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The Smith Opera House presents The Final Show

The Final Show movie poster
The original movie poster for the film The Final Show

On Friday, December 2, the Smith Opera House in Geneva is going to screen a film. That, in and of itself, is not out of the ordinary, but a significant portion of The Final Show was shot in The Smith Opera House.

Joe Janowicz made a career traveling the world making promotional films for Eastman-Kodak. In 1977, he had an idea for a film of his own and he went to his friend Linn Smeal, who owned a Rochester movie theatre, to ask his advice.

“I said, Linn, I’d like to make a movie about a ghost in a movie theatre and this is a great theatre that you have, but it’s not as big and grandiose as the old theatres. I mean, his theatre was built in the late forties, The Riviera. He said, ‘Gee. I have a movie theatre in Geneva.’ He was the owner of this theatre. He had picked it up along the way where a lot of the theatres changed hands. He owned a theatre in Auburn, I believe it was, Geneva, and I guess up in Schenectady, which was a long ride. And, I said let me check out the theatre in Geneva. So, we came for a ride and I have to say I was amazingly impressed from the moment that I first put my foot in the door and my eyes just widened up. We walked around the theatre and it was just perfect for everything that I wanted.”

As Joe says, The Smith was grandiose, but in a case of art imitating life, Geneva’s aging movie palace was in trouble.

Chris Woodworth is a professor of theatre at Hobart and William Smith Colleges and, in recent years, something of an unofficial historian of The Smith.

“There were some issues, namely the roof was leaking a lot. That was leading to massive water damage on the interior walls. The seating had seen better days. The seats were ripped. Stuffing and strings were poking out. Everything was just a bit grungy. There was a critical mass of folks in Geneva who were very much enamored of The Smith and doing what they could to keep it a going concern, but it was a struggle. It changed ownership several times between the 1950s and the late 1970s. Back taxes were owed on the building and the city was tired of the struggle and thought maybe it would make a great parking lot.”

While changing traffic patterns downtown and changing entertainment habits meant The Smith had fallen on hard times, Geneva residents did step up when it came to hosting an out-of-town film company.

“Most of the actors were Rochester area actors, most of whom have passed away or subsequently moved away. But, at the end of the film, I don’t want to offer up any spoilers because I’m hoping that folks will come and see this. There was a scene at the end of the film or a series of scenes at the end of the film that necessitated some larger groups of people, and so folks from Geneva stepped up, stepped in to play extras to play some of that crowd.”

The Final Show is, in the words of Joe Janowicz, a suspense, horror, mystery movie about an endangered movie palace and the ghost that saves it. The Smith, fortunately, survived thanks to the efforts of a small, but dedicated corp of individuals who established it as a non-profit organization that cares for and manages The Smith to this day.

It’s a mission that filmmaker Janowicz approves of because ultimately The Final Show is all about the love of the experience of seeing a film in a grand old movie palace.

“I recall going upstairs to the balcony. That was one of my favorite things. I always loved going to the balcony because as a kid I’d throw popcorn off of the balcony. Oops! Cut that, alright? As a kid I would just love to sit up in the balcony. It was almost like you were sitting in a cloud. I tried to sit in the front row of the balcony so there’d be nobody in front of me. You could just see the big screen and it was like, ‘Oh, my God. Look at that big screen. Ooh, there’s people down below.’ This theatre had that.”

The Final Show screens at The Smith Opera House in downtown Geneva, Friday, December 2 at 7:30 p.m. Filmmakers Joe and Debbie Janowicz will be on hand for a question and answer session following the film. Professor Woodworth will also introduce a new episode of The Smith’s Ghost Light tours video series on the making of the film. More information is at The Smith Opera House website.

Kelly Walker started his public radio career at WBAA in West Lafayette, Indiana in 1985 and has spent some time in just about every role public broadcasting has to offer. He has spent substantive time in programming and development at KWMU in St. Louis, WFIU in Bloomington, Indiana, and Troy Public Radio in Alabama before his arrival in Geneva, New York. In addition, his work has been heard on many other public radio stations as well as NPR. Kelly also produces The Sundilla Radio Hour, which airs Sundays at 1 p.m. on Finger Lakes Public Radio and is distributed to public radio stations all over the country through PRX.