8 February 2018
We get used to loss more easily these days. In former times, we said solemn, extended, teary goodbyes…FDR, JFK, MLK…a part of our own stories taken from us. But now with 24-hour news, social media and deep dives into ubiquitous celebrity trivia, there is but a more fleeting time for sadness over what used to be heartrending events. Except for two weeks ago and the passing of the Lincoln Plaza Cinema across from Lincoln Center in New York. It was like a favorite uncle taken from us…needlessly, too soon, from a botched medical procedure. He should have been around much longer.
But, you might say, it’s a movie theater. Why am I obsessing over a movie theater? Well, it was more than a theater. Roberta, my significant other (words to describe companions well past adolescence are few), lives near Columbia University, sixty streets north of the theater. But still it was our local theater, because of the movies the owners chose to show…movies with European subjects, middle eastern subjects, mold-breaking themes with appeal to a tighter audience. They certainly appealed to the west side progressives (radicals even) who found a home for their cultural proclivities. These were not movies that gave a shot of the box office plasma that multiplexes need, though once in a while they did throw in first-run movies. But always interesting films. And then there was the refreshment counter…different as well with lemon squares, babka, carrot cake, rugalach, oatmeal cookies…you get the idea.
The closing was not a show the last movie, turn off the lights and lock the door affair. It was a wake, a shiva-sitting for the decades-long faithful, who listened to speakers who had known the owners and effervesced about them and the movies they showed and the directors who previewed movies there. Michael Moore, the last speaker, never successful in finding restraint, when illuminating the shortcomings of those with whom he disagrees, summoned anger and frustration over another cultural icon being lost to tawdry, runaway capitalism.
Then there were the grieving souls, the audience, another leg of the stool that gave them cultural sustenance, taken away. A lady in back of us…a film critic for an outré publication…who looked like she took time away from fortune-telling, dressed in a red satin coat with the gold embroidery of 16th century European royalty, a red velvet poof of a hat and ten rings, was taking notes and holding court with those she knew…one, a man, surely a steady at the theater, who apologized for his wife’s absence…she was home writing a libretto. I asked a man in back of me, clearly distraught, what he planned to do. Protest, he said. It works. There used to be pimps and prostitutes and drug dealers in my apartment building. I went to the cops and told them I had an AK-47 and that if they didn’t take care of it, I would. Another woman, with a starry-eyed lost look, whose family used to own a small bungalow colony in the Catskills, hadn’t decided what she could do.
The ceremonies ended, as wakes and shivas do, with hors d’oeuvres, wine and pastries and brave smiles. But now we’ve got to figure out where are we going to see movies like the last one they showed…”My Coffee with Jewish Friends”. I forgot to ask the clairvoyant if she could rattle some chains and come up with an answer.