In 1969, a group of Trinity College students hung up two bedsheets side by side in an unused auditorium in the basement of the Clement Chemistry Building and projected a movie onto their makeshift screen. The next movie they wanted to screen was in ultra-wide CinemaScope, so they had to buy two more sheets.
Forty years later, that auditorium has evolved into Hartford's premier art-house and vintage-film theater, Cinestudio. The venue is beloved by local movie fans not just for its usually flawless selection of classic and contemporary top-tier films but also for its look, which calls to mind movie houses of old.
"The '40s and '50s were the pinnacle of motion-picture entertainment," says James Hanley, who was in that first audience in 1969 and still co-manages the theater today. "It was the last bastion of real cinema."
Those theaters were the inspiration for the interior design for Cinestudio; the exterior of the building, built in 1935, was designed by the legendary architectural firm McKim, Mead and White.
Among these vintage design features are the 485-seat theater's proscenium arch and curved balcony, and the fan shape of the interior of the auditorium.
Cinestudio's deep red walls and spectacular gold Austrian shade curtain were inspired by Hanley's fond memories of the Casino Cinema in London, which he attended as a child.
"There's just something about red and gold. It's so theatrical," he says. "There's a sense of fantasy and reality combined.
"The red lights outside Cinestudio are the only red lights on the campus," he says. "We wanted people to be able to find us who'd never been here before."
The cinema's most distinctive feature — its lion logo, which is seen on the walls, on the carpets and on all promotional literature published by the theater — was, appropriately, borrowed from a film starring Hartford's own Katharine Hepburn.
"We really wanted a carpet with an insignia on it. That was so classic," Hanley says. "We were showing 'The Lion in Winter,' and it had in it a "lion courant," a public domain heraldic device. We said, 'We gotta have that.'"
The student committee running the theater special-ordered the carpet, deep red with gold running lions. It was perfect.
"The lion has become the theater's identity," Hanley says. "To the community, it symbolizes Cinestudio."