You might be surprised to know that the early movie theater for Portsmouth was the Town Hall. Newspaper articles from the time show that churches and local groups showed picture shows at the hall. There wasn’t a movie theater in Portsmouth at that time, but most movies were shown where you could set up a screen and darken the room. The Town Hall provided that. I found newspaper articles that show that church groups and community organizations used the Town Hall to show their films. Some were for entertainment or fundraising. Others were more of a “community service” performance.

In the 1920s the films didn’t have sound, but they were far from “silent.” The first full length feature that included sound was “The Jazz Singer” in 1926. The early movie shows were short and the often included lectures, music and audience participation. A January 1920 Newport Mercury article shows that the Red Cross showed a movie called “Winning the Way.” It was shown to an “appreciative audience” and included a speaker from Boston who discussed public health.

Entertaining religious “photo-plays” were shown to raise money for St. Anthony Church. An article in the The Newport Mercury in November of 1922 shows one film called “The Eternal Light” on Friday and Saturday evenings at the Town Hall. “Photo-Play” was a new term for me and it was one description given to early films.

The most interesting film was graphically described in a December of 1922 article of the Fall River Globe. ” ‘Fabiola’ a selfish heartless, cruel women overcome by a Faith which triumphed over treachery, hate and greed” would be shown for the benefit of St. Anthony’s Church. The ticket price seems rather steep for those days: Fifty cents for adults and twenty-five cents for children under 12.