Wednesday, March 17, 2010

St. Paddy's Day 2010

It promises to be a beautiful day for the St. Patrick's Day Parade on Fifth Avenue -- if you don't mind the crowds, you find amusement in the looks-like-that-dude's-going-to-keel-over-any-moment suspense, and you can overlook the politics of exclusion.

I went to the parade once, years ago. It was worth it at the time. I went to a lot of parades that year -- even the Labor Day Parade. I'd never lived anywhere that had so many parades: Labor Day, Columbus Day, Thanksgiving Day, St. Patrick's Day, Easter...

These days, I'm ambivalent about New York's St. Patrick's Day Parade. I like the idea of the tradition; I like the idea of parades in general. But, I'd rather avoid the crowds, don't find drunkenness amusing and have mixed feelings about celebrating with a group commemorating pride, culture and nationalism that would so vehemently exclude fellow nationals based on their sexual orientation. Year after year, the New York City parade organizers continue to disallow LGBT groups from marching along with their fellow Irish. As the chairperson of Dublin Pride said this week, this attitude and practice are "deeply un-Irish."

At the same time, it's the organizers' prerogative to include who they want. I disagree with the decision, and I support the protesters who organize every year; that's my prerogative. Over the weekend, Buffalo, N.Y., hosted the first St. Patrick's Day Parade in New York State to include an LGBT group. Yep, Buffalo. NYC parade organizers, take note.

If you want to celebrate St. Paddy's Day, but wouldn't be caught dead near the parade, other options are available. Check out these resources for things to do and places to go to get your green on:
If you want to go the parade (your prerogative), bear in mind that NYPD says it will show no tolerance for public drinking this year. It starts at 11:00 a.m. at Fifth Ave. and 44th St. and continues up the avenue to 86th St. Get information on the route, street closings and the alcohol warning here.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

The Amiable Child Monument: Unexpected Discovery of the Day

On my weekend outings with the dogs, I try to wander, breaking off our well-worn routes in Riverside Park or Central Park in the hopes of coming upon something I've never seen before. Today I was rewarded with the discovery of the Amiable Child Monument on Riverside Drive at 123rd St., just north of General Grant's Tomb.

One of only a few private burial sites on public lands in the city, it's a memorial to St. Claire Pollack, a five-year-old boy who in 1797, at the age of five, fell to his death on the cliffs of the Hudson River. The original monument was erected further down the hill, closer to the river and the actual site of the boy's death. It has been replaced twice due to deterioration; the current monument was erected in 1967 and is
surrounded by a wrought-iron gate.

My discovery is hardly rare, as I've uncovered a number of blog posts and Web sites about it this afternoon. Nonetheless, the surprise of coming upon it on such a gorgeous, nearly-spring day, underscores how the city continually reveals itself unexpectedly, provoking you to view your own well-worn routes with new eyes.

More on the Amiable Child Monument
In addition to the Riverside Park Fund's Web page about the monument (linked to above), check out Amiable Child (April 17, 2009), from the War of Yesterday blog, a detailed account of the memorial's history, including current and historic photos.

More on the Neighborhood
For more information on this neighborhood and other sites in the area, read my post Morningside Heights Walking Tour.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Film Forum's Victor Fleming Fest Opens Friday

Film Forum launches the Victor Fleming Film Festival tomorrow (Friday, March 5), providing the opportunity to see Gone With the Wind and The Wizard of Oz, among other classics, on the big screen -- or at least, as big as it gets at Film Forum.

The two-week fest (March 5-18) kicks off with a double-feature of Red Dust and Bombshell, both starring Jean Harlow (Friday-Saturday). The The Wizard of Oz screens in a double with Captains Corageous March 7-8. GWTW is scheduled for four days, March 13-16; for a separate admission, you can make that a double-feature with The Wizard of Oz on the 13th and 14th. In all, the festival features 22 of the director's films starring the likes of Clara Bow, Gary Cooper, Clark Gable, Myrna Loy, Henry Fonda, and the list goes on. Check out the full schedule here.

