Action, Camera, Lights Out at The Movie Place 12 Years Ago
By Caitlin Hawke
First, I want to note the kindness of Chris Brady who gave me permission to illustrate this post with his technicolor photos of the Movie Place (TMP), the way it was. I found them at Chris's photo feed here a while back, and they stopped me cold, for the love of a place I remember so well. I've been saving them for you.
Incredibly, gone for 12 years already, the Movie Place hasn't come close to being replaced around here in its role as a neighborhood hub drawing from north, south, east and west. Never mind its mom-and-pop-edness.
The last owner of TMP was Gary Dennis, who is equally known for his efforts to get Humphrey Bogart his due by the dubbing of W. 103rd Street for him, replete with a ceremonial appearance of Bacall. Yes, right here in Bloomingdale.
I wrote a piece about that here last year.
Now I love Bogie and Bacall as much and perhaps more than most. But it takes a force of nature like Gary to move city elements -- NYCHA et al -- get the naming done. So I want you to remember that when you are walking the block between West End Avenue and Broadway on 103rd staring at a "This is Us" rerun on your smartphone. Look Up! For the love of the silver screen, look up. Look up from your big sleep and appreciate that you trace Humphrey DeForest Bogart's footsteps as he left his home at 245 W. 103rd St. and padded over to the Trinity School. He lived there from about December 25, 1899 until he enlisted in the navy in 1918.
I still see Gary around from time to time. At a Bloomingdale Neighborhood History Group meeting last year, he gave a great presentation on the neighborhood as portrayed in films. Many chase scenes later, he had the audience eating out of his hands.
He used to keep a wonky blog on lost cinema houses. And I think he still gives tours. Bloomingdale born, Gary grew up loving movies. Ironic then that when it was a novelty, everyone said his was the voice that used to animate the old "Moviefone" reservation line. And that amused me. You remember the Moviephone? It's the line you dialed that responded in a quasi-human voice: "Hello, and welcome to Moviefone! Using your touchtone keypad, please enter the first three letters of the movie title now."
If you don't know the voice I am talking about, here's a fun clip. It's not, spoiler alert, Gary Dennis. But he sure coulda been a contender.
TMP lasted in situ for 22 years, and it is now gone for 12. Together, that's more than the full lifespan of the Betamax.
Yes, 12 years ago, our mecca of movies closed, and it was noteworthy enough for the New York Times to weigh in. If you never had the pleasure of pushing through the door into the high-ceilinged space bustling with first dates, lonely hearts, groups of buddies and old couples riffling through bins of movie titles, you haven't lived.
Sorry, but it was a thing.
People came from many neighborhoods away to partake. To feast in the selection. And to go home with armfuls of movies. To come back three days later and do it all again.
It wasn't just the selection. It was the connoisseurship. The guys and a couple of gals behind the counter each had a specific taste. You could ask anyone anything and with just a few hints at what you liked, out poured 5 or 10 suggestions of other films to watch. An algorithm in flesh and blood. It's called a brain and memory, actually. And it worked.
Yet it wasn't just the connoisseurship, it was also the place. Patina would be a nice way of describing the layers of this loft-like store. Grime would be a bridge too far. Let's call it wabi-sabi.
If the Movie Place were a rock star, it would have been Keith Richards.
Yes, technology has transformed our world since then. And yes many don't even feel the need for a screen bigger than an iPad to enjoy a film, old or new. And yes, I'll even cede that streaming a movie is more convenient. But algorithms will never replace synaptic encyclopedias like the brain that is Gary Dennis's or that of the employees, some of whom, thankfully, still live in the neighborhood with their dogs or their now-grown kids. And for what the human touch is still worth, you can't get that kind of prickle online. Or snark. Or voice. Or, truth be told, that warmth.
Starbucks will never replace the town-square feeling that was the Movie Place on a Friday night. And Tindr will never be as electric with possibility as browsing the Nouvelle Vague section over a handsome guy's shoulder.
Seek no more the ghost of the Movie Place, let loose to wander since 2006. For it is here. And this one from the vault of Block Association newsletters is a David Reich original. Scroll all the way down to read it.