Friday, April 6, 2018

Movie Palace Memories

Al Pacino, Clo Cohen, and Charles S. Cohen at Quad Cinema to celebrate the one-year renovation of the classic space.
Movie Palace Memories and NYC's Quad Cinema Celebrates — with Al Pacino!
by Denis Ferrara

“THE cinema is really built for the big screen and big sound, so that a person can go into another world and have an experience,” said David Lynch.
ALTHOUGH my initial obsession with movies and movie stars began with television — the immortal “Million Dollar Movie” and “The Late Late Show,” I was lucky enough to have family members — my mother, my aunts — who wanted to, in Mr. Lynch’s words, “go into another world and have an experience.”

So as an impressionable child I saw more than my fair share of movies in “regular” theaters and at the always happy experiences of drive-ins.  Often these movies were rather adult, but nobody seemed to think that exposure to violence and/or “mature themes” — mild by today’s standards — would warp a youngster’s mind.  (You see now that in my case they were playing with fire!)
I didn’t become particularly aware of my surroundings — other than the happy chaos, unhealthy food and the exciting steamed-up windows of drive-ins — until the few years I lived in Hollis, Queens, from 1960 to ’68. At that time, I was often a patron of the fabled Loew’s Valencia Theater on Jamaica Avenue in the midst of what was then a thriving shopping hub — Gertz department store was the “big” attraction. 

I didn’t know the history of the Valencia back then — opened in 1929 for stage productions and vaudeville, switching to movies in 1935. All I knew was that Valencia was indeed a “movie palace,” dripping with all sort of ornate decorations, everything plush and glamorous and otherworldly. (To this day, good taste to me is gilded clutter.)
The Loew’s Valencia Theater on Jamaica Avenue.
By the 1960’s, things were probably becoming a bit worn and seedy, but in my eyes it was heaven.  There I had some of the most memorable movie experiences of my youth — from “Bye, Bye, Birdie” (I gasped as the screen opened on a vivid blue background, and Ann-Margret, all pushed-up cleavage and wild auburn hair warbled the title song) to “Thunderball” (I gasped over Sean Connery’s hirsute thighs) to “Secret Ceremony” (I gasped as gorgeously blousy Elizabeth Taylor called Mia Farrow a “little bitch” and then ferociously ripped to shreds a fake “baby” that Farrow had stuffed under her dress.)  It was beautifully refurbished and became a church, The Tabernacle of Prayer.
There was another, smaller theater in Hollis, close to where I lived, the Hollis Cinema, at 192-12 Jamaica Avenue.  Although not as imposing, décor-wise, this offered fare as varied as “The Manchurian Candidate” to — on Saturday afternoons — “Jason and the Argonaughts” or the Annette Funicello/Frankie Avalon beach movies.  After it too fell on hard times — adult movies in the late 1970’s — this theater also found God, and to my knowledge is still active as a church.
Leaving Hollis in ’68, I quickly discovered the legendary Thalia revival house on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.  It was at the Thalia that I learned there was nothing to fear from subtitles, that Marlene Dietrich was wooden but mesmerizing under the direction of Josef von Sternberg, and that Bette Davis was a force of nature and it hardly mattered if what she did most of the time was, as a critic once noted, “acting or merely shameless showing off.” 

And it was in this period of my life — blissfully unemployed, ecstatically free of schooling and parenting — that I first visited the Quad Cinema.  It opened in 1972 to what I recall was some fanfare — it was the first theater to feature multiple screens, giving patrons a range of options.  Not a big deal now, in the age of the cine-plex, but it was groundbreaking then. Everybody went to the Quad.  And it wasn’t simply the films — as choice a selection as was presented — I recall there was a collective social buzz. It was a meeting place — a beginning, middle or end of a day or evening that included other pleasures. 
The original Quad.
So how could I ignore the invitation that came from Charles Cohen and the Cohen Media Group to celebrate the one-year renovation of the classic space? (Since the re-opening of the Quad last April, they’ve screened over four hundred 35mm prints, dozens of exquisite restorations, and loads of terrific Q&A’s with actors, directors, screenwriters.)
The new Quad.
Al Pacino was there.  He has just enjoyed a Quad retrospective of some of his greatest films, as well as some that are not considered so great, but Pacino himself chose these — how the artist sees his work is often very different from critical reaction. (David Edelstein’s New York magazine profile of Pacino, in anticipation of the retrospective, was incisive on the actor’s career and revealed a surprisingly human, amusing, sensitive star — I think because of Pacino’s often over-the-top characterizations, one forgets the man behind the volcanically mannered image.)  His “Paterno” movie for HBO arriving tomorrow is highly anticipated.
Al Pacino and Charles Cohen.
In the blood-red Quad lobby, munchies were munched, popcorn was popped, wine-filled glasses were raised to the high art of cinema, and good old-fashioned movie-going escapism.  Among the cinephiles: Clo Cohen ... Lois Smith ... Josh Charles ... Brenda Vaccaro ... Roger Friedman ... Scott Gorenstein ... Jonas Mekas ... Tony Gilroy ... Kevin Corrigan ... Aasif Mandvi ... Colby Minifie ... Kevin Corrigan and Sheila Nevins.

When the lobby became too crowded, people were allowed to wander into the screening rooms.  In Theater U, James Whale’s wild and wicked 1932 horror film, “The Old Dark House” was being shown, later switching to Walter Hill’s “Hard Times” with Charles Bronson and James Coburn.  In Theater Q, they were screening James Ivory’s “Maurice.”  My God, was Hugh Grant ever that young?
Aasif Mandvi Lois Smith
Josh Charles Toby Leonard
Jonas Mekas with AgnesVarda cutout
Sheila Nevins Brenda Vaccaro
Thomas Matthews Jim Parrack
I’m so glad The Quad is still with us.  In these unstable times, or at least times I consider unstable, graceful continuity is appreciated. (How well I remember the citywide despair when the Thalia closed abruptly in 1987.)  

For all my at-home TV watching, many cable stations, On Demand on demand and binging Netflix or Amazon, there is still nothing like being — as Norma Desmond put it — one of “those wonderful people out there in the dark.”  In a movie theater, hopefully mesmerized. But a bad movie experience can be just as memorable — and fun, too!
Now playing at the Quad: “Where is Kyra?”
At the Quad now — Michelle Pfeiffer in Andrew Dosunmu’s “Where is Kyra?”  Upcoming is “Jeanette’ The Childhood of Joan of Arc,” starring Lise Leplat Prudhomme and Jeanne Voisin as the young and older Joan, respectively, directed by Bruno Dumont.  On April 13th the 1982 cult classic “Liquid Sky” can be seen again in a dazzling restoration.

And, as the Quad notes, one can make an evening of it — espresso, wine, imported beers and, naturally, great chat.  For ticket and other info, visit
ENDQUOTE:  “The difference between life and the movies is that a script has to make sense and life doesn’t.”  Joseph L. Mankiewicz.

Photographs by Mettie Ostrowski (Quad)

Contact Denis here.