Public Theater

425 Lafayette Street,
New York, NY 10003

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DaveM
DaveM on November 18, 2012 at 6:52 pm

This was a splendid little theater. In 1979, I saw a pristine print of Orson Welles' Othello here, at a time when it was virtually impossible to see. It was on a double bill with Welles' latest, his last completed film, Filming Othello. Sadly, Welles' reputation was at its nadir then, and this historic booking got almost no press coverage.

AlAlvarez
AlAlvarez on January 15, 2010 at 5:00 pm

There was another Public theatre on second avenue and fourth street in the thirties that occasionally showed movies.

KingBiscuits
KingBiscuits on May 14, 2009 at 6:43 pm

Those seats look very Orwellian.

Also, was the George C. Wolfe that ended the film series the same George C. Wolfe that directed Lackawanna Blues and Nights In Rodanthe?

Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on March 8, 2008 at 7:29 am

Pier Paolo Pasolini’s 1967 Oedipus Rex didn’t have its New York commercial first run and American premiere until 1984 here at the Public. Fabiano Canosa often dug up unseen important films such as THIS ONE.

Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on February 11, 2008 at 4:03 am

Bernardo Bertolucci’s first film, the 1962 La commare secca (The Grim Reaper), had a belated American commercial premiere at the Public in 1982. The ad misspells screenwriter Pier Paolo Pasolini’s middle name.

dburall1
dburall1 on December 28, 2007 at 11:58 pm

This is where the original Japanese language version (no Raymond Burr) of Godzilla was shown in 1981 as part of a “Summer in Japan” series of Toho films. I believe this was one of only a handful of venues for this film (original language, unedited version, 1954, GOJIRA) until Rialto’s distribution of it ca. 2004-2005.

Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on July 5, 2005 at 9:54 am

This link takes you to the later and current 2nd Avenue location of Anthology Film Archives.

Ron Newman
Ron Newman on July 5, 2005 at 5:48 am

The “Invisible Cinema” is mentioned in this week’s Boston Sunday Globe Ideas section:

Isolation Cinema
By Joshua Glenn | July 3, 2005

So you’d like to beat the heat this summer by going to the movies, but can’t stand rubbing elbows with yakking popcorn-munchers? Avant-garde filmmaker Peter Kubelka felt the same way 35 years ago, so he designed and built the Invisible Cinema: a movie theater with peripheral blinders between the seats intended to eliminate distraction from either side. Did it work out? According to an oral history of the Invisible Cinema by cineaste Sky Sitney that appears in the current issue of Grey Room, a quarterly of art and politics published in Cambridge by the MIT Press, yes and no.

In 1969, Kubelka joined with Stan Brakhage, Jonas Mekas, P. Adams Sitney (Sky’s father), and other filmmakers and critics in founding Anthology Film Archives, a museum of experimentalist film in downtown Manhattan. They leased a cinema on Lafayette Street and covered the walls, ceiling, and Kubelka-designed seats with black velvet. In addition to the barriers between seats, latecomers weren’t permitted to enter the theater. Confirming that the seat design cut down on chatter, Brakhage tells Sitney that ‘'people really had a sense of drifting in a black space, a black box, and black ahead of you, nothing visible except the screen."

Another Brakhage memory, however, may explain why the experiment wasn’t repeated after the archives moved to a new location in 1974: ‘'There was a nervousness about it. The minute they tell me I can’t pee, for example, I suddenly have the sensation that I have to. If you get up and leave, you can’t get back in. So there you are, parted between the vision you are seeing and bodily functions. Quite a strain, I thought, in that sense."

Ron Newman
Ron Newman on June 28, 2005 at 3:46 pm

The current location of Anthology is not listed on this site. Can someone who is familiar with it please add it?

hardbop
hardbop on May 14, 2005 at 7:21 am

There is a new director running the Public complex and I wonder if film will make a comeback. I believe it was George Wolfe who pulled the plug on the cinema and he’s now history so…

evmovieguy
evmovieguy on April 15, 2005 at 9:02 am

Great photo of the theater Gerald.

Hardbop, I can’t remember any of the other Malcom X films I saw at the Public aside from that 1950s Mike Wallace documentary, but I think you may be talking about the 1972 documentary simply titled ‘Malcolm X’. If I’m not mistaken Warner Bros. of all people put it out, and now that I think about it I saw it at a midnight screening in the early days of the Angelika, probably around the same time I saw the stuff at the Public…‘90-'91. The link for the film on IMDB is http://imdb.com/title/tt0068903/

Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on April 15, 2005 at 8:32 am

Yes, I myself did. I remember seeing Rossellini’s “Francesco, giullare di Dio” there as well as Marcel Hanoun’s “Une simple histoire” and Dziga Vertov’s “Three Songs of Lenin.” Awesome place!
No popcorn. Whispering was anathema.

