Thursday, June 28, 2012

Memories of the 1970s

The closing of the Harvard Square Cinema on Church Street is <begin list now>:

  • A loss
  • A marker of time's passing
  • A symptom of today's entertainment economics
  • A harbinger of things to come
  • An opportunity to reflect
  • An ...

I'll chose "an opportunity to reflect", and dwell there just a moment.

When the doors of the theater close, the Rocky Horror Picture Show will be made homeless.  A regular feature since 1984, 28 years ago, the great movie with its flamboyant twist on a hackneyed plot line -- a couple's car breaks down in a storm, "Didn't we pass a castle on the road a couple of miles back?", you get the rest -- will be seeking a new roof over its head to get out of the rain.  Of course, any Rocky Horror veteran knows that no matter how enjoyable the movie, you go for the show -- the floor show -- the real life humans who dress up in their own versions of costumes of the characters on the screen and act out the film in front of your very own eyes.  The gags that fall to the audience make it good too -- rice thrown at the wedding scene, handfuls of it; playing cards at "cards for sorrow, cards for pain", and no one can forget "Where's your f*ing neck?!" 

It all comes back to me now.  Like every kid originally from the Big Apple, I'm impressed that Harvard Square has hosted Rocky Horror since the mid-80s, but I remember -- oh God, here we go -- I remember going to see the Rocky Horror Picture Show at the old New Yorker theater on Broadway and 89th Street in Manhattan six years earlier, in the late 1970s.

It was a wild time, to be out so late -- all shows start at midnight -- in this slightly subversive world. My friends and I were all of 11 or 12 years old at the time.  But it was New York, and it was the 1970s.  The New Yorker was a long distance from where the others lived -- they were all East Side kids -- but I wasn't far from my father's, who lived just up Broadway.  Was it dangerous?  Who knows.  Certainly, there was the blue haze of smoke in theater -- it was the 1970s after all -- but I am sure most of the kids in the theater, and they were mostly kids, slightly older than my gang, but still kids, were just like me.  Adventure and excitement.

Of course, the film is an odd twist on Frankenstein's castle, with a cross-dressing Dr. Frank-N-furter (Tim Curry) and his creation Rocky (Peter Hinwood), who prances around in nothing but gold shorts. Brad (Barry Bostwick) and Janet (Susan Sarandon) are the starchy, straight-laced lost newlyweds.  Add to this one of the great characters in film, the handyman Riff Raff (Richard O'Brien) and his wife Magenta (Patricia Quinn), sprinkle in the singer Meat Loaf, and it all comes to life.  Every Friday and Saturday night at midnight, it all came to life.

The New Yorker Theater has long since succumbed to the wrecking ball.  I don't remember when it was exactly -- probably around the time Rocky Horror was opening up in Harvard Square -- but it was sad nonetheless. Manhattan was gentrifying. Land values on the Upper West Side were going up.  There was a higher and better use of the land.  That means housing. Down came the old, and up went something new.

With the theater went a bookstore too, just around the corner.  It was also called the New Yorker, I believe.  I remember standing in front of the plate glass window of the bookstore one morning.  I want to say it was a cold day, but that may be mistaken.  I was with my father.  I think we were walking the dog.  The bookstore had a display of neighborhood authors in the window.  There was my father's newly printed book, Sunrise.  That dates this memory to around 1980.  Next to it was Isaac Bashevis Singer, the Nobel laureate.  A little outpost of authorship in a little bookstore on a small side street amongst the canyons of Manhattan. 

That West Side is gone now.  Like all eras, it was, but went. Yet it lingers as a little memory in the canyons of my mind.