Paul Wilson: What's that Skyfall blockbuster doing at the old Westdale Theatre?

The Westdale Theatre, last single-screen theatre in Hamilton and usually home to the little pictures, scored a big one this week with Bond. They're moving a lot of popcorn.
The old Westdale doesn't get line-ups like this every night. As for the A, L and E, they surrendered quite some time ago. (Paul Wilson/ CBC)

James Bond really creamed the competition this past weekend. Skyfall brought in nearly $90 million across North America, more than the other nine on the Top Ten list combined.

Shirt on and off, he conquered the crowds everywhere he went – and that included the Westdale, Hamilton’s last single-screen house.

The theatre, which opened in 1935, is not used to such blockbusters. Even though it’s big – 498 seats – the Westdale is generally the place for the little picture. Recent gems would be Moonrise Kingdom and Searching for Sugar Man.

On a big Saturday night at the Westdale, there might usually be a hundred people. Your favourite seat is always available.

Bond, however, put double that number in the house. But how did he end up there?

Sony was on side

"Thank Sony," says Geoffrey Tresidder, 30, who manages the Westdale along with veteran projectionist Jim Mair.

It's a little team at the Westdale, but they know how to keep the popcorn line moving. (Paul Wilson/ CBC)

Sony is the distributor for this picture and it snapped up every screen it could get. Ninety per cent of those theatres are digital. But The Westdale is that endangered species, still running the big reels of film.

"And Sony bought us a print, one specifically for the Westdale," Tresidder says. "They thought this was a good theatre." He figures that print would cost $1,500 to $3,000.

"And when I opened the can, I got goosebumps," he says. "It said Scope print." That’s a way of putting a wider, more vivid picture on the film stock.

"And sometimes the prints we get are really beaten up," Tresidder says. "It makes you want to cry. But Skyfall was a brand-new print. It looks really good up there on the screen."

Yes, it does.

It's a gamble

But The Westdale had to take a gamble with Bond. Sony insisted that in return for that beautiful new print, The Westdale would run the picture for two full weeks, whether the house gets nearly empty or not.

Theatre co-manager Geoffrey Tresidder, in his best tie, does front-door crowd control for Bond. (Paul Wilson/ CBC)

"You never know how fast a picture is going to drop off," Tresidder says. "But Skyfall seems to hit the right demographic, from teenage boys who want to see explosions to my mother’s friends who like Albert Finney." (He’s the gamekeeper with the snowy beard, and does not take his shirt off.)

Maybe some who paid $17.50 to see Bond at Silver City now need a second viewing. At $10, The Westdale is the place for that. The history comes free.


(The Westdale doesn’t get a lot of TLC from its Toronto owners, but they do keep the lights on. Ward One councillor Brian McHattie wants to make sure the theatre remains part of the Westdale community and has recently written to the owners. He hasn’t heard back yet. You can read of his efforts in this CBC Hamilton story.)

Read more CBC Hamilton stories by Paul Wilson here.