Sunday, January 18, 2015

162. Movie Theaters Then and Now: Palace, Sleaze, and Art


The theaters of my childhood

“Our generation needs a name,” a friend once said to me.  “Born in the late 1920s and early 1930s, we aren’t part of the Lost Generation or the Greatest Generation, but we aren’t baby boomers either.  So who are we?”  Then he answered his own question: “We’re the Movie Generation.”

     Fair enough.  We grew up on movies, just as we grew up on radio, but it was movies that enticed us away from home and immersed us in wonders and horrors.  In the Evanston of my childhood first-run movies showed at the Varsity, the most prestigious of the local movie houses – and the most expensive.  Inside it was magical, for walls and ceiling presented the silhouette of an Old World city at night with stars twinkling in the sky: a setting almost as exotic and wondrous as the films.  After the Varsity came the Valencia, which might get the first-run films a bit later, and after the Valencia, in our end of town, the Stadium, which offered B films but, by way of compensation, double and occasionally even triple features with cowboys or gangsters or other assorted riffraff, and on Saturday afternoons, uninspired serials that were meant to lure you back to see the sequel, though they rarely did. 

     Taking tickets inside the Stadium was usually some squirt of a teenager who loomed threateningly, asked you your age and date of birth; if they weren’t consistent, he declared, “Your arithmetic stinks!  An adult ticket for you next time!”  I endured this more than once, for he so intimidated me that I misstated my age or date of birth, even though I was still entitled to the cheaper ticket. 

     There was something slightly drab and sleazy about the Stadium, and for the best experiences one went to the Varsity.  Many a time I took refuge there from the afternoon summer heat (in those days only movie theaters were air-conditioned), immersing myself in some Technicolor epic that swept me away to another time and place where heroes and villains met in mortal combat on battlefields or castle corridors and stairs, always to the villain’s final discomfiture.  I saw feuding families exchanging bullets in Kentucky against a backdrop of stunning natural beauty, and British soldiers fighting fanatical dervishes in hot distant places.  Then, at the show’s end, I emerged from the magical darkness into the bright hot light of day, often with a throbbing headache that would oppress me all the way home.

     Yes, the Movie Generation.  My love of movies persisted through high school, and the Varsity one Saturday night witnessed my first timid attempt to put my arm around a girl (I doubt if she noticed, since I chiefly embraced the back of her chair and got a stiff arm in the bargain).  During college days in Southern California I abandoned radio altogether but on occasion, having nothing better to do, saw a movie, something I was quite content to do alone, to the astonishment of my more gregarious friends. 

Movie theaters in France

     Studying in France for two years in the early 1950s, I encountered the Gallic version of the movie experience.  No double features there, just one featured film.  In provincial Besançon, where I was doomed to study for a year, there was only one little theater, and if it was packed, as it often was on Saturday night, late arrivals had to settle for a strapontin or foldaway seat along the central aisle.  Very important: when the ouvreuse (usher) showed you to your seat, you tipped her; failing to do so would earn you a nasty look or even a tart remark.  The ads on the screen weren’t too annoying, since they helped me learn French and often had a sense of humor as well.  Climaxing many a brief melodramatic scene came the words

Dents blanches, haleine fraîche
Superdentifrice Colgate!

White teeth, fresh breath
Super toothpaste Colgate!
   
Not even in this desolate little town in eastern France (“un trou,” the French would say) could one escape the international reach of the American toothpaste industry.

     After the preliminaries the lights came up and the ouvreuses came down the main aisle, squeezing past the strapontins, repeating in their charming voices, “Demandez ce que j’ai … Demandez ce que j’ai …” (Ask what I have), as they pedaled assorted goodies.  Only when they had finished could the main feature begin.  And if it was an imported film of considerable length, the film would be ruthlessly abridged, regardless of how that affected the story.  In Besançon I saw – and fell in love with – the film version of The Tales of Hoffman, and only on seeing it again in this country did I realize that the entire third act had been cut.

     Many of the French were disdainful of Hollywood films, and I’m afraid I had to agree.  I usually preferred French films, even the less than brilliant ones, because they helped me learn French.  But the Besançon experience, charming as it in some ways was, wasn’t altogether typical.  In Paris I saw An American in Paris, starring Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron, with the dialogue dubbed in French (they gave Kelly a charming American accent), in a large theater without commercials or ouvreuses peddling goodies – an experience much like that in an American movie house.  And in Lyons I saw Ivanhoe, likewise dubbed in English, also in a large theater minus commercials and peddled goodies.  And I’ll have to admit that the film – totally Hollywood – was a rousing good story, if you could settle for spectacle and action.  And the French audience seemed to think so, too.  And on several occasions while traveling in France I saw, blazoned on marquees, the title Autant en emporte le vent, which I deciphered as Gone with the Wind.  Yes, that classic Hollywood spectacle was playing all over the place, proof that the French, though justifiably scornful of much of Hollywood’s output, still had room for a spectacle or two.