RobertR
RobertR on April 15, 2005 at 8:13 am

That is the most bizzare picture of those seats, did anyone ever go there when they were in use?

Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on April 15, 2005 at 8:02 am

When the Anthology Film Archives had its showings at this theatre, the theatre itself was known as the “The Invisible Cinema,” according to this article on the origins of Anthology. Here is a photo of that theatre interior with the all-black, side-partitioned seating to avoid distractions and enable total concentration on the movie. When this became the Public/Little Theatre regular seating was substituted.

hardbop
hardbop on April 14, 2005 at 9:26 am

Irv,
I remember that Malcolm X series and attended “Malcolm X” there on 2/21/93, but didn’t write the name of the documentary down. You wouldn’t have the name of that doc would you. I just put in my notes “Malcolm X” and when I tried to find out the director’s name I realized I wrote the title down. One other thing I remember about that screening is that virtually no one was there.

Scorsese retros seem to pop up quite frequently. I caught ITALIAN AMERICAN on a double bill with equally obscure STEVEN PRINCE: ALL AMERICAN BOY at the Walter Reade back in ‘93. I think that retro paired a Scorsese film with a film that influenced it.

I do miss the Public Theater, though. I wish they would start screening films again.

evmovieguy
evmovieguy on April 13, 2005 at 2:12 pm

The cinema at the Public Theater was a great little place to go. I had been there a few times between probably 1989 to somewhere in the early 90s. By that time they didn’t have the unique seats that I have seen written about here. I remember seeing Godard’s ‘Pierrot le fou’ with Jean-Paul Belmondo there as well as a great little series called ‘Photographers That Make Film’ or something like that. I remember seeing the film that photographer Danny Lyon made called ‘Born to Film’ which was a really interesting black & white experimental sort-of documentary about his family. There were others in that series that I saw but can’t recall. The one I really wanted to see was the one made by Robert Mapplethorpe, but I missed it I think because I had to work late or some aggravating reason like that. I never saw it advertised to be screened again since then.

There was also a series that had something to do with commemorating Malcolm X that I can’t exactly remember, but I do remember that part of it was a screening of a documentary about The Nation of Islam from the 1950s that was originally broadcast on television, and hosted by a young Mike Wallace (of ‘60 Minutes) called 'The Hate That Hate Produced’. Really interesting.

And finally, I saw the two Scorcese documenataries, ‘Italian American’ and ‘American Boy’, that just (thank god!!) were screened again at the Film Forum a month or so ago. I must have seen these at The Public in 1990-91(?), and never saw them after that. I know ‘Italian American’ was, and maybe still is available on VHS/DVD, but ‘American Boy’ is a rare one. And both are SO amazing. Thanks to Film Forum for having the good sense to get them back out there again. Just goes to show, when those rare ones show anywhere now…you have to go and see them, because you may not for ten-or-so more years.

Benjamin
Benjamin on April 13, 2005 at 1:46 pm

I remember seeing films at the Public Theater on two “occasions.”

Once was in the very early 1970s, when I went with some friends to see a film in their brand new cinema. If I recall correctly, we went to experience the theater itself, as it was advertised as having a very unusual set-up. (I don’t even remember what film we went to see.) If I recall correctly, each seat in the auditorium was encased by partitions and had some sort of hood — to block out any extraneous distractions.

The second “occasion” was to see a Judy Holiday film festival (all eight(?) of her films!), which is one of my favorite film going experiences. (I think I went to three double bills and skipped the fourth.) I don’t think the theater had the same set-up then, however. (The Judy Holiday film festival was, I think in the late 1980s.)

I’ve always been a big Judy Holiday fan, ever since I saw either “Solid Gold Cadillac” or “It Should Happen to You” on TV in the 1960s(?) — perhaps on “Million Dollar Movie” on Channel 9 in NYC. So I was curious about a number of her other films which one never seemed to see around at revival houses etc. At the Public Theater I got to see all of her movies (although I think I skipped “Bells Are Ringing” and one other film for some reason) — both the good and the bad.

“The Marrying Kind” was one of the good ones — I was so glad that I had an opportunity to see this film. (Although, these days, one can probably easily see it on DVD.) “Full of Life” and, I believe, “Pffft” were among the bad ones. They were not really awful, but still they were noticeably bad. “Pfttt” (which was “stolen” by a young Kim Novack) even had, for instance, a scene where a cinema ignoramus like me could tell how the lights in the sound studio were being operated. And “Full of Life” seemed to me to be poorly written, with a weird (and unsuccessful) mix of comedy and family drama.

