were Wednesday nights, Friday nights and Sunday afternoon. I loved working there, and I never took a shift off.

But one Christmas, after I’d been there about three years, my wife wanted to visit her family in Georgia, so I asked for the weekend off, and I was granted that.

My wife and I ended up coming back a day early, and I could have worked my normal Sunday shift. But I’d already gotten it off, and it was already covered, and not only that, I’d bought her the first season of Dexter for Christmas, so we decided I’d just stay home, and we’d watch that, instead.

Meanwhile at the theater, the first day I’d ever taken off, Michael C. Hall and his wife at the time (his sister Deborah on the show) – they came to the theater. While I was two minutes away at my house, watching the first season at home with my wife.

Son of a bitch.”

Be like Anthony! Send in your stories about the Colony to or message them to me on Facebook.

More later…

The Recollections Of The Colony Theater Series Begins

As The Colony Theater in Raleigh is going to close in December, I’ve been collecting stories from local folks about their memorable experiences there at the over 40-year old art house.

Our first recollection comes from Brian Hill, a Facebook friend who I’ve seen at many of the theater’s revival screenings such as Cinema Overdrive. Brian writes that this is his favorite story of seeing a movie at The Colony:

“Back in 1994 while I was at NC State for college, my friend and I decided to go see PULP FICTION, which was only playing at the colony. I picked her up at her dorm and we rolled over to the theatre to check out the film. On the way there, I noticed that she was acting a little weird, but not completely out of the ordinary.

We had had a beer before leaving and she was a fairly small girl so I chalked it up to that. Upon arriving at the theatre, we hit the concessions and grab a big thing of popcorn which she immediately starts woofing down like is mana from heaven. Again, odd, but not overly odd. Getting into the theatre she notices the carpeted walls and becomes mildly entranced, to the point that she walked over and petted them for a minute or two before we finally took our seats in the front row (house was packed!) This was sorta weird but I just let it go because I didn’t really know what to say about it. Finally the movie started and I figured everything was cool.

Cut to the scene of Travolta and Thurman pulling up in front of Jack Rabbit Slims. Mia looks at Vince and tells him to ‘not be a square daddy-o’ and draws the square in the air. This is depicted on screen with the dots drawing out the square. About a minute after that scene, I feel my friends hand roughly grab my arm and I look over and she is completely wide-eyed and looking mildly freaked out.

I leaned over and whispered at her to see if she was ok to which she replied, in a VERY nervous sounding tone: ‘Did you just see Uma Thurman draw a square?’ And I was, ‘yeah?’ She immediately whipped her head around and was like ‘You did????’ in a very happy/excited tone. After that, she sat back and watched the flick with no more issues and the night ended.

The next day I asked her what the deal was and she told me that before I had picked her up one of the people in her dorm had given her some mushrooms and she was tripping the whole time. And when she saw the lines on the screen she thought it was the trip and was about to freak the hell out. After she realized it was part of the movie she calmed down. To this day I think about that every time I go to the Colony (and every time I watch PULP FICTION).”

Editor’s notes: The picture at the top of the post isn’t from when PULP FICTION originally played at The Colony in ‘94 – its from a more recent Cool Classics screening of the film a few years back. Also, it always bugged me that the square that Uma draws looks more like a rectangle.

Have a story about The Colony Theater to share? Please send them to: And thanks to Zack Smith and the Indie for their shout-out in this post about the theater’s closing.

More later… 

A Call Out For Recollections Of The Colony Theater

Sadly, I just learned that The Colony Theater in North Raleigh is closing this December. This personally affects me as I have worked there since 2009, and have enjoyed many, many movies there over the years starting  with seeing THROW MOMMA FROM THE TRAIN on a date back in 1988.

At one point I had read that The Colony opened in 1969 as a Jerry Lewis Theatre (the comic actor owned a chain of theatre franchises in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s) but while some say it was owned by that company, it actually began life on December 29, 1972 as the one screen Six Forks Cinema.

In the mid ‘70s a restaurant was converted into a second theater and it was re-opened as The Terrace Twin by Bill Rawls Theatres in 1977. After performing as a second run house, owned by Martin Theaters, in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, it was restored and turned into a art-house cinema named the Colony Theaters 1 & 2 by Bill Peebles under his company Ambassador Entertainment.

This information is according to commenters on the theater website, particularly one who goes by the handle rayyson, who the my few paragraphs comes close to plagiarizing I must confess.

I’m sure that many of my local readers have good memories of attending films at the Colony, whether it was a screening at one of their great series like Cool Classics, or seeing a first run independent film in limited release, or hearing one of the countless times that somebody dropped a bottle and it noisily rolled down the floor of the theater, so I wanted to ask folks to share them with Film Babble Blog.

Email your Colony memories to They don’t have to be very long or detailed, but if the story calls for that – do it up! I’ll be sharing some of my memories in a series of tribute posts. as well over the next few months leading to the theater’s final days. 

I have been through a theater closing before with the Varsity Theater in Chapel Hill, where I worked from 2004-2009. Happily the Varsity re-opened at the end of that end year after an extensive remodeling by its new owners.

In the N & O piece linked to above, David Bracken wrote that “Hobby Properties, the owner of the center, is hoping that a new owner will lease the space and continue operating it as an independent theater, said Boss Poe, Hobby’s director of leasing and sales.” 

That would sure be great if it could remain a theater space, but for now let’s pay tribute to the grand old twin cinema with some favorite recollections. Here’s hoping to hear from you.

Oh, and in the meantime – patronize the Colony! Here’s their website with their schedule. Now playing there are a couple of fine films: SLEEPING WITH OTHER PEOPLE and PAWN SACRIFICE

Great stuff is coming up like Cinema Overdrive’s presentation of THE SLUMBER PARTY MASSACRE on Oct 14th, Cool Classics October selection THE SHINING on Oct 21st, and the final HARRY POTTER movie, HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS, PART 2 on Oct 25th.

More later…