New Cinema Playhouse

120 West 42nd Street,
New York, NY 10036

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AlAlvarez
AlAlvarez on February 15, 2010 at 2:22 pm

Once the Filmmakers' Cinematheque had to vacate these premises they apparently went into ‘exile’ at other venues.

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Ed Solero
Ed Solero on September 6, 2007 at 6:24 am

Just to polish off an thread that’s been dormant nearly a full year, I pulled [url=http://i18.photobucket.com/albums/b110/GuanoReturns/Manhattan%20Movie%20Theaters/New%20Cinema%20Playhouse/PeepShowWurlitzerBldgVidCap.png]this vidcap from a short video on YouTube about Times Square porn in the 1970’s. Apparently, the video clip itself is credited as being part of a longer A&E documentary on Times Square.

In any event, I thought the image fit the discussion here (even if it’s a year late) as it shows the highly visible advertisement hung from the old Wurlitzer Bldg inviting the public to watch the filming of a pornographic peep-show within! Seems like a completely different world out there today, eh? Particularly in this part of NYC!

Ed Solero
Ed Solero on September 24, 2006 at 11:51 am

Thanks Al. I’ve seen an article in the Times from 1970 that reports the same story of folks being able to pay to witness the filming of a live sex act in a 2nd floor space at 120 W. 42nd – as well as a couple of other places around town. Admission was going anywhere from $5 to $25 for this privelege. Anyway, if it was in fact the 2nd floor of the building, it was definitely not the New Cinema Playhouse space, which was in the basement. I’ll bet that when – and if – the landlords of the already condemned Wurlitzer Bldg started using the auditorium for porn, they probably just advertised on the marquee without bothering to place notices in the newspapers. Then again, with the kind of ire that tactic to chase tenants away might have drawn and with police raids still being conducted against such indecency, would the landlords have gone to such drastic measures to clear the building for demolition? The story may be apocryphal.

AlAlvarez
AlAlvarez on September 24, 2006 at 8:30 am

Ed, they seem to have moved to the Elgin full time by 1969 and the Anthology Film Archives on Wooster Street by 1970. The last sign of operating at the New Cinema Playhouse was in July 1968.

It appears that in 1970 they were also booking the Elgin, Garrick and Orpheum (Lower East Side) as well as they ran block ads for all three.

By 1970, 120 W. 42nd Street had live sex shows where you could see 8mm porn films being made. I have found no sign of it actually showing porn films.

Ed Solero
Ed Solero on September 23, 2006 at 9:38 pm

Al… Can you ascertain when it was that the Filmmakers' Cooperative stopped operating out of this theater? I assume, based on your comments above, that you’ve found no porn listings here, so there’s nothing else to corroborate the mention in the Times article I posted above that the theater was ever used thus.

AlAlvarez
AlAlvarez on September 23, 2006 at 7:56 am

The Cinema Playhouse repeated films for some reason. Hence, WINTER KEPT US WARM played for two weeks in February, then came back for four weeks in April. The Warhol films had similar patchwork runs.

PORTRAIT OF JASON ran for over seven weeks, skipped a week, then came back for two more in 1967.

Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on September 23, 2006 at 1:03 am

Ed, according to my diary and film log, I definitely saw Winter Kept Us Warm there on April 16, 1968.

Ed Solero
Ed Solero on September 23, 2006 at 12:28 am

Thanks RobertR. The film opened in the U.S. on 2/8/68 per imdb.com and was released by Mekas' Filmmakers' Cooperative. If Gerald’s note’s (posted 6/27/05 above) are correct about seeing the film here in April, that’s a pretty long run for the Cinematheque and would verify they were still in the Wurlitzer Building through Spring of ‘68. Also supports the idea that the New Cinema Playhouse name came with the theater’s new 42nd Street address.

For my next research, I’ll try to figure out why I’ve been so preoccupied with this theater!

RobertR
RobertR on September 22, 2006 at 11:12 pm

Here is the ad for “Winter Kept Us Warm”

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Ed Solero
Ed Solero on September 22, 2006 at 11:05 pm

Finally, there is an article from 11/02/71 regarding a campaign by business owners to drive away “smut” on the 42nd Street block between 6th Ave and Broadway. The organizational force behind the drive was the Wurlitzer Company, whose shop was now located in the Bush Building after the old Wurlitzer Building had been demolished to make room for the plaza and walkway behind the new New York Telephone building that to this day fronts the west side of 6th Ave between 41st and 42nd Streets. While the main target of this clean-up campaign was the Bryant Theater, the article includes the following passage about the former New Cinema Playhouse:

“As opart of the landlord’s ‘pressure’ to vacate the old building… a pornographic movie theater was installed in the basement auditorium – once Wurlitzer’s demonstration room for church organs. During the nineteen fifties and nineteen sixties, the auditorium had housed off-Broadway theater productions and avant-garde art films.”

