The Spectacle Theater in New York (image courtesy Spectacle)

这是不可能谈论的纽约City movie theaters reopeningwithout also talking about their closure one year ago. In the initial COVID-19 maelstrom of March 2020, lacking anything resembling official guidance (beyond德布拉西奥在推特上说人们应该去看马可·贝洛奇的电影The Traitor),many askedwhy they were still open. After they shut down, the question became: How can a theater operate — indeed, what does itdo— when its physical doors are closed? Speaking with programmers and theater workers across the city, one thing is crystal clear: The initiatives that began last year as stopgap measures to keep their brands alive have already rescaled the industry of repertory film programming, for both better and worse. (I personally work as a programmer atSpectacle, an all-volunteer microcinema in Williamsburg, and work in the film ticketing department at the Museum of Modern Art.)

Not a few frail infrastructures were laid bare by the pandemic. Some venues resorted to measures which can only be called desperate, likea $100 hoodie advertising Williamsburg Cinemas. Others, likeMetrograph, seized the opportunity to host a wider array of films and programs than might have been possible before. For most, the only choice was to move programs online — even if, as轻工业’s Ed Halter and Thomas Beard pointed out over the phone, the ticketing equivalent of sharing a Vimeo link is “deeply unexciting.” Another complicating factor is the high cost of building a custom platform; no cinema is going to spend tens of thousands of dollars to create something so temporary.

一切都源于一个显而易见但却至关重要的事实,即2020年的关停是这座城市文化史上前所未有的事件。杰德拉普福格尔,首席程序员Anthology Film Archives, described the exasperation of assembling a career-spanning, on-film Michael Snow retrospective (with the 92-year-old artist scheduled to appear) for April 2020, only to have to cancel it. Beard was developing an ambitious King Vidor program for Film at Lincoln Center with Dan Sullivan, an undertaking involving coordination with multiple archives. Spectacle was assembling a massive “greatest hits” series to commemorate ten years of operation. This is the kind of programming that cannot simply be dragged and dropped onto a streaming site. (We did get a certain perverse thrill on Spectacle’s official 10th birthday, as Claude Faraldo’s working-class caveman epicThemroc在电影只剩下10分钟的时候,影院的账户就被暂时禁止了抽搐。)另一个痛处是发行商不愿意在没有最低收视的情况下打开他们的金库。一位同事私下说,一家大型制片厂不愿意以低于5万美元的价格租赁一个档案片。如果这种事情预示着未来的剧目节目比一年的影院停业更糟呢?

The empty lobby of Anthology Film Archives (image courtesy Anthology Film Archives)

That said, there are silver linings (Halter called them “death blow cushions”) for filmmakers and distributors. Online releases have democratized buzz, lessening the power of professional film critics at in-person festivals, who often file their desperate-to-be-first dispatches within minutes of a film’s end credits, putting a thumb on the scales of “the discourse” months before a regular person gets a chance to see it for themselves. Films have more chances to play “at” different cinematheques, getting a wider signal boost than what was offered by the old model of investing in a circuit of IRL theaters. For a distributor like Criterion, streaming has invigorated the need for programming, and its specialty platform now hosts a dizzying array of movies not connected to their parent company Janus Films. They’re expanding the definition of what a film programmer actually does in the 21st century.

Many programmers essentially shrugged off the March 5 green light to reopen from Cuomo, citing still-high infection rates in NYC, the still-in-progress vaccination effort, and/or wary moviegoers. “Every programmer I know was totally surprised by the March 5 announcement,” Beard told me. As of the time of writing, Anthology, BAM, MoMA, Spectacle, and Metrograph all have no announced dates or plans for reopening. And whenever theatersdoreopen, it will not be business as usual.

