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I just skimmed K. for mentions of the Bleeker Street Cinema. There are a lot, and here are some more. First let me list a few peers, theaters that could be relied on to show the greatest classical films at least once every several years (meaning there was a doule bill of great classics every night of every week. See a pair every week and within a few years you’d have seen half of everything at least once.)
|The Bleeker Street Cinema
The New Yorker
The Little Carnegia
|Bleeker & Thompson Street
Broadway & 95th St
Broadway & 88th St
56th & 7th
West 18th Street, way west
Oh, there was a Polish one on St Marks Pl, a German cinema up in Yorktown …
It’s been decades since I’be been in New York, I could be off by a street or two. And some streets have been renamed. Where’s Houston St? now it’s Laguardia? The Bleeker Street Cinema was on Bleeker, east of Sullivan, I think east of Thompson too, but short of, west of, Houston Street. And some theaters changed character, then changed again. One series of months would show all Japanese films, specifically Toho; another time would feater Indian film, Roy …
One night Hilary and I went to the Bleeker Street Cinema to see Black Orpheus. I’d seen it a half a dozen times, several times with Hilary, but it had been a while. I was ready to see it again. It was on a double bill with Fellini’s Nights of Cabiria. That I’d seen a dozen times, several with Hilary, including recent viewings. I did not need to see it again, we were there for Rio, for Samba, for Greek myth. So, we buy our tickets, we’re standing around in the lobby, waiting for the Cabiria audience to exit so we could enter. The Orpheus people are queuing up, shuffling toward the do-not-cross-this-usher’s line, jabbering some story to each other … and Nino Rota’s music swells, washes into the lobby. Cabiria is walking down the road, her fiance has chickened out from throwing her off the cliff into the river, but he hasn’t failed to grab her bankroll, her diary: she’d sold her house to marry this bastard. Her heart has been torn out: and she encounters a part of young people, and they’re playing a guitar and singing, and smiling, and they smile at her, pet her arm she’s so teary, and Guilietta Massina, the greatest actress of the 1950, smiles at them. Nino Rota’s final music is hearbreaking: and I was all ready to be ravished by Jobim, and Marpessa Dawn, but no, I’m ravished by Rota, and by Caribia. My knees turn to water, I can’t move forward.
I can’t watch a movie now! I’m all wrung out!!
Come to think of it, I recall another Bleeker Street Cinema experience. I was existing the theater, after a matinee, I don’t remember of what. I walk out onto Bleeker Street. Something is very wierd. The crowd is silent, like stunned. What’s going on? Who’s been assassinated? Kennedy is already long dead.
There’s a bar across the way I’ve never been into, maybe they know something. I walk into the bar. Silence. The TV is on. It’s showing Yankee Stadium. The Yankees must be playing but no one moves on the field, the announcers announce nothing.
Finally I ask a guy, “What’s going on?” He doesn’t answer, looks stunned, I ask him again, he mutters, shuffles, then says so I can hear him, “Mickey Mantle just hit a home run that was way on its way outside Yankee Stadium but then at the last second caroomed off the lights in right field.”
Jesus! The end of the world, for sure.
I’m forever grateful to the New Yorker theater for its DW Griffith festival of 1962 or so. My best buddy Phil and I happened to catch it from the beginning: short subjects, very early Lillian Gish the first week, then the second week, . Birth of a Nation. That I’d seen before, but this was a clinic on the classic. An authentic piano score was played by the silent cinema pianist from MOMA. Wow.
Their Intolerance was even tinted the way Griffith had designed. There were scenes in gold, the war was in red and black!!! Man, oh, man. Oh, yes: and for Broken Blossoms, the tinting was deep, heartbreaking.
Once I OD’d. Maybe it was at the Bleeker Street. I met Hil when I was awaiting the draft. We got adhered toe to brow all but instandly. We saw a lot of movies together, visited a lot of museium shows, Matisse at MOMA, classic cinema in MOMA’s basement. Then I was drafted. Off to Fort Dix. My first three-day pass came Thanksgiving weekend. I sped to the Apple, sped to Hil. After “graduation” I got ten days leave. Hil and I saw sixteen, seventeen movies that first week. In the Thalia I had to get up and go to the back and do jumping jacks, squat jumps: addicted to motion: Hilary didn’t know what I was doing, or why. But then one day in the Bleeker, seeing Die Drei Groschenoper for the dozenth time, that was it, I was saturated, I couldn’t absorb one more image. I breahed, counted three, and was ready for more.
What does that mean: son of Bogdan? Somewhere along in there with the Driffith festival I was hearing that my fishing & ski buddy John’s younger brother Jim, Fordham I think, was also becoming a film nut. The next thing I know Jim is hanging around the New Yorker: and I keep hearing of this young movie drip Bagdanovich, also hanging around: next, telling people what to do. He was pissing me off, and I hadn’t even met him. That’s OK, I never did meet him: but he went on to meet this that and everybody. John Ford, etc: make awar- winning, ticket-selling movies himself.
One guy in that crowd not co unting Jim I did meet once, must once, pissed me off: I don’t think it was Bogdanovich. This guy, to remain unnamed (unless he steps forward) would preach that Orson Wells was great (I agree, I agree!). amd specifically, dogmatically, that Citizen Kane was “the G R E A T E S T movie ever made”. I’m dogmatic enough myself, I don’t need that crap, especially not form somebody a couple of years my junior.
Yes, Citizen Kane is great. Wells, yes. But please look at La Strada, at Roshomon … Hell, just look at Intolerance!
I’ll say one thing for those guys, Jim’s friends: they did show up, they did push themselves into the midst of things, they did take over the New Yorker. I approved of most of the films they were showing, but it was their list, not mine.
One of my great cultural experiences in NY came when the Elgin coordinated with an FM radio station in develoting a week to reading War & Peace, aloud, continuously, beginning to end. The climax was paired with the Elgin showing the six hour Russian version of Tolstoy’s immortal novel. Wow. Pre-internet communion. New Yorkers were so hip that week.
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