Walter Reade Jr. was the president and board chairman for a number of theaters in New York, New Jersey, and Boston. His father, Walter Reade Sr. is credited for developing a chain of theaters in Asbury Park, New Jersey, and upon his death, his son assumed control of the company and later ventured into the business of distribution and the financing of foreign films. He created Continental Film Distributors and The Walter Reade Organization. Although he did not have much success with art cinema, his biggest success came with the release of George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead. Other notable engagements of Reade Jr.’s include Star Wars and Easy Rider. Sadly, Reade was killed in a skiing accident in 1973, but his name and legacy live on through the theater that bears his name in Lincoln Center.
Founded in 1969, The Walter Reade Theater showcases American and international films, and is one of the twelve resident organizations at the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts. Its mission is not only to celebrate new filmmakers, but also to enhance awareness and accessibility by distributing these films to a vast audience. The film society of Lincoln Center caters to a broad and diverse group of enthusiasts, hailing from many different economic and ethnic backgrounds. Not only is the film society highly acclaimed, the institution prides itself on its continuous efforts to research and discover new trends in cinema. Jean- Luc Godard, Pedro Almodovar, and Francois Truffaut are among the numerous directors who have been introduced to American audiences through the film society.
The film society of Lincoln Center’s most prestigious events are The New York Film Festival and The New Directors/New Films Festival. The New York Film Festival was first held in 1963 by Amos Vogel and Richard Roud, who established it as a non-competitive festival. Currently, the director is Richard Pena and the residing committee is a collaboration of intellectuals including film critics and magazine editors. The films are categorized into sub-genres such as non-narratives, experimental, and avant garde. The New Directors/ New Film Festival is a collaboration with The Museum of Modern Art, and it helps emerging directors from all over the world gain notoriety. Its prestige has helped gain support from the global film community and various celebrities, such as Christopher Walken, Mel Brooks, and Steven Spielberg, who have contributed to the special events, intimate interviews, and gala tribute which bring the public closer to their favorite artists.
The “Film Comment” is a bi-monthly magazine published by The Film Society at Lincoln Center, which gives critical reviews and in-depth analysis of mainstream, art-house, and avant-garde films from around the world. The publication was founded in 1962 by Joseph Blanco to cater to New York’s cinephile culture. Notable contributors include Roger Ebert, Amos Vogel, Quentin Tarantino, and Ingmar Bergman. It was awarded the Utne Independent Press Award in 2007 for Best Arts Coverage.
Experience at Walter Reade Theater
The theater is nestled in the heart of the theater district, and to the left of the famous Julliard School. People come to the theater district for the higher arts, but on the ground level, this particular theater isn’t boastful, and some might be surprised by its minimalist decor. Only one flag hangs outside the theater, aptly etched with the word ‘FILM’. The tickets are sold outside, and are sold around a half hour before the scheduled film for the upcoming time. This can make things slightly annoying if the weather is unfavorable, as it must be endured if you wish to purchase tickets. Fortunately, they believe in the student discount, with the right ID (naturally).
Warm heat greets you on the inside of this cozy lobby. There are black benches to sit on, beside tables covered with upcoming programs and schedules. There isn’t a single trace of commercialism – no signs for Coke or advertising to be found anywhere. Instead, there is an open space decorated with classic movie posters, a small portion of the gallery’s larger collection. The concession stand’s prices are inexpensive, with your choice of comfort food (bagels & self-serve cream cheese, tea, croissants), or the classic movie theater menu (popcorn, that’s surprisingly not in a grossly oversized bucket, and your selection of soda choices). The employees are kind and helpful, ready to assist at a moment’s notice, and easily starting up a conversation as you wait. Hopefully Van, the woman behind the counter in the photograph, is there when you visit. She has a great sense of humor, just don’t ask her about any of the films (she’s not a fan).
New York magazine boasted that the Walter Reade has “268 comfortable seats, a 35-foot-wide screen, film and high-definition-video projectors, and cutting edge Dolby sound.” It only has one actual theater inside, but the ambience is comfortable and classy. There is plenty of area to walk around, and the theater even won an award for being accessible to people with disabilities. You can sit and lean back without having to worry about blocking the view of the person behind you, and the uphill seating arrangement makes sure no one is in anyone’s way once they are seated. Also, there are no annoying previews or commercials to wait through, because once the lights go down, the film starts immediately.
The film I saw was titled Air Doll, a 2009 Japanese drama by Hirokazu Koreeda. I enjoyed the film without having to crane my neck upward, despite how close I was. The screen is neatly designed to be just the right height so that the entire audience can watch it without having to move from where they are. There is also a small stage underneath the screen, presumably for live action performances. The sound can be heard equally throughout the theater, and finds a happy medium between blasting loud and deafly quiet – just the right pitch to listen comfortably. Aside from the film’s sound, the theater is silent – no workers coming in to check on things, and the patrons are respectful of each other, keeping their chit-chat to a minimum. Standard rules, such as those of texting (“the only texts we are allow are the ones in subtitles”), are listed just outside of the theater.
This particular movie was part of an event, “Film Comment Selects 2010”, from Feb. 19-Mar 4, its tagline being “Extreme. Daring. Out There. Don’t say we didn’t warn you.” One of the many pamphlets for the theater described this event as “Celebrating its 10th anniversary, this annual showcase of discoveries, special previews, rediscoveries, and films without distribution is handpicked by the editors of “Film Comment”, America’s leading magazine of film criticism. Drawn from their travels on the international film festival circuit, this year’s eclectic and cutting-edge mix has something for everyone.” To top off this comfortable film going experience, I vastly enjoyed Air Doll, and Koreeda’s take on the childhood fantasy of bringing one’s toys to life.