I love these retro film fests at Film Forum. When I first moved to New York, in the early 80s, you could catch retro films at half a dozen or more indie theaters. You could camp out in the mezzanine seats, and smoke and drink, settle in, immerse yourself in four hours of consciously curated double bills. Sadly, most of those theaters are gone now; the few that survive have largely been reincarnated in another form.

The Metro, 100th & Broadway
Now empty and forlorn, but not demolished, the Metro of the 80s showed a mix of second-run and retro films. My friend Louis and I went to a devastating double-feature of Shoot the Moon and Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Afterward we walked south on Broadway, and I vowed never to marry; just then, we saw Mariel Hemingway eating at a table-side window in a Chinese restaurant. Both of us being a little star-struck in those days, plus fans of Manhattan, the sighting saved us from a big, fat post-mortem pity-fest.

Theatre 80 St. Marks, 80 St. Marks Place
Rumors of a complete shutdown of this Jazz Age space surfaced last spring and, happily, proved wrong. The Otway family, which has owned it since 1965, recently re-opened it as a digital projection movie theater after leasing it to the Pearl Theatre Company for 15 years. Prior to that, Theatre 80 had booked great double-bills of classic films, rear-projected in 16mm. This was where I learned the pleasures of going to the movies alone, when I ventured out solo one cold Saturday for a double feature of Mildred Pierce and Double Indeminity.

St. Marks Cinema, 133 Second Ave.
A great place for a contact high, the St. Marks dated back to around 1914 (or earlier?), when it was the Astor Theatre. It was an East Village mainstay in the 80s, with great late-night, double-feature picture shows. Over the New Year's holiday in 1985, my friend Steve and I loaded up on midnight snacks for a double of Diva and Stop Making Sense, during which we both enjoyed and, no doubt contributed to, the second-hand schmoke. Not long after, that grand old theater was replaced by a Gap store, which presaged the ongoing ruin of St. Mark's Place. Today it's a luxury condo building.

Other retro houses of note included:
  • Cinema Village (22 East 12th St.), which survives with the proud distinction of being the oldest continuously operated theaters in the Village and one of the oldest in the city. It was built in 1963 and, for about 30 years, featured double bills of classic and cult films. It was one of my favorites, partly for the smoking-allowed balcony seats, partly for its convenient location across the street from my office in the old Fairchild Publications building; you'd get a burger and a pint around the corner at the Cedar Tavern (yes, also gone), catch a double feature, then return to the Cedar to discuss. Balcony and location aside, it's line-up made it a standout. In the early 90s Cinema Village avoided the fate of its brethren by switching from a repertory format to a focus on contemporary indies, and it remains a standout.

  • The original Thalia (95th & Broadway), a classic retro theater that felt a bit like a basement screening room -- you had to get there early so you didn't end up in one of the aisle seats behind the gigantic columns. It closed in 1987, then reopened as the Leonard Nimoy Thalia within the performing arts center Symphony Space; it showcases independent films.

  • Bleecker Street Cinema (144 Bleecker St.), a Village landmark for cinephiles that fell prey to high rent and neighborhood politics in 1990.

  • The 8th Street Playhouse (52 West 8th St.), best remembered for making Rocky Horror Picture Show a midnight-movie cult classic. It also curated classic and cult fests before closing down in the early 90s.

The non-profit Film Forum has successfully navigated the ever-changing terrain, the ever-shifting priorities of New York development, and celebrates its 40th anniversary this year. The present Houston Street location is its fourth since it opened in 1970. My first visit to Film Forum was at the third incarnation, on Watts Street. I don't remember what movie I saw, but I do recall drinking coffee with my friends in the old, chrome, streetcar-style Moondance Diner afterward; the evening fulfilled my 20-something-Southern-girl expectations of a classic New York night, lifted from Woody Allen movies, and fermented my enthusiasm for making the city my home.

The Film Forum's film fests evoke that New York for me and that, as much as the movies themselves, may be why I'm drawn to Houston and Varick to sit in the dark for four hours and watch films I could see on DVD or Turner Classic Movies. It's mac-and-cheese, two eggs with bacon on a toasted roll, chicken pot pie... comfort food as satiating as any the Moondance served.