Tuesday, March 20, 2007

RIP Bleeker Street Cinema

In the 1960's the Bleeker Street Cinema was the only place you could see alternative films downtown. It was there that I first saw Rules of the Game, Breathless, and Ikiru. It was before VHS machines and Netflics.

Once I even entered the hallowed garret where Lionel Rogosin, the owner of Bleeker Street, had his office. It happened when my friend Julius Lester came back from North Vietnam. He brought me a set of Vietnamese cutouts-- a traditional art form of deft scissor cutting. The US was bombing the North every day. Julius had gone there as part of the Bertram Russell World Tribunal on the war. I thought that maybe I could use the sweet little folk cutouts to show people in NY the humanity of the country we were bombing. So I approached a few art galleries and exhibition spaces. No interest. But I noticed that there were occasionally exhibitions in the lobby of the Bleeker Street Cinema. My friend Leo Dratfield, founder of Contemporary Films and great supporter of alternative media, suggested that I go to Lionel Rogosin. I made my way up the stairs to his top floor office. Huge cans of 35 mm films lined the stairs and were stacked around his office. On the wall was a giant poster of the film Rififi, made by black-listed director Jules Dassin. I recall Rogosin being a blunt but cheery guy. He shuffled through my examples. "Sure", he said. "Good idea. But you gotta figure out how to hang them." So after cutting myself several times finally got them all matted and fixed with dime store hooks to hang. I made a little sign with a short history of the art form and their origin, omitting Julius' name. (He was falsely accused of anti-semitism by the JDL for something he said on WBAI and was quite worried about their vengeance.) The exhibition stayed up for two months until Rogosin called and said I had to take them down because there was an exhibit of Cuban film posters coming.Rogosin's classic film "On the Bowery" is playing this week at Anthology Film Archives.

My other connection with the Bleeker Street building was with the print shop down below street level. My friend Peggy Leo and I printed up a children's art calender for several years during the 60's and early 70's. For the first two years we used a press that was owned by the great pacifist Igal Rudenko. He published many posters and flyers for the peace movment in the cellar of the cinema. I remember there were little windows where you could see the feet of people waiting in line to see the films.

George Stoney gave me one more detail about the Bleeker St. Cinema building: from l972-75 it was the location of the
ALTERNATE MEDIA CENTER where Red Burns and George created the first course of training for students who would
ultimately define the nature and practice of Public Access Cable TV. They also organised the Alliance of Community Media (though for many years it was the National Federation of Local Cable Programmers).

Later the building hosted the first of (now many) Kim's Video, which was the only place you could get vhs copies of the sort of alternative films that Bleeker Street Cinema used to play. For a while there was a rumor that NYU's Center for Media, Culture and History program was hoping to purchase the building and actually raised some money towards that purpose. Although I am usually quite hostile to the prospect of NYU owning even one more inch of Lower Manhattan, the idea of that valuable media program being there at least continued the connection with great cinema of the past.

When I saw that Duane Reade had usurped this historic Village landmark, I cried.

PS I will search my attic for those Vietnamese cutouts and post them here soon.


Post a Comment

<< Home