     Returning from France, I came to New York and immediately broadened  my experience of movies and movie theaters.  Here I became familiar with three distinct types of theater, none of which I had experienced before: the movie palace, the sleaze theater, and the art theater. 

Movie palaces
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The Loew's Sheridan in its heyday, 1922.

     For me, the epitome of the movie palace was the old Loew’s Sheridan, which loomed like a hulking monster at the intersection of Seventh Avenue, West 12th Street, and Greenwich Avenue in the West Village, not far from where I lived in the 1960s.  Built in 1921, it was once a splendid example of the American movie palace, whose faux luxe (false luxury) I had heard derided in France, without ever having experienced the phenomenon itself.  The Varsity back in Evanston had taste and elegance, but was never pretentious or overreaching, characteristics typical of all movie palaces, including the Loew’s Sheridan. 

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Mezzanine and lobby of the Loew's Sheridan, 1922.  I remember nothing so luxurious.

     That theater’s once sumptuous interior, with over two thousand seats, was immortalized by Edward Hopper in his 1937 painting The Sheridan Theater, showing a woman alone leaning against a railing at the back of the theater, watched from a distance by two figures, one of them an usher.  In a hauntingly luxurious setting this painting, like so many of Hopper’s, projects a mood of strangeness, silence, and an eerie calm.  This was Hopper’s favorite movie theater, not far from his townhouse on Washington Square, and when he wasn’t in the mood for painting, he would go on a “movie binge,” seeing films daily for a week.


Sheridan Theatre - Edward Hopper
Hopper's The Sheridan Theater.  Even in a theater setting, he projects loneliness.





















     Faux luxe there certainly was, for in these old palaces French Baroque might clash with Spanish Gothic or Babylonian or Aztec or Italian Renaissance, with a dash of Egyptian thrown in, after the discovery of King Tut’s tomb in 1922.  Pillars rose to rounded arches, walls were richly ornamented, and goddesses cast deadpan stares from niches.  Entering such a place immersed one in a world of wonder even before the movie began.  Just as nineteenth-century New York had welcomed palace hotels, palace steamboats, and palace railway cars that claimed to give Everyman the luxuries and comforts reserved for the ruling classes in Europe, so twentieth-century New York produced movie palaces worthy of royalty … or at least bogus royalty.

     The Loew’s was not my kind of theater – too big, too pretentious, and usually offering grandiose Hollywood or imported films that I could do without.  But occasionally some friend lured me there and, against my better judgment, I went.  One colossal saga about marauding Vikings was memorable, because one of my two companions insisted on sitting in the loge, the front section of the balcony, for which you had to pay extra.  When the usher came to see our ticket stubs, my friend claimed he had lost them but insisted on remaining in the loge.  This dismayed me and the other friend, and when we saw the usher return with a policeman we quickly retreated to the rear section of the balcony, from which we saw Vikings depart heroically to plunder and kill their luckless victims.  Of the theater itself I don’t remember much, except that it was cavernous and huge, probably long past its prime.

     On another occasion my friend Ken lured me there to see some Italian epic of dubious repute.  Only when seated inside and watching a horde of young men building what would presumably become a city, did I realize that this B minus film with a cast of thousands was a limp retelling of the story of Virgil’s Aeneid.  Ken, alas, was inclined to talk at the movies, and there was little on the screen to hold our attention, so I, alas, against my usual practice, joined in.  At this point a burly man sitting in front of us turned around and told us to shut up, which he had every right to do.  In reaction I felt a surge of anger seasoned with chagrin, well aware that we had been blabbing, and when Ken suggested that we remove to another part of the almost empty house, I agreed. 

     The “almost empty house” tells it all.  By the 1960s the days of the old movie palaces were numbered, for audiences were deserting the theaters for television, and at the same time abandoning urban centers for the suburbs.  Faced with a shrinking patronage, one by one they closed.  What then became of them?  The Loew’s Sheridan closed in 1969, and Saint Vincent’s Hospital, just across Seventh Avenue, bought its triangular lot and tore it down, planning to build a nurses’ residence on the site.  The residence never materialized; the hospital used one part of the lot as a receiving station for supplies, and let the rest become a garden; at this date the lot is still mostly empty.  But not all the theaters were demolished.  In the 1960s I taught briefly at the Brooklyn campus of Long Island University, and can state with confidence – and lingering amazement – that the main building there was an old movie palace converted to the purposes of higher education.

