Old Gold: That's a wrap for Bijou

Old Gold: That's a wrap for Bijou

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Student movie theater ends 41-year run, joins FilmScene
film reels and canistersThe Bijou Theater is transitioning from screening films at the student union to collaborating with a nonprofit to show independent movies in downtown Iowa City. ©iStockphoto.com/jgroup

(Editor’s note: The Old Gold series provides a look at University of Iowa history and tradition through materials housed in University Archives, Department of Special Collections.)

Downtown Iowa City in 1972 sported several movie houses: the Astro, the Englert, the Iowa. Their marquees advertised the commercial blockbusters of the time, such as Love Story, The Godfather, and Deliverance.

But something was missing. Aficionados of art, foreign, and classic films knew what that was, too: a place to see art-house cinema on a regular basis. Such films had been screened at the Iowa Memorial Union, but only sporadically. Sensing a need to fill, a group of students formed the Bijou Theater. A star was born, if you don’t mind Old Gold’s use of a Hollywood metaphor for a decidedly un-Hollywood-like enterprise.

Photo of man and woman on cover of 1992 Bijou calendar
Bijou calendar, 1992. Image from Records of the Bijou Theater (RG 02.02.07), Calendars and Posters series, University Archives, UI Libraries.

From the start, the Bijou has screened films at the IMU representing a wide range of genres. Visit the UI Archives’ collection guide to its Bijou-related holdings to get an idea. The film list, covering 1972 to 2007, is over 2,000 titles long. Calendars, posters, and press packets for many of the films offer a flavor of the eclectic mix served up each season.

The Bijou has had its share of controversy. In 1981, following pressure from several campus organizations, the Bijou’s managers announced it would cancel four films due to their allegedly offensive content: Cruising, Peeping Tom, Superfly, and Dressed to Kill. A complaint brought to the UI Human Rights Committee over these films was rejected by the committee, however, and at least two of the films were later scheduled.

Black-and-white announcement from Bijou of film cancellations
Announcement by Bijou management to cancel four films, 1981. Image from Clubs and Organizations Vertical File (RG 01.15.04), folder “Bijou,” University Archives, UI Libraries.

After a 41-year run in the IMU, the Bijou is now collaborating with FilmScene, a new nonprofit organization dedicated to screening independent films in downtown Iowa City, which has been without a movie theater for more than six years. A grand opening of FilmScene’s new venue, Scene 1, is scheduled in November at 118 E. College Street in downtown Iowa City.

Translated to English, ‘bijou’ means ‘jewel,’ an apt name for its past and future. Old Gold is ready for some popcorn now.

To read a related story, view Making a scene downtown.


David McCartney, Special Collections, University of Iowa Libraries, 319-335-5921


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