The Bleecker Street Cinema

BLEECK2.jpg (11786 bytes)The Film-Makers' Distribution Center will make its public debut this week with two striking exploratory films at New York's Bleecker Street Cinema despite recent action by New York License Commissioner Joel J. Tyler to close a traditional underground showcase, The Film-Makers' Cinematheque, for allegedly showing films of "sexual immorality, lewdness, perversion and homosexuality. Scorpio Rising is the jewel of the avant-garde's surrealist school, a narcotic-high spin through the world of the motorcycle fetishists. Director Kenneth Anger orchestrates a relentlessly thumping pop soundtrack, psychedellically brilliant color and zig-zag cutting into a sympnony of the senses. The film's popular appeal is limited by its openly homosexual interest -- Kenneth Anger's actors are pretty, biceped Adonises, his props self-consciously phallic, his fascination with the cyclists' storm trooper sashes and chain belts too often a wayward taste for camp cruelty. But Scorpio is the best portrait yet of this outlaw culture whose steel stallions are symbols of power, whose alienation takes refuge in sadism and the swastika.

Jonas Mekas's The Brig, a film version of Kenneth Brown's play about the unsparing brutality of a Marine barricade, follows the purist laws...of filming events as they happen without a detailed shooting script and, if possible, without professional actors...... "I wanted to destroy the barrier between the play and the audience," expalined Mekas. "So I loaded myself likea camel with wires, tape recorder and camera and broke onto the stage."

Because Mekas filmed it from the center, his viewer too becomes a victim of endless beatings, shouted commands, debasing personal inspections, unnecessary cleanups, ritualistic requests "to cross the white line, sir!" and worst of all, the destruction of all repose. "The Brig is a ballet of life," says Mekas. "Men moving relentlessly in meaningless patterns doing things they can't get out of."

--Newsweek, April 25, 1966

Myron Lounsbury

The number of first-run film houses in our town -- which may decrease by one when the Roxy Theatre by one when and if the wreckers attack the Roxy Theatre -- will happily be increased by one in the near future. The news is that the Renata Theatre and West Broadway, which has long been home for off-Broadway theatrical productions has been acquired, on a three-year lease, by an independent group headed by Lionel Rogosin, youthful film producer, who will operate the intimate (250-seat) theatre as the Bleecker Street Cinema.

The first attraction for the Bleecker Street is Mr. Rogosin's own independent production, Come Back, Africa, a feature-length drama he filmed and directed entirely on that continent with a native cast. The picture, which he descibes as "a story of the contemporary African and his struggles against Apartheid and the domination of some of the white minorities," is due to arrive late next month after the house is refurbished. However, Mr. Rogosin indicated the other day, the assurance of an outlet for his film was not the primary purpose of the move.

"We were agreed that there is a dearth of houses for certain kinds of pictures -- the sort that may not be commercial precisely but ones which do deserve to be seen."

-A.H. Weiler, New York Times, Feb. 28, 1960

Myron Lounsbury

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The Bleecker Street Cinema, a popular Greenwich Village theater that has shown foreign and avant-garde films since 1962, will shut down on Aug. 30 because of a sharp rent increase, its owners said yesterday.

The abrupt decision to close the small, two-screen theater came after a bitter struggle for control of the theater's four-story building at 144 Bleecker Street, near LaGuardia Place. And it shocked the theater's employees and many of its patrons.

"It's terrible that a theater like this should close down," said Steve Chang, a New York University student who was leaving an afternoon showing of "Men in Love" yesterday. "It had a lot more character than all the new multiplex theaters."

The Bleecker Street Cinema is the latest casualty in a recent string of closings of New York movie theaters that had shown foreign, classic or independently produced films.

The theaters, all closing in the last few years, succumbed to a combination of real-estate pressures, the growing popularity of videocassettes and the desire of larger theater chains to convert single-screen "art" or "revival" theaters into more profitable multi-screen complexes showing new Hollywood movies.

The Cinema Studio, near Lincoln Center, closed this spring, and in the late 1980s the Embassy, Regency, Metro, Thalia and New Yorker theaters on the Upper West Side were all either closed or converted into first-run theaters. In addition, the Film Forum theater in SoHo closed last year, although it will re-open next month at a new location.

--Andrew Yarrow, Aug. 17, 1990

Myron Lounsbury

"Spike Lee is my hero. Oddly enough, I can't remember the first-time I met him. It must have been the winter of 1983 when I was programming the Bleecker Street Cinema, a legendary repertory site in Greenwich Village. Although it may seem impossible to believe now, he was the invisible man. He wasn't sitting courtside at Madison Square Garden, he wasn't selling sneakers with Michael Jordan, he wasn't lecturing at Harvard, and he wasn't debating Bryant Gumble or Ted Koppel on television. He was sitting unobtrusively, with his Mets cap pulled down low, inspecting the scratches and splices on 16mm prints at a small, independent distributor called First Run Features in the Bleecker building, a stone's throw from his alma mater NYU."

--John Pierson; "Spike, Mike Slackers & Dykes"; 1995.

Meredith Walker

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