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The Stanley today, owned by Jehovah's Witnesses. 
The_Grotto

     For two summers in the late1950s, while he was in college, my partner Bob worked the late-afternoon and evening shift as a uniformed usher at the Stanley Theater in Jersey City, just off Journal Square.  Built as a vaudeville and movie theater in 1928, the Stanley, seating 4,300, was for years the second biggest East Coast theater, surpassed in size only by Radio City Music Hall.  Outside, a glittering copper marquee spanned the entrance, overhanging the solid brass doors.  Inside, Bob says, it was like visiting the set of the Babylonian sequence of Griffith’s epic silent film Intolerance.  He especially remembers the monumental staircase mounting from the lobby to the balcony, flanked by soaring columns.  The lobby itself was a huge three-story structure, with rounded arches topped by pillars, and overhead a huge crystal chandelier.  The auditorium was flanked on either side by silhouettes of villages with illuminated houses, and on the ceiling overhead there were projections of moving clouds and myriads of stars. 

Some 2,000 deaf and deaf-blind delegates attend Jehovah's Witnesses convention in Jersey City
Interior of the Stanley today, with the staircase leading from the lobby to the balcony.  Very much
what it was in the 1950s.

     Yet in that huge auditorium there was only a dwindling audience, for this was the Stanley well past its heyday.  Like all the other movie palaces, it was losing business and would have to close in 1978; then, in 1983, Jehovah’s Witnesses bought it to use as an assembly hall.  Thousands of the sect’s volunteers worked over a nine-month period to remove paint and dirt from the doors and windows, clean off forty years’ accumulation of nicotine and dirt from the façade, and free the chandeliers from a coating of grime.  They succeeded, restoring the old theater to its original long-lost splendor.  Once a vehicle for fantasy escape into a lavish world of dream, today the Stanley functions as a genuine house of worship, though at times visitors are allowed to visit it.

     For glimpses of what it was like to run one of these old movie palaces well past their heyday, you can’t do better than consult Victoria Hallerman’s blog "Starts Wednesday: Coming of Age in a Movie Palace."  Her weekly posts, appearing every Wednesday, are accounts both sad and hilarious of her and her husband’s attempt to profitably operate the St. George Theater on Staten Island in 1976-77.  She tells

·      How she learned what a standpipe was, and got a friend to become its official operator, as required by regulations
·      How theaters had to pay a marquee tax, because the marquee was projected over public property, a sidewalk
·      How Coke syrup spilled on the floor becomes a sticky glue requiring special cleaning
·      How at Christmas, unable to afford wreaths, they tried to adorn the theater with pine branches, until a fire inspector made them take them down
·      How in the cold winter they warmed their hands in the popcorn machine behind the concessions stand in the lobby
·      How people from the neighborhood came by and wanted only to hang out for a while in the lobby, without going in to see the film, and were allowed to do so
·      How, desperate to increase earnings, they placed a popcorn warmer loaded with buttered popcorn in the heat room, a small room in the bowels of the theater, hoping that the warm air passing from there up through vents into the auditorium would circulate the aroma of popcorn and boost sales – which it did!

File:Popcorn02.jpg

And so on and so on, one misadventure after another as they slowly went broke.  As I said, both sad and hilarious all at once.




Sleaze theaters

     These were the theaters on 42nd Street between Broadway and Eighth Avenue, called “grindhouses,” scandalously close to the Theater District and to Times Square beloved of tourists.  When I first came to New York in the 1950s the theaters, once prestigious, weren’t necessarily showing porn as they later did, but the street was populated by junkies and drug dealers, male prostitutes, drag queens, pickpockets, the homeless, and misguided tourists thrilled or, more likely, appalled by what they saw.  “I never go to those theaters,” my friend Ken told me, “because someone in the seat next will vomit.”  I went just once, as I recall, probably lured by some movie I  could find nowhere else.  No one in my vicinity vomited, but when I went to the john a good-looking young man was not shy about displaying his anatomy, in which I had no interest; I quickly did my business and got out of there. 

