Cinema Verité

The Bleecker Street Cinema, located on Bleecker near LaGuardia Place (photo: Robert Otter)

SoHo had three local movie theaters in the 1970’s (the ur-Angelikas): Cinematheque, which became the Anthology Film Archives in 1974 and moved to the East Village in 1980, Film Forum, formerly on Watts Street, now on West Houston, and The Bleecker Street Cinema on Bleecker near LaGuardia, none of which ever screened first-run Hollywood films.  Perhaps this was a contributing factor to my poor knowledge of Disney characters, about whom I am learning only now that I have a 3-year-old daughter.

Of the three venues listed above, the only one I frequented as a tween/teen was The Bleecker Street Cinema, which opened in 1962 and closed in 1990.  The Bleecker showed mostly independent films (a term that actually meant something back then) and revivals of (mostly) American and European classics.  Although the theater was not actually in SoHo, it served the SoHo community.  Supposedly François Truffaut referred to it as ” the American Cinématheque.”  It was one of the only cinemas within walking distance from SoHo, and it was also one of the only cinemas that showed films that many in the community wanted to see.

The last film I remember seeing at the Bleecker Street Cinema was Susan Seidelman’s Desperately Seeking Susan.  The last scene of the film takes place in the Cinema, and I remember thinking how cool and self-referrential it was to be watching a film in which Madonna and Rosanna Arquette were watching a film in the same theater where I was sitting. That was ca. 1987.

The authors of a 1979 guide to SoHo write:

…the Bleecker Street  Cinema continues to show some of the best film programs anywhere.  They constantly screen foreign and domestic works that one always meant to see but didn’t, that one is dying to see again, or that surfaced only here, like Jean Marie Straub’s Fortini Cani.  Retrospectives of the work of young directors like Martin Scorcese and Brian DePalma were held recently, with both directors appearing in person.  Each yer, the Bleecker does a series of films selected by the editors of Cahiers du Cinema at which the staff of the noted film journal are present for discussions.  Samurai and sci-fi cultists are not forgotten, nor is any film genre, for that matter.

(from Anderson & Archer’s SoHo: The Essential Guide to Art and Life in Lower Manhattan, Simon and Schuster, 1979, page 69)

I was not old enough to fully appreciate the huge contribution the Bleecker made to our community’s culture until its later years.  I attended film screenings there for my film class at Stuyvesant in the mid-1980’s, a course that really opened my eyes to the wonders and beauty of film and taught me how to be an active rather than a merely passive participant in the cinematic experience, and because of that, the Bleecker will always be a place for me that is remembered fondly and sorely missed.

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4 Responses to “Cinema Verité”

  1. Aristides Pappidas Says:

    I started going to the BSC in 1957 and only once in all that time, that I know about) did they have a live performance one night. But what a night! I got to see Ethel Waters’ solo show and what a warm, talented and generous performer she was!

  2. Alex in NYC Says:

    Hey there, Yukie…
    Just FYI, that photo at the top of your post was taken by Robert Otter (see her galleries here: http://www.robertotter.com/ )

  3. Yukie Says:

    Thanks for the tip!

  4. David Small Says:

    I too saw Desperately Seeking Susan at the Bleecker Street Cinema. What a loss to the neighborhood that it’s no longer there.

    As I recall, the final shot is inside the theater itself, looking down towards the screen. This created a wonderful hall of mirrors effect, the only difference being that they had repainted the walls a different color after the film was shot.

    I had a similar experience seeing Six Degrees of Separation at the Waverly on 6th Avenue. There’s a scene of Will Smith talking on a public phone, with the Waverly in the background.

    And finally, also at the Waverly, I once walked past it and saw Milos Forman shooting a scene for Hair. It featured a street performer singing “Frank Mills,” which referenced the Waverly. Sadly, the song and scene were cut from the movie.

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