And now I have a new item to add to my St. George Theatre collection, a drink cup bearing the legend “St. George Theatre, A Non-Profit Organization.” As my husband Dean is fond of remarking, “We were non-profit back then, too; we just didn’t know it!”
I got this cup last week for attending the first movie offered at the St. George since we loaded up our U-Haul forty-one years ago.
For a long time, the current proprietors, a local family with roots in children’s dance, Rosemary Cappozalo and her daughters, Luanne Sorrentino, and Doreen Cugno, seemed reluctant to present movies. Hadn’t the theater originally been built for Vaudeville? The fact that the old stained screen had burned long ago in a fire had to have been something of an impediment; but several local groups, including Staten Island Arts, have shown interest in presenting movies; and arts grants are a good thing – that’s what admitting you’re actually not-for-profit gets you!
Working Girl, celebrating its thirtieth anniversary, was the entertainment of the evening, a movie born of the decade that followed our theater time. Our Zeitgeist had been all about horror (The Exorcist, Burnt Offerings, Carrie) or mean streets: Taxi Driver, Dog Day Afternoon, Cooley High; but by 1988, the St. George was dark, having exhausted its brief post-movie house careers as 1.) a flea market and 2.) a roller rink. Across the harbor, mean streets had given way to Wall Street and the Reagan years.
It had been bitterly cold when I’d last seen a movie in the theater, February, 1977. Carrie; I remember shivering in the balcony. It was too cold to sit down.The landlord had stopped heating our beloved cave in late November, and we had worked for months in the cold, selling tickets with gloves on, warming our hands in the popcorn machine. To watch the first movie officially screened in almost half a century, at the theater we lost — despite every effort, legal and otherwise, to keep it open — and for that movie to drag New York Harbor uphill just a few blocks, and let it fill the screen before us, while we sat in the familiar (somehow warm) dark, was my catnip.
Friends I was sitting with had never seen the theater’s interior before, so I gave it to them in backstage tales, explaining why a digital projector tethered to the lip of the balcony isn’t the same at all as two carbon arc projectors, pointing up and back at the darkened portals of the projection booth. We had wine and popcorn, a strange pairing, one that seemed wrong, but made me wonder if I’d have gotten through the winter of 1977 better with a little pinot noir hidden behind the candy stand. There had been grass, but I wasn’t much given to smoking it back then; besides, it was expensive, and we were broke.
There were vendors the other night, working the lobby and the mezzanine. You could get your hair styled and teased on the spot, you could buy a vintage coat with shoulder pads. For many of the nine hundred or so people who showed up, it was an event, to share on social media, a local arts party.
Where was I? What decade was I in? Melanie Griffith, Alec Baldwin, and Harrison Ford were all so young, they could have played adolescent walk-on roles in one or another of the movies we showed. I just checked: Griffith actually DID play such a role in Smile, a 1975 Indy we showed early in ’76.
I settled in and watched. The format of the new screen was, as I’d feared, terrible, almost square; the title, Working Girl, was at risk of losing its W and its l, on the truncated flat white surface. As is true almost everywhere nowadays, the beam didn’t come from on high; it lacked a certain divinity.
I closed my eyes and listened to the movie; and, thanks to those gorgeous acoustics I knew all about, the sound track wrapped itself around us, voices in a dream. The three of us — my goddaughter, her mother (my friend) and I — had planned to walk out after the opening, having come to see a New York Harbor we two older women remembered commuting back and forth on, with its then-intact World Trade Center and packed morning ferry. As it turned out, we stayed a little way into the movie, past the point where Melanie Griffith cuts her hair.
“We’re walking out of the 1980’s,” I whispered, as we made our way down the steps from the balcony.
Or was it the seventies?
“This is really something. I wish I could enter the settings of my first adventures...” my friend said.
She meant, “...the way you do when you come here.”
Well, she had a point. (What exactly is the past?)
“When it’s winter, and I’ve got tickets to a concert here, I can’t quite believe my feet are warm,” is all I had to say.
Movies are time-benders, living dreams. Movie palaces — I truly believe this — are the Faberge Eggs built to contain them.