April 5, 2021

love letter to cinema culture in nyc

at my happiest, 

- I'm going to the movies several times a week (mainly repertory)
- only a few people are at the screening
- I'm able to sit in my favorite seat and exit quickly through a quiet little side door
- I recognize a person or two and we might say a brief hello between screenings

and there's no better place to do this than in New York City, with the most dedicated little group of weirdos old and young. After moving here in 2010 and diving headfirst into NY's repertory scene, it's the main reason why I believe I can't live anywhere else in the world. And it's something I'm so, so eager to return to.

Thankfully, none of my favorite cinemas have closed their doors permanently, and in fact several of them have reopened! (Quad on March 5th, Film Forum on April 2nd). Reopening now is still a complicated ordeal, and not all of my favorite spots are taking the plunge just yet

I watched a lot of movies at home this year, and was even able to have some transcendent experiences. Standouts were: High Life (top, on Amazon Prime) and Portrait of Jason (bottom, on Criterion Channel)

High Life (2018).gif

Portrait of Jason (1967).gif
High Life: neither optimistic nor pessimistic, a movie that photographs and portrays an existential abyss. super high-sheen and absolutely gorgeous. Portrait of Jason: a claustrophobic one-room, black-and-white one-man-play that ranges from unvanquished joy to comic despair

But it quite frankly just wasn't the same. Sitting in a movie theater is captivating and all-encompassing. A silent communion and worship. I feel completely at home, completely safe, and in congregation with others being carried away in the same ways. 

So here are some of my favorite New York cinema experiences throughout the years. Experiences that would not have been possible without physical spaces carved out specially for film and without NYC's ardent cinema-lovers: 

The Birds @ Cineplex Odeon (now Cinepolis Chelsea). The first time I saw the Birds was in a bright room on a tiny TV set. What, this movie, scary??
A couple years later I saw The Birds again, this time at Cineplex Odeon. I was absolutely riveted with fear and sweating my shirt through. The consuming blackness of the theater around the frame of the screen made it feel as though birds were going to furiously rain down upon us at any moment. This was the night I went from someone who liked movies a lot to a full arthouse convert.

The Birds (1963).gif
you know exactly what is behind the door, but this knowledge doesn't prevent the scene from being one of pure terror

Burning @ Quad. This doesn't count as repertory, but Quad has my favorite new release programming (and a very good repertory mix anyhow). I saw this with my dear friend Simon, and we walked away in a shimmering silence. I tried watching this on Netflix a year later at home and couldn't recreate the revelations of the first time watching in theater.

Burning (2018).gif
the most unsettling, eerie Steven Yeun performance for all the stans out there

Hotel Monterey @ BAM Cinematek during a Chantal Akerman retrospective. A movie I certainly would not have been able to sit through if lounging on a couch or in a bed at home looking at a TV screen, yet a completely rapturous, entrancing experience in-theater.

Hotel Monterey (1972).gif
62 minutes of silent long takes. there's simply no way to watch this movie outside of a theater

Lost Highway @ the IFC Center (a theater I try to avoid, but sometimes they have good runs I will admit). This movie destabilized my sense of reality. I feel a bit as though it brought me to a secondary universe that I am now living in and I sometimes wonder if I'm ever going back.
But also IFC kept on experiencing technical issues where the audio track and visual were out of sync by several minutes (something that did not make itself clear until about 15 minutes into the movie because there is no dialogue for the first couple of opening sequences). So we had to go back three times (yes the audio and visual were out of sync not once, but twice). A completely frustrating and inconvenient experience, but also it was hilarious in its own way and in line with Lynchian chaos, and only heightened the mind-altering experience that followed.

Lost Highway (1997).gif
mystery man's lip color here is also my preferred lipstick color

Les Trois Couronnes du Matelot @ Film Society Lincoln Center for a Raul Ruiz retrospective. A film that perfectly captured the ethereal lush senseless degravitational quality of dreams. It often feels like poetry in cinema is a competition for most dream-like filmmaking, and it's possible Raul Ruiz takes the cake in that regard. And I would never have been aware of Ruiz if not for FilmLinc's programming!

Les Trois Couronnes du Matelot (1983).gif
the most meta-riffic scene of film-making/film-going

Scenes from a Marriage @ my beloved Film Forum. My most vivid recent memory of Film Forum would have to be seeing the entire Scenes from a Marriage in one go. It's perhaps not recommended for one's psychological health to watch all 6 episodes in one sitting but having the opportunity and space to is truly rare

Scenes from a Marriage (1973).gif
it upsets me that in all my searches for GIFs of Scenes from a Marriage, GIPHY only showed scenes from m*rr**ge st*ry        (╯‵□′)╯︵┻━┻

Honorable mentions: Anthology Film Archives and Spectacle Theater
Dishonorable mention: Metrograph. I will never step foot in Metrograph