The Prince of Porn (2002)

     Whenever I found myself in the neighborhood in the evening, I used to walk from Broadway to Eighth Avenue on the downtown side of the street, eyeing marquees and sidewalk scenes of this sleazy but colorful block.  Once or twice I had a beer in a bar near Broadway, and on one occasion heard a handsome young blond guy tell an older man, “He treated me like I was dirt!”  A hustler, I assumed, telling a prospective customer how another contact had been demeaning; even hustlers – especially handsome young blonds – wanted respect.


Roxytriple.jpg

     After that the theaters began showing the lowest of B films, including horror movies, monster films, spaghetti Westerns (made in Italy), and porn. Especially porn.  THE BEST PORN IN NYC proclaimed one theater sign, and under it, THE ULTIMATE IN ADULT ENTERTAINMENT / CONTINUOUS SHOWINGS.  If customers lined up outside a theater showing porn, one enterprising panhandler had a slick technique.  He would approach the third man from the front of the line and ask him for a handout.  If the man refused, the panhandler would exclaim in a loud voice that all could hear, “You cheapskate!  You’ve got money for a dirty film, but you can’t spare me a quarter!  What kind of a freak are you, anyway?”  Usually the man, embarrassed, would give him some change to be rid of him.

     Who were the customers of the young Puerto Rican hustlers who were much in evidence on 42nd Street in those days?  Certainly not the junkies and drag queens and homeless.  Two gay acquaintances of mine made no bones about patronizing them.  One, whom I’ll call Jake, told me of playing “kneesies” with the kid sitting next to him in one of the theaters; sometimes that was the end of it, and sometimes he took the kid home for a joyous bout  of togetherness.  Even years later he raved about how “cute” some of them were.  “There were a lot us,” Jake insisted, meaning other older men with a penchant for Latin youths.

     My other acquaintance, whom I’ll call Stewart, also haunted the street in search of young Puerto Ricans, whom he never failed to find.  A mutual  friend of ours once saw Stewart talking to one of them on the street. Stewart’s face, he said, was transfigured; he was at the pinnacle of joy.  “When I connect with them,” Stewart once told me, “I always have a cheap watch on me.  Some of them are a bit light-fingered, but if they cop the watch, I just replace it with another.”

     One of these kids, named Miguel, became a regular companion of Stewart’s.  At a party for his friends that I attended, Stewart put out lots of liquor and a generous spread, but reserved one delicacy for Miguel.  When Miguel came, he gaped wide as Stewart plied him with the delicacy in question, a victual of love.  The rest of us looked on with smiles, as Stewart took the greatest pleasure in feeding his boy, and the boy reveled in the attention he was getting.  That boy, by the way, had a wife and child at home: further evidence of the complexity of human relationships, which reformers and moralists are too often unaware of.

     I might add that Jake was a well-educated and congenial citizen with a responsible job in editing, and Stewart was likewise educated, articulate, and congenial, with a well-paid job in vocational guidance.  So who were the patrons of the Puerto Rican hustlers of 42nd Street?  White middle-class professionals.

     My friend Ken, who avoided the theaters for fear of vomit-prone  neighbors, loved the wild sidewalk scenes of 42nd Street and was a regular patron of its porn shops, where gay or straight porn of every kind was available, and even short porn films shown in a small room in back.  Once, as he approached one of these stores, he heard some black teenagers identify the make of his coat and cite the price it would bring, if they stole it.  Unnerved, he quickly entered the store, where they didn’t follow him, so for a while he was able to relax and enjoy its titillating wares.  But when ready to leave, he grew anxious again, wondering if he could walk in safety from the store to the nearby subway, which was sure to be crowded and therefore safe.  Finally, in desperation, he approached the older black man in charge of the store and offered to pay him to accompany him to the subway.  The man agreed, but said to Ken, “Why you dress so rich?”  Ken was in fact wearing a costly coat that he could never himself have afforded, a gift from a well-meaning friend.  Escorted to the subway, he arrived there with his person and wardrobe intact, but he had learned a lesson.  If you want to safely enjoy the sleazy atmosphere of 42nd Street and its porn shops, don’t dress rich.

     All this ended in the 1990s, when Mayor Giuliani decided to expel the porn and clean up 42nd Street once and for all.  The city took over six of the historic theaters, and the Walt Disney Corporation bought another and renovated it.  Gone now are the porn dealers and assorted lowlifes; tourists can range there safely, drawn by the theaters, restaurants, and shops.  The new 42nd Street is respectable and safe, albeit a bit less colorful, less titillating, and less – dare I say it? – fun.  Morality always risks being boring.  As for those who need the porn and the hustlers, they can find their quarry – quarry that delights in being caught – at other locales throughout the city.  And to judge by the websites that lament Giuliani's clean-up and preserve the old 42nd Street in photos, there is a real nostalgia for the now vanished grindhouses and the colorful street life of those days.

