seen @ Landmark Loews Jersey Theater, Jersey City, NJ
Last Friday night, I returned to the Loews Jersey City for the first time in many months. I normally consider myself a semi-regular there, but I hadn't been back in awhile, partly for financial reasons (it costs an extra five bucks to cross the Hudson and back and I ain't made outta money), and partly because there was little playing there that really made me wanna make the trip. Still, I felt secure in thinking that the JC was doing fine, keeping the spirit of old Hollywood alive with classic movies, shown on traditional 35mm, within a gorgeous movie palace.
I may have been in error.
In my post on West Side Story at the United Palace last week, I included a link to a recent article in a New Jersey paper which outlined some of the problems the theater has had in maintaining its presence in Jersey City as not only a movie revival house, but as a New Jersey landmark.
Friends of the Loews (FOL), the local group that brings shows to the theater and tirelessly works toward keeping it in shape, sent out a statement specifically detailing the problems they're facing:
...Mayor [Steven] Fulop doesn’t understand what FOL does and why, he doesn’t value it, and even thinks he “owes” it to Jersey City to reduce us to what effectively will be a meaningless role. He’ll let us have 20 dates a year to put on shows, but goes on to say he won’t “hamper” a new operator of the Loew’s by telling them what to do, so he can’t even give us a guess when those 20 dates might be. Nor does he explain how we will be able to pay for those events, since like most arts center managements, FOL relies on funding raised by the whole operation – which we will be removed from if the Mayor has his way. Of course, our mission is to preserve and operate the Loew's as an iconic local landmark and an arts center for our community, not just put on a few shows. However, the Mayor doesn't seem to understand this. But Mayor Fulop does confidently predict his “experts” in the City will pick an outside, for-profit entity to replace us that can “guarantee” the success of the Loew’s. Actually, the Mayor has it backwards: It is FOL that has always been the guarantee for the Loew’s in the face of major building problems, little funding, and the City’s lack of vision and inability or unwillingness to keep its commitments to support its own building.The statement includes a link to a gallery of photos of the theater before and after its renovation which has to be seen to be believed.
I tried, on Twitter Friday night, but I can't emphasize enough how gorgeous the place looks, especially if you've never been there before. The carpeting is lush, the seats are cozy (I wouldn't mind a tiny bit more legroom, but I'm big), it's warm in the winter (they're closed in the summer), the acoustics are excellent (and not just for the organ; I still recall how powerful the sound of bullets and explosions were when I saw All Quiet on the Western Front there), the lighting is good and the overall atmosphere is pleasant and comfortable and welcoming, and all of this is directly attributable to the volunteers who give so much of their time and effort towards preserving this place. I know because I see them every time I go there, and FOL head and Loews host Colin Egan always makes it a point to give them a shout out when introducing a movie.
When I wrote last week about the United Palace - a theater that, like the JC, was originally built as part of a series of Loews theaters in the New York metropolitan area - I stated that it appeared as if the two theaters were catering to different crowds: the mainstream, casual film lover's crowd for the Palace and the more knowledgeable, cinephile audience for the latter. This is not mutually exclusive, of course; the JC shows its fair share of modern movies, and Doubt, which they played Friday night in remembrance of the late Philip Seymour Hoffman, was one. And I certainly don't think this approach has hindered the JC in any way. I've seen robust crowds there in the past, especially around holidays like Halloween, or when they get a film star to appear.
So if what FOL says in their statement about the city is true, then I can't help but worry about the theater's future. It's unfortunate, to say the least, that the mayor and FOL don't see eye to eye about the direction the theater has gone and should be going, and I can only hope that they can come to terms as quickly and as amicably as they can. In the meantime, I hope I've convinced you to consider coming out to the JC for a movie, if you live in the New York metropolitan area. It is absolutely worth the trip, as anyone who has been there can tell you.
As for the movie, well, I had already seen it before, but I'm pretty sure I saw it on a smaller screen than this. It's already a gripping story, but seeing it big pulled me deeper into it. I also felt a little sad, knowing that such a gifted actor like Hoffman is gone before his time, because he is splendid in this one. When I first saw it, I remember thinking that Meryl Streep's Bronx accent was a little too broad, but it didn't bother me as much this time around.