Bloggers: Nicholas Stambuli, Erin O’Dowd, Chelsea Warner, Tariq Shabazz, and Paula Murphy
The BAM Experience
I visited BAM on February 27. The Brooklyn Academy of Music, also known as BAM, is located at 30 Lafayette, Brooklyn, in the Fort Green area. Bam Rose Cinemas is off the main street of Flatbush Ave. The Fort Green area has a great vibe. The neighborhood is home to "40 Acres and a Mule", a Spike Lee production company; it has many quirky retail shops and restaurants. The area has something for everyone. It is the quintessential Brooklyn brownstones neighborhood.
The Bam building is an architectural expression of Neoclassical Revival of the era it was built in. There are no signs on the building or advertisements to indicate the theater, only four green double doors. When you walk into the theater, the high ceilings, white walls, and green marble and white marble flooring immediately surprise you. Couches are set up in front of the ticket booth. The ticket booth is located inside to the left of the doors. There are no advertisements for the films playing until you go to buy a ticket at the ticket booth.
The film that I saw was “A Single Man” by fashion designer Tom Ford. Set in Los Angeles in the 1960’s, “A Single Man” is the story of George Falconer, a British college professor (Colin Firth)
is struggling to find meaning in his life after the death of his long-time partner, Jim (Matthew Goode). The movie follows George through a single day, where a series of encounters ultimately leads him to decide if there is a meaning to life after Jim. George is consoled by his closest friend, Charley (Julianne Moore), a beauty in her late forties, and he is stalked by one of his students, Kenny (Nicholas Hoult). “A Single Man” received an Academy Award nomination for Colin Firth’s portrayal of professor George Falconer in the Best Actor category.
BAM shows mainstream Hollywood to independent films. The advertisements are not done in the traditional way of mainstream theaters. The only information that is given is for the mainstream movies. The four posters are set up behind the employee in the glass booth that sells the tickets. There is a small-lit screen to tell you the times and what independent films are showing, but if you want more information on an independent film you can read the pamphlet. The ticket person is very helpful if you don't know what film to see. They can recommend a film and are knowledgeable on each independent film. This is surprising when you are used to seeing teenagers managing on minimum wage in New Jersey. The theater also has a small area to purchase tickets online if you choose to do so. There' s also an information booth and two small kiosks selling Bam stuff and theater books. After you give your ticket, you proceed to the concession stand inside.
Bam has four theaters, and the main theater has a stage for performances. When I visited, the main theater was being used for an Alvin Haley dance troop performance. The small theater I was in held about 100 people. The screen and acoustics where perfect for the scale of the theater. I'm a tall person; I have come to accept that most theater seats are cramped and small with no legroom, and you are going to be uncomfortable for the entire film. When I first sat down, I was surprised that the seats are very comfortable.
There was enough legroom and I was pleased that the seats did not recline. I'm used to getting hit in the knees by the reclining seat in front of me. If the seats where to recline, it would have been very uncomfortable for me or anyone else who’s tall. The seats are set up as if you’re at a Broadway play. I like that experience watching a film.
For the evening performance in the main theater, there is a small but elegant bar set up for intermission. The up escalator brings you to the BAM café. The cafe is an upscale eatery. I was
dressed appropriately and I was immediately frowned upon. I wanted to ask some questions about BAM Café, but no one agreed to speak with me. Most of the patrons were older. The overall experience of theater was great. I plan to return for a main performance and for the Fort Green neighborhood; one goes with the other.
A Brief History of BAM
The Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) has been a cultural jewel of the American artistic community for over one hundred and forty years. The original site of the BAM was located at 176-
Montague Street; this location burned to the ground in 1903, yet BAM has managed to be the longest running performing arts center in the country. BAM Rose Cinemas opened in 1997 to give Brooklynites the ability to see more art films without traveling to Manhattan. BAM encompasses two buildings. The BAM Havey Theatre, with 874 seats, is located on 651 Fulton Street and hosts live performances. Two blocks away is the Peter Jay Sharp Building on 30 Lafayette Ave. This is the main building which contains the Howard Gilman Opera House, Rose Cinemas, the box office, and administrative offices.
