Amid the everyday bustle of Thayer St., Avon Cinema stands out as a relic of a bygone era. The incandescent marquee with hand-placed letters broadcasting the day’s films and their showtimes adorn the art deco building — a theatrical welcome hard to find in the current age of multiplexes. You still have to buy tickets in-person at the concession stand. Their popcorn is made in a machine that looks right out of the 1940s. A red velvet curtain, which still operates on its original motor, opens up every showing to reveal the theater’s single screen. To Avon owner Richard Dulgarian, these nostalgic elements are not a gimmick, but rather an affirmation of what makes movies and theaters so special in the first place.
“I'm going for the nostalgic feel,” said Dulgarian. “Over the years, I've been to other older theaters (with) single screens. And when different generations (of owners) wind up in the same building they clash.” Dulgarian noted how sometimes, an old theater could have modern additions, like track lighting on the walls, that ruin the authenticity of the experience.
“But these little touches I think make you feel like you've gone back in time,” he added. “For someone … it's like, ‘oh, this is how it must have been 80 years ago.’ And for your grandfather, … it's like, ‘I remember this.’”
Dulgarian’s grandfather opened the Avon in 1938; the theater has remained in the family since.
The theater has also retained much of its original equipment, such as its curtain motor. “Aside from the fact that I lube it now and then and add a little transmission fluid to the motor, the thing just keeps running,” said Dulgarian.
It’s not just the aesthetic of the theater that stays true to its original vision, but also the types of films that the Avon shows. Framed on the wall of the theater, a newspaper clipping dated February 14, 1938 from The Providence Journal advertises the opening of the Avon with its first showing, an obscure French film titled “The Life and Loves of Beethoven.” The Avon carries this ethos with it today — Dulgarian emphasized the unique and intellectual films the Avon continues to show.
“It's a sort of thing that after a movie, you go to Meeting Street Cafe and over a cup of coffee, you discuss it with whoever you saw it with,” he said.
The Avon has often been the first place in Providence to show critically acclaimed and independent films on the big screen. In the past year alone, films such as, “Drive my Car,” “The Worst Person in the World,” “The French Dispatch” and “Licorice Pizza” have all been shown at the theater, which to Avon patrons like Andrew Rovinsky ’25, is “special.”
“It’s genuinely one of my favorite movie experiences, it’s a really good vibe,” Rovinsky said. “These movies you’re watching aren’t these big corporate blockbusters, you’re watching these very authentic films, which a lot of the time you wouldn’t get to see in a mainstream theater.”
Dulgarian emphasized the community created by the independent theater experience. “We, as a species, need people. I don't think we operate well isolated, so it's another excuse for all of us to get together. Even though we don't know each other, at least, we know that we all have the same love of a type of film, which is, I think, unique to a single screen theater,” Dulgarian said.
Rovinsky echoed this sentiment, saying, “It’s an experience. It’s a fun thing you can do with friends. It isn’t just a thing that’s dying, I think there will always be a place for going to the movie theater.”
In addition to new releases, the Avon hosts many special event screenings. Brown Motion Pictures rents out the Avon at the end of every semester to screen their student-produced films for an audience. Josie Bleakley ’23, one of BMP’s managing directors, cites this as one of the most important events for the club.
Bleakley emphasized the gratification student filmmakers feel when they’re able to see their own films shown on a big screen. “I think one of the best things we get to do as young filmmakers is to come together like this and appreciate all that everyone has put into it,” she said.
Bleakley and Rovinsky both spoke of the Avon as an important place for them during their first semesters at Brown and a place to make friends with like-minded student moviegoers.
“It’s a really great business and organization that gives an opportunity to collaborate with students, and they fill a really important niche,” said Bleakley.
The Avon plans their showings and events on a week by week basis, Dulgarian said. The theater has a programmer who works with film distributors to find films best suited for the Avon audience, which is a mix of students on College Hill and the general population of Providence, he added. “I have staff working here that thinks we should concentrate more on the student population, their tastes. It may evolve into that at some point … But it's something I leave to my film programmer, I just think he's got the pulse on these things better than I do,” he said.
This constant shift of new films and events is what makes Dulgarian love the Avon as much as he does. “I love it here because there's always something new. … It's a new film, it's a new poster, it’s a new theme, it's a new concept, it's a new audience,” he said. “And if you don't like it personally, wait a week, there's something else that is exciting … I don't know what's coming, but I know it'll be interesting and thought provoking.”
And for students such as Rovinsky, the Avon sticks out as something special.
“Go to the movies, go to the Avon,” Rovinksy said. “It’s a good time.”
Finn Kirkpatrick is a senior staff writer in the arts & culture section. He is a sophomore from Los Angeles, California intending to study Comparative Literature who likes to review movies and other things of that sort.