Sunday, April 29, 2007

The ongoing battle for survival of the Brattle

The Brattle Theatre -- "the birthplace of foreign film appreciation in North America, a continent that prior to World War II knew Europe and Asian largely through skewed Hollywood lenses" -- continues to muddle through as a single-screen showcase in an era when even megaplexes are becoming endangered species. But the question remains: How long can this historic Harvard Square theater -- the hallowed site where Humphrey Bogart was elevated beyond mere superstardom, to the pantheon of pop culture icons -- remain open?

The Brattle has "expanded its foundation board," writes Peter Howell, "and it has an advisory board that includes filmmakers David Lynch, Albert Maysles and Miguel Arteta, plus cinematographer Gordon Willis (The Godfather)." But even so, "[e]very bit as important as the money is the belief that art houses like the Brattle are still needed in a wired and cocooned world. And if a cinema as storied as the Brattle has this much trouble staying afloat in an elite college town like Cambridge, next door to Boston, then what hope is there for lesser-known art houses in other towns?"

By the way: I can testify that it's a great place to see classic movies. Former Newsweek correspondent Joanne Harrison brought me there a few years ago while I was visiting Boston, so we could see the fully restored version of Samuel Fuller's The Big Red One. (Before the screening, Harrison regaled me with her memories of repeatedly attending Casablanca revivals at the Brattle -- along with hundreds of other area college students -- during her Boston childhood.) I seriously doubt that Fuller's sprawling masterwork would have had quite the same impact on me if I'd viewed it for the first time on DVD.

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