BAM has continuously found ways to balance its programming with alternative forms of art and more mainstream forms of expression.
In its first one hundred years, BAM established itself as place for expression, hosting political events, speeches, and rallies that included speakers like Frank Lloyd Wright, Sojourner Truth, and Susan B. Anthony. Currently, they have multiple philanthropic programs for community outreach which has served countless NYC schools to promote neighborhood revitalization, diversity, and education.
BAM is the home of the Brooklyn Philharmonic, and it also works closely with the Sundance Institute in order to screen films and host other performances of independent artist. Another example of BAM’s dedication to independent and alternative artist is the Next Wave festival, which was started in 1983, and its presentation of Dance Africa every memorial day. This dedication to the alternative forms of art began in 1967; this was the year that “Harvey Lichtenstein took the reins and opened the institution’s historic Beaux Arts palace to modern choreographers like Merce Cunningham, Trisha Brown, and Alvin Ailey—who would reshape the art form of dance” (www.BAM.org).
An important point to make is that BAM is a non-profit organization; BAM was not established by the government but rather by “a group of local citizens, politicians, and business leaders came together with a progressive vision of an institution” (www.BAM.org). With a progressive vision, BAM evolved into a haven for artists that have push the envelope in the area of artistic and cultural expression.
BAM’s Programming Strategy
Bam Cinematek has many different types of films for all different audiences. It is always showing various films from different genres and time periods. This month they are featuring a large variety of different films, everything from typical American Classics such as 1950’s Montgomery Clift films to a South Korean director’s suspense films. There are also showings exclusively for families within the BAM Family Program and films even more exclusively for kids in the BAM Kid’s Festival. With such a great diversity of films for patrons to enjoy, it is easy to see that BAM is geared towards everyone and anyone, thus creating a wide demographic audience. BAM has various showings each day, and it shows both modern and more classic films. The film lengths vary, and the show times vary from day to day. A key marketing strategy that BAM takes advantage of is special screening strategies. From speaking to a representative at BAM, I found that they show films based on director, author, theme, genre, etc.
With BAM Rose Cinemas there are 4 theaters with daily screenings. One of the screens is devoted to BAM Cinematek which has daily screenings of repertory classics and special festivals. Along with these screenings, there are frequent guest speakers. The other three screens show first run and independent films. The four theaters seat 103, 155, 272 and 222 patrons. On BAM’s website, certain films have one review per film and others do not have any reviews. The reviews often come from well-known sources such as The Boston Globe and The LA times. Other reviews are from slightly less known publications such as Time Out Sydney, Variety, and Cinematical. These reviews are often very positive, praising the film and the director, trying to get people to come see these films. The main person who decides which films to play is Joseph V. Melilo, the executive producer of BAM since 1999. He has a lot of experience in artistic programming. He has been the artistic director of festivals such as NY International Festival for the Arts, New World Festival of the Arts Miami, and many others. Since he began working at BAM there have been many awards and positive feedback of his work.
BAM’s Promotional Strategy
With their homage to classic, international, and independent cinema, BAM sets itself apart from other theatres. They aren’t about putting the latest blockbuster on their screen to guarantee ‘meat in the seat’ and large profits from showing high grossing popular films; they have a classy mission statement in which you can tell they truly care about film as an artistic experience as opposed to a race for profits.
The Gift Memberships are a great way to attract people in the long run because they offer so much to the patron. There are deals such as 50% off Artist Talks tickets, discounts at the cafes and kiosks, BAMbus discount, and coupons for local restaurants. The BAM Cinema Club membership includes priority access to special screenings and events, special discussions with filmmakers, discounts on over thirty local restaurants, BAM Café discounts, a special gym membership rate, and much more.
With their very easy to read directions and maps on the BAM website, BAM makes it easy for people to get to the theatre; additionally, the BAMbus provides post-film transportation to the Manhattan area. Their flyers are vibrantly eye-catching and include a lot of large-print easy-to-read words, unlike a lot of other theater pamphlets that have very small words and no pictures. BAM’s handouts really capture your attention!