So, we know that this space was conceived as a company recital hall for Wurlitzer and first opened to the public as a theater in 1957 as the 41st Street Theater with 169 seats. Filmmaker’s Cinematheque took over in December of 1965 and might have expanded seating to 199. I’m wondering exactly when the theater took on the name New Cinema Playhouse, and I’m guessing that was the new moniker Mekas and Co. came up with when the Cinematheque re-opened the space with the new 42nd Street entrance in late 1967. We also now know that they were kicked out sometime prior to 1969 and that the place went porno before the whole building was demolished circa 1970/71.

And I promise… THAT’S ALL I GOT!!!

Ed Solero
Ed Solero on September 22, 2006 at 10:40 pm

Yet another Times article by Vincent Canby – this one dated 5/18/69 – discusses how the “new morality in conventional movies” has put a dent in the business of underground cinema and includes an interview with Cinematheque co-founder and director Jonas Mekas. Canby writes, “It is no longer necessary to travel to some loft in the Village to see Naked Truth. Today, Naked Truth comes to you, at your friendly neighborhood theater, sometimes starring Charlton Heston and David Janssen.”

The piece mentions that the Cinematheque was kicked out of the Wurlitzer Building basement in 1967 (though Canby has muffed exact dates in other articles) and was, at the time, operating at several different venues on a staggered schedule, including the Gallery of Modern Art, Wednesdays through Sundays, and the Jewish Museum on Tuesday nights. That June, Mekas anticipated screenings at the Elgin Cinema on Sunday mornings and Thursdays at midnight – referring to his organization as a “Flying Cinematheque.” He also hoped to square away several issues with the City pertaining to zoning and building codes and making a permanent home out of the theater at 80 Wooster Street. Money still seemed to be an issue with a $40,000 grant falling short of covering the $50,000 expenditure of remodeling and installing offices at 80 Wooster and other grants being gobbled up by the costs to run screenings at other venues.

It seems that with the more sensational aspects of the undergroung movement being absorbed by mainstream cinema, much of the Cinematheque’s patronage was being siphoned off.

Ed Solero
Ed Solero on September 22, 2006 at 10:06 pm

Several articles appear in the Times' archives that make note of the Filmmaker’s Cinematheque and flesh out details for some of the theater’s history as described in the description and comments above:

An 8/25/67 article looks at the Cinematheque at the apex of it’s existence, having come off what is described as a very successful year that saw $100,000 in revenue generated by showings of Andy Warhol’s “The Chelsea Girls” alone. In addition to a planned $12,000 remodeling of the theater in the Wurlitzer Building, two additional screens in lower Manhattan were to be opened by the Cinematheque’s parent company, the Film Culture Non-Profit Corporation, before year’s end.

The 41st Street facility was to close on September 5th in order to create a new marquee and entrance on 42nd Street and was scheduled to reopen on October 1st under a new – and as yet undecided – name as a first-run house for underground features. The first attraction was slated to be “Portrait of Jason” – Shirley Clarke’s documentary about male prostitution – followed by Adolfa Mekas' “Windflowers.”

The two new facilities were to be the Cinematheque I at 80 Wooster Street, which would continue the sort of “varied programming” featured at the 41st Street house, and the Cinematheque II at 18 Greene Street, which was to be an “underground ‘film academy,’ offering a repertory of avant-garde ‘classics,’ ranging from ‘Zero de Contuit’, ‘Ordet’ and ‘Citizen Kane’ to ‘Scorpio Rising.’

With the monies for the 41st Street renovations already on hand, co-founder Jonas Mekas was still looking for contributions to cover the estimated $32,000 it would take to outfit the new houses on Wooster and Greene Streets, scheduled to open September 30th and late October, respectively. I could not find a listing for either of these theaters on Cinema Treasures, however, the Wooster Street address is noted on the CT page for the [url=/theaters/12436/]Anthology Film Archives{/url] as having been a mid-1970’s facility for that organization. If I can find evidence that either of those theaters did in fact open as planned, I will add them to the site.

Ed Solero
Ed Solero on September 21, 2006 at 3:47 pm

I found an article on the NY Times website written by Times' film critic Vincent Canby on Jan. 7th, 1966, with the headline “Underground Movies Find Showcase On 41st St.” The article verifies the original address of 125 41st Avenue as indicated in the original description for the theater above. Canby also notes that the 199-seat auditorium had existed in the building’s basement for 7 years, originally designed for Wurlitzer recitals and later housing Off Broadway stage shows under the name 41st Street Theater. I did, however, find another article from Mar. 27th, 1957, announcing that the 41st Street Theater would be opening on April 7th of that year for previews of the biographical drama “Oscar Wilde.” That earlier article also states that the theater (which included a proscenium stage) had a capacity of 169.