     Am I glad that 42nd Street was cleaned up and the handsome old theaters renovated?  Yes, absolutely, for that street is close to the Theater District and Times Square, where tourists flock.  The city thrives on tourists, and many tourists bring their families.  Nothing on 42nd Street now should appall them or put them off.  And that, I think, is as it should be.

Art theaters

     What replaced the old movie palaces were art theaters, small theaters showing one or several films of distinction, usually not Hollywood releases but foreign imports of quality.  It began in the 1950s with the Thalia on West 95th Street near Broadway, a small theater that every summer trotted out its stable of quality films.  A student then at Columbia, I would walk down Broadway from the campus to see something of interest, as for example Wendy Hiller in Major Barbara and Pygmalion.  Already at the Thalia one sensed the special atmosphere of the art theater: a small house with a select audience of college kids and film buffs who showed great respect for the fare being offered; no babble during the film, no crinkling of candy wrappings, no noisy chewing, no Coke syrup spilled on the floor.  I had found my kind of theater, the theater where I was most at ease.

     When I returned to New York in the fall of 1961, art theaters had proliferated.  I recall the Greenwich and the Waverly in the West Village, where I went regularly to see foreign imports by the great filmmakers of the day: Fellini and Antonioni and Pasolini, Kurosawa, and Ingmar Bergman.  Fellini delighted me with his portrayals of the dolce vita society of Italy.  Antonioni entranced me with his images of Monica Vitti in L’Avventura, La Notte, and L’Eclisse, often against a background of stunning beauty, even if the films lacked action and at times dragged on a bit too long.  Kurosawa plunged me into an alien world where a ruthless but well-intentioned samurai triumphed over his enemies, whom his flashing sword could decimate with a few well-aimed strokes that were thrilling to behold and left the ground strewn with severed arms and heads. 

     Ingmar Bergman’s Wild Strawberries drew me into the aging protagonist’s fantasies and dreams, with recollections of his unhappy marriage, awareness of his loneliness and approaching death, and final sense of peacefulness and joy.  Some of Bergman’s films were unrelievedly bleak, but The Seventh Seal, in which a knight back from the Crusades plays chess with Death, absorbed me from beginning to end, with all the characters finally being led away over the hills in a fearful but visually stunning dance of death.  Equally arresting was The Virgin Spring, in which a virgin is raped and then killed by two men who then take shelter in the home of the girl’s father, who, when informed of the rape and murder, kills the murderers and their young brother.  In the end, the father finds his daughter’s body, and a spring begins to flow from where she had been lying, bringing a strange kind of hope into an otherwise grim story.  By way of contrast, his Smiles of a Summer Night is a gentle comedy where the characters are all finally mated in the course of a summer night.

     When I mention movie palaces and sleaze theaters, the emphasis tends to fall on the theaters themselves and not on the films that they showed.  But in speaking of art theaters it is just the reverse, for art theaters are not themselves visually memorable.  They are simply quiet sanctuaries where lovers and historians of film can revel in the treasures of the past.

     Films that I saw mostly in art theaters and that I would rate as exceptional:

·      Sergei Eisenstein’s Ivan the Terrible, Part 1, and his silent film Battleship Potemkin, portraying the Russian navy mutiny of 1905, with an unforgettable shot, when the Cossacks fire on the people of Odessa, of a baby carriage careening down a long flight of steps. 
·      Antonioni’s Blowup, with an arresting sequence where a filmmaker’s production of a series of blowups of a picture he has taken gradually reveals a gunman brandishing a handgun.  Stir-crazy from a long confinement to my apartment with a knee problem, I hobbled out on crutches, caught a taxi to the theater, and was not disappointed by the film.
·      Pasolini’s Gospel According to St. Matthew, which conveys beautifully the simplicity of the Gospel, free from all the hullabaloo  and pretension of a Hollywood film.
·      Griffith’s silent epic Intolerance, telling four stories simultaneously, with memorable scenes of the fall of Babylon, the St. Bartholomew’s Massacre in Paris, the Crucifixion, and a modern story with suspense right up to the very end.  Seen at the Elgin Theater at West 19th Street and Eighth Avenue, with live piano accompaniment.
·      Abel Gance’s silent epic Napoleon, finally restored and presented in a four-hour version not in a small art theater but at Radio City Music Hall in 1981, shortly before Gance’s death.  Actor/dancer Gene Kelly introduced the film.