BAM attracts even more people by having directors come out and view their films with the audience, and performing Q&A segments and discussions following the film viewing. BAM also appeals to crowds of all ages, not just older generations; there are free BAM Fan parties for Cimema Club members in their 20s and 30s. They also make it easy to attract people who aren’t typical film buffs by showing some normal Hollywood movies. Shutter Island is a current staple at BAM. People will come to see the mainstream films and become curious about the other independent movies and events that BAM has to offer. Aesthetically, the opera style theater and overall regality of the theater makes people want to come back for more. The somewhat formal attire of patrons and the upscale décor give the appearance of a highbrow atmosphere that many moviegoers prefer over the common city cinema.
BAM is one of the largest theatres I’ve seen; it encompasses it’s main building on Lafayette Ave and the BAM Harvey Theatre a few blocks away on Fulton Street. The theatre is also only five blocks away from Long Island University’s Brooklyn Campus. Combined with its variety of community service programs throughout NYC, the breadth of BAM seems to promote itself. Like any important historical monument, BAM does not need extensive advertising to reach its market. BAM is a common name in independent cinema, and even other cinemateks in NYC—such as the Angelika—distribute brochures promoting BAM.
An Interview with Langlois’ Ghost
Henri Langlois co-founded the Cinematheque Francaise, a Paris-based film theatre andmuseum and perhaps the most applauded and idealistic outlets of cinephilia. Who better critique BAM Cinematek than the man who changed the way the world looks at theatre? Our group asked Langlois a series of questions about BAM and created responses that we believe he would fully support.
Q: “Do you agree with the way BAM organizes and shows their films?”
Langlois: “It’s excellent! Showing films grouped by common themes, time periods, auteurs, or actors allows you to bring in all the great discussions afterwards. You can truly see the various roles an actor plays or how different auteur’s create their own expressions on a common theme. I especially love the discussions with the directors after the movie. That personal connection and interpretation is what art is all about. The movies for children are a nice touch as well. Cinephilia isn’t about having an experience; it’s about creating a culture, so what better way to build that culture than to draw in the attention of children.”
Q: “What about the types of films?”
Langlois: “It’s terrific that they show all these independent films, but it would be better if they promoted the real underground films instead of those that won some festival award…the true experimental artists who are not so much trying to make a name for themselves as they are a representation of their vision. That is where you find the pure artistry. I guess not everyone sees the world through a child’s eyes. You know? Wanting to experience everything they’ve never touched before. Someone like Melilo does a good job at pulling the audience into those independent films, but he should stop following trends and start creating them. Drive the bandwagon, not become a passenger.”
Q: “BAM doesn’t have a specific dress code; it’s more of an implied one. Does film belong to the highbrow?”
Langlois: “Hah! Highbrow, lowbrow, middlebrow, unibrow, what’s the difference. Art is a great equalizer that everyone can appreciate. The lights go out and we are all watching the same film. In a dark theatre, you don’t know who has the high-class bag or the double-breasted jacket; the back of everyone’s head looks the same. Cinema should be an appreciation of expression, not an ascertain of class. If you want to dress up, fine. But that does not make its patrons superior to the countless great minds under shabby clothes.”
Q: “Last question, Mr. Langlois. We had a hard time contacting management for interviews and tours. They actually never got back to us, and the secretary laughed and told us ‘they’re too busy for that right now.’ What’s your take?”
Langlois: “With such a large theatre, it’s hard to return every call. There were countless times when I was tied up on the phone, short-staffed, and over-worked. It’s tough keeping a large business going while maintaining that connection with your patrons. Not everyone has my work ethics and can stay up until 3am just to talk about the movies they love. However, that drive to embrace your patrons and attempt to make them as passionate about movies as I am is what motivates me to work so hard. That vision should never be lost, no matter how big a theatre gets…Revolutionaries lead by example; cinephilia is no different. Maybe BAM should work on its mission statement. What are they first and foremost? A community service group? A filler for highbrow leisure? Cinephilia should not be a secondary hobby; it is a lifestyle that BAM should be enthusiastic to promote.”