Going back to the Canby article of ‘66, here’s an interesting passage:

“Since Dec. 1 the house, under a 12-month lease to the Filmmakers' Cinematheque, has been open to the public six nights a week for the repertory screening of hte works of new directors and those of such underground film ‘names’ as Andy Warhol, Kenneth Anger, Gregory Markopoulos and Stan Brakhage. Showings ar at 8 and 10pm. On the seventh night, usually Monday, the program, for a ‘members only’ film society, is devoted to film classics from above-ground masters like Fritz Lang and D.W. Griffith.”

According to the article, even at this early stage in its existence, the Cinematheque was in a $2000 financial hole, finding it difficult to cover the monthly overhead (which included the $850 monthly rental and salaries for a manager, cashier, secretary and “one non-union projectionist”) with ticket sales, though co-founder Jonas Mekas was anticipating some help in the form of donations from friends. The theater had been averaging about 70-80 patrons per performance at $1.50 a pop, with the most popular titles being those associated with Andy Warhol’s name. Kenneth Anger’s “Scorpio Rising” also had been a big draw as had Mr. Mekas' own “The Brig”.

AlAlvarez
AlAlvarez on September 21, 2006 at 3:23 pm

No signs of porn here, ed although it did show “Andy Warhol’s f***” (aka BLUE MOVIE).

Ed Solero
Ed Solero on September 21, 2006 at 2:07 pm

Actually, I’m mistaken about the new project on the Wurlitzer Bldg site. Bank of America is rising on the block bounded by 42nd and 43rd Streets along the west side of 6th Avenue. However, the Wurlitzer Building is most definitely extinct.

Ed Solero
Ed Solero on September 21, 2006 at 1:30 pm

One down and three to go, Al. Is there any indication that the New Cinema Playhouse ever went porn? I’m sure some of those avant-garde works blurred the line in some views between art and porn.

In any event, as the Wurlitzer building is no more (gobbled up along with Henry Miller’s Theater for the rising Bank of America tower), the status for this theater should be changed to “demolished”.

AlAlvarez
AlAlvarez on April 26, 2006 at 6:53 pm

Several porn theatres seem one-time events without history.

I cannot place previous use for:
The LOVE at 125 West 42nd Street.
The 42nd Street Cinema at 422 West 42nd Street.
The Tomcat at 424 West 42nd Street.
The MASQUE at 440 West 42nd Street.

I guess those were storefront theatres that came and went (no pun intended). Does anyone know about these?

Mike (saps)
Mike (saps) on August 18, 2005 at 4:46 am

Two big bombs in 1969 ad…Goodbye Mr Chips and Paint Your Wagon. There must have been lots of echoes in the empty halls of the Palace and the State.

Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on July 29, 2005 at 11:23 am

Clarification: Filmmakers' Cooperative was name of the distribution outfit. Filmmakers' Cinematheque was a name for the screening facility.

Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on July 29, 2005 at 11:20 am

Information from various websites indicate this was also known as Filmmakers' Cooperative, an intended permanent home for a peripatetic group of that same name, founded by Jonas Mekas, and which ultimately, after assorted peregrinations, became the Anthology Film Archives. The organization promulgated the work of mostly American independent experimental filmmakers.

With Shirley Clarke and Lionel Rogosin, Mekas organized the Film-Makers' Distribution Center to serve what they hoped would be a circuit of art theaters showing at least the feature-length works of the avant-garde. The artists screened their films at a place called The Filmmakers' Cinematheque, which was in the basement of the now-demolished Wurlitzer building on West 41st Street in New York. Increasing losses eventually forced Mekas to discontinue the Cinematheque at the Forty-First Street theatre.

On September 10,1966 Andy Warhol’s two-projector The Chelsea Girls opened here to a good deal of acclaim, and continued a run later at the Regency on Broadway.

RobertR
RobertR on July 28, 2005 at 1:02 am

Was this also known as the Masque Theatre? This 1969 ad (bottom) shows all male porn but I cant 100% read the address. I will look if I see this place listed in any other ads I have.
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Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on July 28, 2005 at 12:42 am

I’m almost positive this was the place I saw the off-beat 1965 Canadian film Winter Kept Us Warm in April of 1968. At the time I noted only that I saw it at a “42nd Street cinema” which was more like a company auditorium located a bit inside a commercial building. It was a 16mm showing. The film itself, directed by David Secter, made a strong impression on me at the time, but it seems to have disappeared from any general consciousness, including mine.

Warren G. Harris
Warren G. Harris on July 27, 2005 at 9:08 pm

This was the title of the movie and not a critical rating from the NY Daily News: www.i8.photobucket.com/albums/a18/Warrengwhiz/fourstars.jpg