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I grew up on Riverside Drive and 119th street (1943-1961), and the Nemo was my local theater, along with the Olympia. I never questioned why it was called Nemo – it just was “The Nemo” (Latin for “no one”). Was it named after the comic strip “Little Nemo” or for Captain Nemo in Jules Verne’s “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea?”
The Olympia and (three blocks north) the Nemo were my neighborhood theaters in the 1940’s and 50’s. The Olympia was smaller and (back in the 50’s) slightly more elegant and ‘atmospheric’ than the Nemo. Fond memories. I left New York in 1961 when they were still operating as mainstream, though second-run, theaters.
I remember coming here every Friday afternoon with my mother in the early 50’s to watch newsreels and WB cartoons (my favorite).
I remember this theater closing in 1950, when it was turned into a supermarket. I was seven at the time, and it was the first time I was aware of a movie theater closing. A disorienting feeling to a seven year old.
I was 14, and the world was 1957, when I saw my first Janus film – Cocteau’s Blood of a Poet – and the logo of the two-faced Roman god is forever twinned for me with the experience of sitting in the small Thalia Theater on Manhattan’s West 95th Street. For some reason, perhaps to do with the underlying geology, the floor of the Thalia slanted upward toward the screen, in direct contradiction of every other movie theater in the world. With that extra pressure on our backs, the audience at the Thalia was poised, like the crew aboard a rocket ship, to take off into another world. The flickering appearance of Janus was the countdown to launch.
My neighborhood theater, the Nemo, at 110th street and Broadway, showed the usual twice-weekly double-bills coming out of Hollywood. I went there often enough, especially when I was younger, for the Saturday showings of serials, cartoons, and newsreels presided over by stern matrons with flashlights for billy-sticks.
My reactions to the movies I saw at the Nemo were like my feelings about the weather, or landscapes glimpsed from a train: I liked some of them, and was disappointed, mystified or oppressed by others. But strange to say, I never thought of those films as the result of human effort: like any natural phenomena, they simply were and could not be otherwise.
Films with the Janus logo, however, began to awake something else in me which I couldn’t put my finger on, but over and over again they drew me back to the Thalia. Finally, in 1958, I saw Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal, and things fell into place. Bergman’s vision was so distinctive that I left the theater shaken by the self-evident realization: somebody made that film. Intellectually, of course, I had been vaguely aware of this, but now it hit me emotionally. with full force. I still can recall that twenty-block walk back home to 119th and Riverside, dazedly repeating: somebody made that film.
The unspoken corollary was that if somebody made a film, I could make a film. The Thalia had provided the crack in the cosmic egg through which I might be able to squeeze. But the idea was too much for a fifteen year-old with no family connections to the film industry, and so it lay dormant for a number of years until finally erupting.