But why go on?  The list is endless.

File:Potemkin-still6.jpg
The Czar's soldiers fire on the people in Odessa.
From Battleship Potemkin (1925).

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Babylon, in Griffith's Intolerance (1916).  And this was long before Cecile B. DeMille.

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Albert Dieudonné as the young Napoleon in
Gance's film Napoleon (1927).

    The most crowded theater I ever experienced: one offering as a double bill the Best Actor and Best Actress Oscar-winning films of 1954: On the Waterfront with Marlon Brando, and The Country Girl with Grace Kelly.  What ever made me decide to go to a theater that was bound to be jammed?  I ended up in a seat far back in the balcony, much nearer the projection booth than the screen.

     The emptiest theater I ever experienced: an art theater in the Village in the 1960s, showing an Andy Warhol film at an exorbitant price.  Were there even five of us in the audience?  The film was a series of improvs: a stud in a fancy clothing store staffed by obvious queers; the stud yawning, as a girl tells in detail how she’ll bake a cake; a woman suggesting that he let her ride on his motorcycle to some trendy far-out scene where they will then go their separate ways; and finally, the stud taking an endless shower.  There were humorous moments, but nothing held these scenes together, nothing explained why the stud would put up with these situations.

     Sometimes an art theater would take a chance on an independent film, often with mixed results.  At the Greenwich I saw an indie that opened with an outdoor scene showing a well-dressed man talking to a girl who was evidently his mistress.  “I have this cocktail party,” he explained, as the girl, not facing him, ran her hands over some bushes nearby.  There was something “off” about the film from the start.  Why weren’t the two facing each other?  The mention of a cocktail party seemed odd.  Already a few titters were heard from the audience.  As the film progressed, the titters became guffaws.  In the climactic final scene that same man, now clearly the villain of the film, was seen climbing up a ladder to a parapet above, where his mistress, now enraged, was waiting; as he almost reaches what he thinks is safety, she flings him down to his death.  Corny, melodramatic, clumsily motivated, stupid.  Management took note and canceled the film at once.

      Another indie, also at the Greenwich, opened with shots of the Statue of Liberty and the Empire State Building, followed by these words across the screen:  “An unidentified city…”  Howls of laughter from the audience.  We knew at once that this film was going to hold us and afford a constant stream of laughs, which it did.  I don’t recall the name of it, but if it turned up somewhere today, I’d rush to see it again.

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Poster for Crin-Blanc.
     Today I go occasionally to a film at the Film Forum on Houston Street, where in the last year or two I saw Z, a 1969 French film with a brief but gripping performance by Irene Papas as a grieving widow (the film itself seemed dated), and Crin-Blanc (White Mane), Albert Lamorisse’s brilliant short 1953 film about a  stallion with a white mane that leads a herd of wild horses in the Camargue, a marshy region in southern France, and resists all attempts by French cowboys (yes, there really are French cowboys) to capture and tame him.  But where I’ve seen the most films of note over the past several years is the Museum of Modern Art, which shows both classics of Hollywood and memorable films of the silent era not otherwise available.

     Couples who once left the city to raise their children in the suburbs are now, with their children grown, moving back into cities.  Why?  Because they miss the cultural wealth of the cities – the concerts, museums, galleries, theaters, and dance.  And the opportunity to see old movies that may not turn up on television.  For this, you can credit MOMA and the art theaters.  And since I don’t have television, where else could I see some of the dimly remembered movies of my childhood, the films that I missed, and the often forgotten classics of the silent era – works of Griffith and Eisenstein, comedies of Chaplin and Buster Keaton, and Erich von Stroheim’s overlong but brilliant epic Greed. 

     I will always be haunted by the end of Crin-Blanc, where the white horse and the boy who has befriended him dash off into the sea, escaping forever the pursuing ranchers.  And the end of von Stroheim’s Greed, where the two antagonists are locked in a final struggle in the desert, the survivor handcuffed to the corpse of the other, without horse or water, doomed.  For these memorable images I am beholden to the art theaters of New York.

The final scene in von Stroheim's Greed (1926).
But the film was in black and white.

     Coming soon:  Next Wednesday, two notes on BIG: a big bank (JPMorgan Chase), and big real estate, as embodied in REBNY.  Never heard of REBNY?  Until recently, neither had I, but I should have.  And next Sunday, Son of Sam, and I’ll bet that you have heard of him.

     ©  2015  Clifford Browder