For Moviegoers and Film Buffs Alike
During the “golden age” of film appreciation at the University of Wisconsin, students lined up for Movietime.
This wildly popular series of the 1960s and 70s screened hundreds of films: Westerns, social-protest films, psychological dramas, musicals, epics, documentaries, rock films, comedies, tragedies, and classics.
Movietime evolved out of a longstanding interest in film at the UW; students founded the Wisconsin Film Society in 1948. Movietime claimed the intimate Fredric March Play Circle at Memorial Union as its regular venue, and organizers were proud to have featured almost every major director from the sound era — from Chaplin, to Fellini, to Hitchcock.
“The Play Circle is not bound, as the overwhelming majority of student Union film programs elsewhere are, to a rigid diet of recent, popular films,” a 1973 Film Committee manifesto explained. “Popular films are not excluded, but they are mixed with revivals of the classics, unjustly neglected American and foreign films, as well as films which have never played Madison.”
The spring 1961 series, then called Movie Time Previews, included nine films (with newsreels). It attracted students with a big pitch: “Distinguished Foreign Films; Films You Missed; Films You Want to See Again.” Those wishing to avoid crowds were advised to attend Friday and Saturday afternoons. Matinees cost 40 cents for Union members; and evening and weekend tickets cost 50 cents.
By 1971, interest in film was at its height, and the number of movies shown on campus doubled. Prices rose again — Movietime films were now 78 cents each — and the Play Circle series split in two. Movietime I showed lesser-known art films twice a week; Movietime II, was, according to The Daily Cardinal, a “showcase for big blockbuster movies which helped pay for the invariably unprofitable Movietime I.”
By 1973, fall semester attendance rocketed up to 31,000 admissions.
Michael Wilmington (attended 1965 to 1968), one of the era’s student film leaders — later the Chicago Tribune’s chief film critic — recalls what drove this era at the UW: “Violence in the world and on campus made people want to gather together, to retreat into fantasy. … All of us were predisposed to the easy, cheap entertainment of movies.”
Student film societies declined precipitously in the 1970s, and the Movietime name has been retired. But the UW’s oldest film society endures — today’s it’s the Wisconsin Union Directorate Film Committee.