Quad Cinema is open again on 13th Street in New York City's Greenwich Village after two years of modernizing renovations. The massive project has turned the decades-old arthouse theater into a futuristic movie destination, where everything from the menu screens to the bathrooms make you feel like you're walking through Kubrick's 2001.
Quad Cinema opened in 1972 as Manhattan's first multiplex. Since then it has hosted famous filmmakers and drawn fans of indie, foreign and art films to the center in the Village. In need of repairs and updates, the multiplex closed in 2015. Among the improvements are the ultramodern aesthetic, fewer but better seats, and screens compatible with every film format, from 35 mm to 16 mm, 4K digital and 3D.
Quad Cinema opening advertisement, 1972 (Facebook)
I went on a Thursday night to see whatever was playing at 9:30, which turned out to be the Emily Dickinson biopic, A Quiet Passion. The marquee is simply the word QUAD in a thin, modern font, extending over the sidewalk from just above the glass doors. Inside, the small lobby focuses on the rounded red bar that begins as the ticket counter and proceeds to serve food and drinks under borderless menu screens.
The walls display movie posters on bright screens and a square mosaic of small screens on the far wall shows clips of classic films. A sign similar to the marquee indicates the door to the cafe/bar that occupies the next-door space but isn't yet open.
The four screens are called "Q," "U," "A" and "D" and each is lit by a thin strip of bright overhead lights in the shape of its respective letter. I walked into A like I was walking into a wide, luxurious airplane. The walkway between the two rows of seats is lit by strips of lights like a runway and the letter of each row is illuminated on the side of the seat. Altogether, the theater's lights create much of the futuristic feeling.
Then, the screen showed a trailer for the thirtieth anniversary remastering of Maurice, James Ivory's adaptation of the E. M. Forster novel—a trailer for the past in the most sci-fi looking theater I've ever seen.
The rooms are spacious, comfortable and quiet. Silent. The silence between the trailers and the opening credits was an intense experience. Seemingly without any fans on (because the room was comfortable), the airless silence was shocking, a bit suffocating and a good preparation for the stuffy nineteenth century world of the film. Emily Dickinson's poetry was a palliative and her quick wit broke the quiet with laughs from the small audience.
The movie was fantastic, comprehensive in that it covered her entire life from young adulthood on, and jarring in the way it jumped from scene to scene without any of the usual dramatic buildup and subsequent lull or falling action. Patiently shot, the stunning performances of the actresses and actors give the film its power. One incredibly weird moment to look out for comes during a scene of intense sadness, where a woman plays softly on a piano. Suddenly I was holding back laughter: she was playing a song from Spamalot, the Monty Python musical. A hilarious song by Eric Idle from a 2005 Broadway musical about King Arthur winds up in a deeply sad moment of an Emily Dickinson biopic. Very strange.
Charles S. Cohen bought the Quad Cinema in 2014. His new programmers include C. Mason Wells from the IFC Center and Gavin Smith from the Film Society of Lincoln Center. Their ambition is to program series based on stories and relationships in cinema, as well as underplayed films and topics of neighborhood interest.
When the adjoining Quad Bar opens "soon," it will serve wine and beer to customers who can relax on leather seating next to its tall windows while they wait for a show. I didn't have the pleasure of experiencing the old Quad Cinema, but the redesign is exciting, modern, confident and instantly a go-to movie destination.