Sierra Theatre to host trio of free, award-winning films, Templeton Rye tasting for Classics Week
By Brandon Hurley
A touch of whiskey, a dose of Marilyn Monroe and a full serving of Alfred Hitchcock converge for a trip back in time at the Sierra Theatre this week in Jefferson.
Classics Week initiates the return of “North by Northwest” and “Some Like it Hot” to the big screen, while the first-ever local showing of the documentary “Whisker Cookers,” will tantalize even the most curious of palettes, all for the incredibly low cost of not a single penny.
The five total showings the week of Jan. 20 to Jan. 26 are completely free.
Some form of the Sierra Theatre has been in operation as a local mainstay for nearly 140 years, a remarkable feat for a small, rural town in west central Iowa.
In celebration of its long-standing tradition as one of the oldest theaters in the state as well as its continued community support, the Sierra Theatre board has initiated classics week, Jan. 20-22 and Jan. 25-26.
Sierra Theatre first opened its doors in 1884 as an opera house, and through the years has continued to entertain 10s of thousands of residents. The facility’s first film was shown in 1905. It soon transitioned into the Majestic, then the Strand in 1926 before becoming the Iowa Theatre and finally settling on the Sierra Theatre name in 1976. The building has also been home to vaudeville shows, speaking engagements and even at one time, the local school house for a brief year. Movies have been continuously screened at the Sierra Theatre on East State Street since 1911, more than 120 consecutive years, an impressive feat in today’s age. The facility, at its peak, could squeeze 800 people inside its doors. The theatre now boasts a comfortable capacity of 230.
The height of movie-going was likely in the 1930s, when Iowa was home to nearly 2,000 local theaters. Since then, because of the invention of TV then VCRs, cable and DVDs before transitioning to internet and now streaming, movie theaters as a whole have slowly dwindled. But, Jefferson’s small stranglehold on nostalgia has remained strong, with a consistent flow of customers through the Sierra doors each night.
Classics Week, in essence, is an ode to a faithful community, a tip of the cap to those who have always invested in the art of film. Now is the time to recognize the committed, Sierra Theatre board member Mike Piepel said in an interview last week.
“We are giving back to the community, for all the support through the years,” Piepel said. “We are still going.”
Movie theaters, Piepel feels, are often one of the life-bloods of a small town. You lose the nightly showings and a part of the community’s soul disappears with it.
“For our town to have a theater, it’s extremely important,” Piepel said. “It’s just another avenue of entertainment for people to remember.
We want to stay here. The theater is so important to us.”
“North by Northwest,” a Alfred Hitchcock directed classic, will be shown at 7 p.m. Friday, Jan. 20 and again at 7 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 21. The Marilyn Monroe magnum opus, “Some Like it Hot,” will return to the Silver Screen at 7 p.m. on Jan. 25 and Jan. 26.
“These are two of the best films you’ll find,” Piepel said. “You can’t get much better. These movies had highly successful actors. There’s something unique about those classics.”
As Piepel alluded to, because TV wasn’t yet a big thing when these movies were released in the late ‘50s, citizens flocked to theaters for the next biggest and greatest showings. The movies will certainly provide a great deal of nostalgia for many throughout the week.
“You’d go to the movies and get lost from reality,” Piepel said. “(Even before then), movies got people through the depression. It was an escape from the hunger and poverty.”
For those unfamiliar with the classics being shown next week, movies like “Some Like it Hot” and “North by Northwest” don’t rely exclusively on computer generated action and cinematography. The art of film truly shines through. Some of the era’s biggest actors will flash on screen many times throughout the week, bringing to life some of the world’s greatest movies yet again.
Piepel believes “Some Like it Hot” is Monroe’s best film at her absolute peak, dazzling crowds with her unique aura. The mob, comedy romance also stars Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon. It’s a unique spin on a nostalgic era.
“North by Northwest” is vintage Hitchcock, a spy movie that captivates the entire audience, starring Cary Grant, Eva Marie Saint and James Mason.
The documentary “Whiskey Cookers” is sandwiched in between the showings of “North by Northwest” and “Some Like it Hot” with a viewing at 7 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 22. “Whiskey Cookers” details the enthralling story of how Templeton Rye came to be in nearby Templeton. The 2014 film documents the rise of the bootlegging industry in Carroll County and how even the legendary Al Capone became a key player in the rise of the whiskey distributor. The piece is based off the recent book, “Gentlemen Bootleggers,” written by Bryce T. Bauer.
“It’s a wonderful film about bootlegging,” Piepel said. “The documentary adds to the mystique of bootleggers and Templeton Rye.”
In conjunction with the showing of “Whiskey Cookers” at 7 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 22, Templeton Rye will be on hand at the Sierra Theatre for whiskey tastings, free of charge starting at 6 p.m.
It didn’t take much to convince the long-time whiskey distillers to make a trip to Jefferson, and they’ll have plenty of “hooch” on hand, as you will.
The Sierra Theatre board felt the documentary and Templeton Rye were perfect tie-ins to the feature films, as both deal with the “Roaring 20s” and the Depression years, when bootlegging was most prominent.
“The documentary really gets into the historical significance of bootlegging,” Piepel said. “Those who did anything they could to survive the depression.”
All three movies, as well as the Templeton Rye whiskey tastings, are completely free of charge.
Piepel said it will be the theatre’s first-ever film coinciding with a tasting.
The Sierra Theatre continues to show nightly 7 p.m. movies except on Mondays and Tuesdays, with a Sunday matinee at 2 p.m.
2023 Classics Week
• North by Northwest
Release date: 1959
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Plot (Via IMDB): A New York City advertising executive goes on the run after being mistaken for a government agent by a group of foreign spies, and falls for a woman whose loyalties he begins to doubt.
Oscar awards: 8 awards and 10 nominations total
2023 Sierra Theatre showings: 7 p.m. on Jan. 20 and Jan. 21
• Some Like it Hot
Release date: 1959:
Director: Billy Wilder
Plot (Via IMDB): After two male musicians witness a mob hit, they flee the state in an all-female band disguised as women, but further complications set in.
Oscar awards: 15
2023 Sierra Theatre showings: 7 p.m. on Jan. 25 and Jan. 26
• Whiskey Cookers
Release date: 2014
Director: Dan Manatt