Lincoln Plaza Cinemas - Fare Thee Well My Honey
Neighbors are taking the loss of an Upper West Side film institution personally. And I must say, I have a lump in my throat.
Alas, this is the dawn of a gloomy week for culture on upper Broadway: we say farewell (sayonara, adios, adieu, arrivederci) to beloved foreign and indie film mecca Lincoln Plaza Cinemas (LPC) for good on Thursday. LPC goes out with a bang on January 28 when staff plan a tribute to the nonagenarian owners, the late Dan Talbot and his widow Toby.
Sadly Dan died on December 29 (of a broken heart, perhaps), soon after the announcement that the cinema's partner/landlord Howard Milstein would not entertain lease negotiations. Petitions were drafted. Pleas were made. Emails went out fast and furious.
I'm susceptible to speculation about the motive for not renewing the lease and about what will happen with the space. Indeed all kinds of rumors now swirl -- that Lincoln Center's Film Society will take it over in a premeditated deal. (Very likely, if you want to place bets). That it will become part of the Alamo movie-beer empire or something similar. That LPC will move into the Metro. (This last one's not gonna happen. I've come to believe that the not-so-benign neglect of our local landmark is a strategy to let it crumble-in-place. And Toby Talbot has lost her programming partner-in-crime. And the Metro is completely gutted inside, which is rumored to have killed a local Alamo deal a few years ago for the Metro. But it sure is a nice Bloomingdale thought. As Gary Dennis has so beautifully documented, Bloomingdale used to be a contender in the realm of theater and cinema. But no more. I always whisper a little prayer for the landmarked Metro exterior to stand tall as long as possible and maybe some angel will bring it back. A naive little dream, yes.)
While most of these rumors would receive open-armed welcomes, it's sort of hard to believe that anyone would get into the retro business of art-house films these days with everyone glued to their phones, streaming their lives away. The old-time concept of a dark room full of silent strangers collectively sharing the magic is just about as quaint as hailing a yellow cab will soon be.
But there are fine examples of models that work (more on that below); and there are fine examples, such as the Talbots for the past 40 plus years, of what the hip would call "tastemakers." Nonprofits and small cinemas who still keep the fire burning for those who refuse to watch on a postage-stamp screen. The tributes to Dan and Toby Talbot have been effusive and, as owners of New Yorker films, the New Yorker Theater and LPC, Dan and Toby earned their spots in the film pantheon by being market makers for the foreign and independent film circuit. Columbia University houses his papers and this blog makes for more good reading if you are interested. So while Hollywood kicks Harvey Weinstein to the curb, let us hold the Talbots on high. Cinematic history will be very kind to their legacy.
Just one week more. Forget any conflicted feelings you may have for the Plaza. Yes, it was worn from years of non-stop cinephilia. Yes, yes, a bit dowdy. Yes again that it harbored an occasional pickpocket or two. But think back and tell me with a straight face that Lincoln Plaza Cinemas didn't open your world. Delight and dazzle you. And upon occasion blow your mind?
For me it would be like choosing a favorite child, there have been too many delicious films screened there to single out just one. Though I do have a photographic recollection of the cloud I wafted out on after seeing the 1999 Paul Thomas Anderson film "Magnolia." Yikes, nearly twenty years ago. One frigid Saturday night, I emerged from the late screening and streamed up Broadway humming Aimee Mann's beautiful soundtrack on my way home.
Five days left to get in there and pay homage. And I have just the right rec: neighbor Manfred Kirschheimer's "My Coffee with Jewish Friends." Known as Manny, this Bloomingdale documentarian is getting his due after decades in the business and an impressive body of work. MoMA gave him a retrospective last year; their copywriter put it better than I can when qualifying Manny:
"[he] weds the aesthetic exuberance of modernist urban chroniclers like Walt Whitman, Joseph Stella, and Charles Mingus to the leftist populism of Studs Terkel and Jane Jacobs. His documentary (and quasi-fictional) films are intricate montages of sound and image that thrum with hard bop or proto-hip-hop energy. They are fanfares and requiems for New York’s immigrant working class and demimonde, its art and artists, buildings and builders, haves and have nots."
"My Coffee with Jewish Friends" is a klatch on film. And Manny makes you a fly on an old-time Upper West Side kitchen wall. The film is playing every day though Thursday at LPC.
And if after "Coffee" you're jonesing for more Manny, visit the Metrograph. Just this past Friday, Manny spoke there at the opening of the run of his 2006 film "Tall: The American Skyscraper and Louis Sullivan." "Tall" is also around through Thursday.
Above I mentioned cinema models that could work in the era of smartphones and boom-boom rents: well there is one right there. Perhaps a bit precious on the concessions front, the Metrograph has a calendar that is part old Cinema Village, part Quad and part Film Forum. It's quirky and satisfying programming; and though it's a world away from the Upper West Side, it's well worth a visit--if only to say loud and proud that NYC can and should sustain such art houses.
So vaya con dios, dear Plaza. Fare thee well, Daniel Talbot. Best wishes to the entire LPC family for your next chapter. And to the filmmaking son of Bloomingdale Manfred and our Queen of UWS film Toby, much mazel.
The Metrograph gives me hope. The good things that the plate tectonics of NYC real estate subduct to the molten mantle do come round again. Hopefully, we'll know the real ones when we see them and not just follow the next shiny thing.
I am looking at you, Mr. Milstein.