But even the bad ones were fun for me, in part because I realized that my movie going experience had really included very few, if any, “noticeably” bad movies â€" as I usually skipped movies that were supposed to be bad, in the first place.

hardbop
hardbop on April 13, 2005 at 11:33 am

I remember being a regular at the Public Theatre/Little Theatre or whatever you want to call it. I also remember being a member. I remember about the best thing they did was a massive, if not complete, King Vidor retrospective back in ‘94. I remember being pissed because I went to see “Duel in the Sun” at the bigger Newman Theatre and they showed it in the smaller Little Theatre. I also caught the British Television series “The Singing Detective” here. Many other memories, a brief Barbet Schroeder retro and I caught “Children of Paradise” for the first time here. They also screened a new print of Ford’s “The Searchers” in the Newman Theatre.

I think Wolfe pulled the plug on the movies because the royalties from “A Chorus Line” dried up and they had to scale things back from the days when Joe Papp was flush with cash.

I also didn’t know Fabiano Canosa was still affliated with Anthology. I had heard he left AFA with some acrimony.

Meanwhile, on the parking lot just north of the Public complex was a parking lot in Astor Plaza that Cooper Union owns and they are constructing an apartment complex on the site (what else?), but when Cooper Union announced plans for the site they specifically mentioned they wanted to build a movie theatre complex in the basement/ground floor. I don’t know if those plans will still fly given that Landmark has moved into the general area on Houston Street. Anyone know?

Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on December 29, 2004 at 9:16 am

Regarding spelling and to confuse the issue further: I have in front of me a 1982 newspaper ad for The Public Theatre (not “theater”) and a ticket stub as well from the showing of “Careless” I attended in 1982. On it is printed: Public Theatre and Little Theatre—-both “-tre.” Their program flyer for the same period, however, says “Public Theater.”

When it was Anthology Film Archives (now located on 2nd Avenue) they were such purists here that, whenever possible, they avoided showing foreign language film prints that had subtitles, because they would distract from the integrity of the image. Rossellini’s “Francesco, giullare di Dio,” for example, was only shown in an Italian-language print without subtitles. I believe they owned it. You had to either know the language or rely on a synopsis.

RobertR
RobertR on December 29, 2004 at 8:23 am

I always remember the big block ads in the Village Voice calling it “Film at the Public”

Warren G. Harris
Warren G. Harris on December 29, 2004 at 7:45 am

According to some research that I did at the Lincoln Center Performing Arts Library, this first opened in 1970 as part of Jonas Mekas' Anthology Film Archives, which occupied the north end of the Public Theatre building and had office space, a library, and a 91-seat auditorium that was informally known as “The Invisible Cinema.” The space had jet black walls, floors, seats, and ceiling so that nothing would detract from viewing the movies. The rows of seats were so steeply deeply raked that you could not see anyone in front of you. The AFA ran three different programs per day, at an admission price of $1 each. I don’t know how long that lasted, but by 1978, the space was a commercial cinema known as the Little Theater (not Theatre) and also advertised as the Public/Little Theater and Film At The Public. By 1991, it was boasting “state of the art projection and high fidelity Dolby stereo sound.” Movies were also sometimes being shown in the 299-seat Newman Theater, which was claimed to have “the largest screen in downtown Manhattan.” The Public cinemas had a membership scheme called “Filmileage.” For a membership fee of $25 per year, you were entitled to a discount of $2 per ticket on the first four visits, $3 on the next five or more, $4 on ten or more, and free admissions after twenty.

RobertR
RobertR on December 27, 2004 at 5:27 am

saps
I agree, I thought the same thing.
Rob

Mike (saps)
Mike (saps) on December 26, 2004 at 11:12 pm

If you ask a New Yorker about the Little Theatre, she may say, oh, you mean the one on 44th Street next to Sardi’s, now called the Helen Hayes? That’s what I’d say, anyway.

BoxOfficeBill
BoxOfficeBill on December 25, 2004 at 1:23 pm

I’ve seen lots of live theater at The Public, but missed seeing any film there. Did The Little have columns supporting the ceiling as the live space had? I can tolerate columns for live theater, but coudn’t imagine doing so for film. Lexicologically, could we refer to this venue as “The Public’s ‘Little Theater’”?

Warren G. Harris
Warren G. Harris on December 22, 2004 at 9:30 am

Is this currently the performance space at the Public Theatre known as “Joe’s Pub?”