New York Film Locations

 





Desperately Seeking Susan - Special Report (Day 3)

8 April 2015

The Bleecker Street Cinema was an art house movie theatre located at 144 Bleecker Street in Manhattan, New York City. It became a landmark of Greenwich Village and an influential venue for filmmakers and cinemaphiles through its screenings of foreign and Independent films. It closed in 1990, reopened as a gay adult theatre for a time afterward, then again briefly showed art films until closing for good in 1991.

Several scenes in Desperately Seeking Susan were shot there, as the characters Dez, played by Aidan Quinn worked there as a projectionist, and in the final scene Susan, played by Madonna sits with her casual boyfriend Jim watching the 1964 science fiction film, The Time Travelers.


(Film: Desperately Seeking Susan)

The building at 144 Bleecker Street in New York City's Greenwich Village that would eventually house the Bleecker Street Cinema was originally built in 1832 as two rowhouses at 144 and 146 Bleecker Street. Placido Mori converted 144 into the restaurant Mori in 1883. It closed in 1937. The building remained unoccupied until 1944 when political and activist organizations including Free World House headquartered there for two years. Sometime afterward, the space became the Restaurant Montparnasse. By 1959, the building was owned by New York University.


(Bleecker Street Cinema, courtesy NYU archives)

Filmmaker and social activist Lionel Rogosin founded the 200-seat Bleecker Street Cinema in 1960 in order to exhibit his controversial 1959 film Come Back, Africa. In the early 1960s, the independent-filmmakers' group The Film-Makers' Cooperative, of which Rogosin was a supporter, showed experimental movies there as midnight screenings. Soon the venue became, in the words of film critic and historian James Hoberman, one of "three key revival houses: The New Yorker, the Bleecker Street [Cinema], and the Thalia", in New York City during the 1950s and 1960. Film critic Rudy Franchi, at one time the theatre's program director, recalled that the house cat, Breathless, named for that Godard film, would often "escape from the office area and start to climb the movie screen. ... I would sometimes get a buzz on the house phone from the projection booth with the terse message 'Cat's on the screen.'" The theatre cat at the venue's 1990 closing was named Wim, after director Wim Wenders. Sid Geffen purchased the theatre in 1973, and ran it with his wife, then named Jackie Raynal. That same year, Geffen bought the Carnegie Hall Cinema, housed in the famed music hall. Future October Films co-founder and United Artists studio executive Bingham Ray began his film career in 1981 as a manager and programmer at the theatre, and longtime Film Forum programmer and film historian Bruce Goldstein had his first New York theatre job at Geffen's two venues. Geffen died in 1986. 171 seats, and the 78-seat James Agee Room.

In 1990, his widow, by then remarried and named Jackie Raynal-Sarré, said that because Geffen left no will, she partnered with developer John Souto to buy out Geffen's children from a previous marriage. She further said that Souto, after renting to her for four years for $160,000 annually, raised the rent to $275,000, more than the theatre could sustain. Following a lawsuit and court proceedings, a judge ordered the two co-owners to bid on the building. In its final configuration, it had a main auditorium of The theatre closed on September 6, 1990. The last film to start was Aki Kaurismäki's 74-minute Ariel, and the last film to end was the nearly two-hour Jesus of Montreal. The last film in the James Agee Room was Roger Stigliano's Fun Down There. By November of that year, it had reopened as a gay adult-film-theatre. Sometime afterward it returned to its art-house roots and then closed a final time on Monday night, September 2, 1991. Its final features were Alex van Warmerdam's Dutch comedy Voyeur; the documentary Jimi Hendrix at the Isle of Wight; Ari Roussimof's war-veteran drama Shadows in the City; and Francis Teri's horror movie Suckling. The theatre's final operator was Nick Russo Nicolaou.


(Former Bleecker Street Cinema site, October 2008)

In Woody Allen's 1989 Crimes and Misdemeanors, the character played by filmmaker-star Allen visits the Bleecker Street Cinema to see Alfred Hitchcock's Mr. and Mrs. Smith and the 1943 musical Happy Go Lucky. It also appears in the film The Prince of Tides.

Special Report (Day 4) looks at the Love Save the Day Store.





 


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