Some industry flackspushed the narrativethat COVID came to finish off theatrical moviegoing once and for all. Instead, IRL screenings must now appetize audiences (and indeed, justify their very existence) on the promise that there’s still some quality to cinema which can’t be screen-captured and uploaded to the cloud. For the studio conglomerates, that used to mean first dibs on whatever tentpole release was slated to open exclusively in theaters (at least for the weekend before camrips inevitably materialized on the web). But given华纳兄弟(Warner Bros)计划在影院和HBO Max上同时发布2021年的大片, even this idea appears a pre-pandemic artifact. Compare and contrastChristopher Nolan’s crying-in-his-beer responseto the announcement withthat of犹大与黑人弥赛亚filmmaker Shaka King, who essentially said he was glad people had a chance to see his movie on a popular (if imperfect) platform.

The Maya Deren Theater at Anthology Film Archives (image courtesy Anthology Film Archives)

These conversations reveal the paradox facing the future of repertory programming as well. Drawing audiences back to the arthouse could entail a rare print, an exclusive in-person appearance, or the promise of a mystery movie — which in addition to building palpable excitement in a theater often allows programmers to buck restrictions from filmmakers and distributors. The good news, at least in New York City, is that many cinemas were doing that work already. If the theater in question had a community in place before the shutdown, it’s fair to assume those communities will continue to support them. Moving online has forced programmers to think creatively, both in terms of diversifying offerings and reaching audiences that were previously not part of the equation. The imperative at Spectacle — to create a punk in-person event that cannot be replicated — inverted itself overnight. Suddenly the aim was to go as global as possible, sharing lost and forgotten films well beyond the confines of New York.

And what’s true for a shoestring operation like Spectacle is just as true for an institution like Anthology orFilm Forum. 即使流媒体让这个品牌保持了活力和知名度,这也几乎不能转化成美元和美分。电影论坛(filmforum)执行董事卡伦•库珀(Karen Cooper)估计,他们过去一年的流媒体收入约为35万美元,而正常情况下,每个财政年度的票房收入为100万至200万美元,理由是捐赠者的慷慨让这个非营利组织得以生存。“我们就像干船坞里的一艘船,”她告诉我。“流媒体一直是保持活跃和创造力的一个很好的方式,但这是一个财政微薄。”同一天,我们发言,电影论坛announced it would resume theatrical operations on April 2,使其成为最早的纽约剧目场地再保险openafter the Quad.Film at Lincoln Centerhas also announced that他们将于4月16日重新开放.


FLC has been (rightly) praised for coming up with a hybrid solution to the crisis, putting together一个纽约电影节,在网上和汽车电影院举行, with world-class premieres of important films. But it’s hard not to draw the conclusion that the theater’ssuccessful effort to unionize this past summerwas a direct consequence of林肯中心领导层于2020年3月实施的快速休假和裁员. (Maxwell Paparella hasdetailed unionization efforts at museums in NYC and other places in response to pandemic austerityfor美术纸.) In a similar act of solidarity, in the first weeks of shutdown — before payroll protection plans, stimulus checks, and unemployment had been reconfigured for the unprecedented upheaval — theCinema Worker Solidarity Fund由Beard and Halter与程序员Nellie Killian(前BAM)和电影制作人Sierra Pettengill共同组织,筹集了超过75000美元,用于支持剧院工作人员,而不仅仅是受人喜爱的高级代表机构的工作人员。


The answer may well be the inveterate New York cinephile, a cantankerous sort who liked having space to themselves long before social distancing. Leaving aside the financial and technological headaches of running an online cinematheque, Cooper is definitely on to something: “people do not get the same adrenaline rush from seeing the roar of the MGM lion when they’re sitting at home on their couches.” The essential value of IRL moviegoing is probably the act of devotion, when someone voluntarily chooses to concentrate on a film in the stillness of a darkened theater instead of streaming movies as wallpaper while they play with their phone.

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Steve Macfarlane

Steve Macfarlane is a writer and filmmaker from Seattle, Washington. A programmer at Spectacle in Williamsburg, his writing has appeared in Cinema Scope, The White Review, Filmmaker Magazine,...

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