Yesterday was a beautiful day to visit Manhattan – sunny, blue sky, temperatures in the mid-70s, pleasant breeze – and since I had an expiring train ticket, there’s where I was headed. There are rumors – which I can’t confirm because my wife might be reading – that many attractive young ladies were strolling in short skirts.
I had two items on my itinerary. First, I wanted to check out the High Line, a former elevated freight rail line near Tenth Avenue (between 12th and 30th Streets) that has been converted into a park and walking path two stories above the Manhattan streets.
It contains some lovely flora ….
an interesting view of some billboards …
as well as a stop where you can get some nummy goodness.
I’ve been told that, since the path runs past the upper windows of a local hotel, strollers are occasionally treated to an unexpected strip show by hotel patrons who forget to close their curtains. I was not so lucky – or do I mean not so unlucky?
The High Line is a delightful way to kill an hour on a nice day and is a clever reinvention of an urban eyesore. It has also stimulated development in the area. However, if you are a tourist, it should be low on your to-do list.
My second, and main, goal was to revisit part of my distant path. Back in the early 1970s, when I had dropped out of college and was at loose ends about my future, I became a fervent film buff. How this came to pass is a story for another day – it begins with watching Casablanca stoned – but I was quickly overwhelmed with a need to see the complete works of American masters like Ford, Welles and Hitchcock (yes, I know he was British), as well as the oeuvre of auteurs like Bergman, Fellini and Kurosawa. Since this was decades before Turner Classic and Netflix – hell, it was still years before VCRs – seeing the films, unless a good one popped up on the Million Dollar Movie, required trips to revival houses, and Manhattan had a slew of them. My favorite three – the Thalia, the New Yorker, and the Elgin – were all on the West Side and all showed double features which changed every day or two. All three closed ages ago, but I wanted to pay homage, see how the locations had changed and decide if that transformation had any relevance to my life.
The Thalia, on 95th and Broadway, was a tiny, unattractive screening room on a side street. If my memory is correct – and I wouldn’t trust it (I reiterate: Casablanca. Stoned.) – it was the only theater I’ve encountered where the aisles ramp up, not down, to the screen. (OK, I Googled it. It had a parabola design – down then up.) I spent quite a number of evenings and Saturday afternoons here, and it was where I first saw films by my favorite director, Luis Buñuel.
Sadly, the corner has been taken over by Starbucks (just two blocks from another Starbucks) and a New York Sports Club. To my astonishment, however, the Thalia is now back in existence under the name, I kid you not, the “Leonard Nimoy Thalia.” (Is there anything untouched by Star Trek?) It is part of a larger arts venue, Symphony Space, which presents music, dance and theater, as well as film.
Relevance to me: Hey, we all get co-opted by larger entities eventually. And I’d better study up on my Star Trek trivia before I get co-opted by the Vulcans.
Most filmgoers have seen the New Yorker Theater (88th Street and Broadway). It’s where Woody Allen brings Marshall McLuhan to settle a movie-line argument in Annie Hall. Although the New Yorker started as a revival house, its owners, the Talbots, started their own foreign-film distribution company, New Yorker Films, purchasing the rights to early films by Bernardo Bertolucci and Jean-Luc Godard, and the theater frequently premiered new films from around the world. Although the theater closed long ago, the distribution company is still in business though it briefly shut down operations in 2009.
Today, there is no evidence of the New Yorker’s former presence. The marquee has been dismantled and the block, dominated by an HSBC Bank, Ritz Camera, and a Duane Reade pharmacy, is under construction.
Relevance to me: I’m still under construction too.
Finally, the Elgin (19th Street and 8th Avenue) was the theatrical equivalent of a dive. I can remember holes in the seats and a sticky floor. However, every summer, it unspooled double features from the Janus Film Collection, which includes many of the classics you’ll encounter in Cinema 101. It’s where I first saw two of the greatest films of all time, Jean Renoir’s Grand Illusion and Rules of the Game. The Elgin was also notable as the first New York movie house to feature special midnight showings, most notably the Mexican head trip El Topo. Unfortunately, the Elgin’s heyday as a revival house only lasted a few years; it changed over to a porno house in the mid-70s (as if the floors weren’t sticky enough).
Today, it’s as if the Elgin caterpillar has become a butterfly. In 1982, it was renovated and became the lovely Joyce Theater, one of the top venues in New York for dance and choreography.
Relevance to me: I still have time to become a butterfly, don’t I?
With my nostalgia trip complete, I headed back underground for the trip home. By the way, when did they start turning the shuttle from Grand Central to Times Square into a rolling advertisement for TV shows? This was the second time I rode one in which every external and internal inch had been transformed into a commercial for a cable series, in this case for the Hatfield-McCoy mini-series. They even embedded video monitors above the windows showing the trailer on a continuous loop and re-did the seats to match the ad’s color scheme. I felt like I was riding a tram at Universal Studios. Yeah, I know some of you will think that’s an improvement, but I was happy to get on the less spiffy #1 train and see the ubiquitous ad for New York’s favorite dermatologist, Dr. Zizmor.
(Also: big thumbs-up to the steel drum player at the Penn Station stop. I wish I had taken a video.)
(All photos except Dr. Zizmor taken on my cheap cell phone.)