I was thinking about how important the yearly Christmas break from school was for those of us who matured during the last Golden Age of studio production, the 1970’s.
Growing up in Brooklyn, I had plenty of energy but nothing substantive to focus it on. No one ever thought to take full advantage of New York’s cultural offerings, so sports were the major concern for myself and my friends. Movies were also a part of our little world, which was as cloistered and parochial as any southern backwater. The teenagers I hung out with had no idea how odd that was, but in some sense we were lucky for that. Winter weather was always dodgy in the northeast, so as conditions on the ball fields and schoolyards deteriorated we retreated to the cinema. The neighborhood flea-pits – there were quite a few of them close to home – offered cheap and easy refuge from the cold and rain. Single-plexes all, with huge screens and hundreds of empty seats, what we saw in these cavernous spaces was often sophisticated, aimed at an adult sensibility and completely atypical of what normally interested us.
By the time Christmas vacation rolled around, we were ready to cram in as many movies as we could, sometimes two or three per day. In other instances we’d sit through several showings of the same one. Back then, films premiered at first-run houses in Manhattan and could take weeks or months to reach the outer boroughs. We couldn’t bear waiting for the good ones and would frequently hop on the subway to quench our curiosity. Over time we became aware of a different sort of material in the now-defunct revival houses that dotted the city – the British Kitchen Sink school, the French New Wave, Italian Neorealism, even some great old studio films that never turned up on TV. Though our main objective was to have fun we were starting to grow, unknowingly, and it was often reflected in a slightly improved conversation on the way home. These were fabulous experiences and while I had no idea at the moment, I’m certain those movies I saw share a direct link to my career as a cinematographer.
Rather than limit myself to the long list of streaming content vying for Oscars this year, I’ve resolved to see as many titles as I can in the way they were meant to be experienced – with an audience and on a big screen. The experience will be no match for those road trip screenings at the Bleecker Street Cinema, the Carnegie Hall Cinema or the Thalia, but hey…what else are you supposed to do during the Christmas break? With any luck, they’ll present a raft of new topics to post on this blog in 2022!