Friday, July 11, 2008

St. Marks Cinema

Following up on my recent post about the Theatre Condos, I watched Jim Jarmusch's 1980 film Permanent Vacation, in hopes of getting a good look at the old St. Marks Cinema where Jarmusch was once an usher. Unfortunately, no exterior shots, but there were a few interiors. Does anyone remember these green and yellow walls?



A small popcorn was 75 cents and they had a machine that dispensed ice cream:



Permanent Vacation is a student film. It's pretty slow and not much happens. It is, however, a great record of the Lower East Side and "Nolita" back when it was a burnt-out wasteland.



The DVD also includes a German documentary from 1984, in which Jarmusch notes how much the city had changed in the 4 years since he shot the movie. He says, "A lot of places that we shot aren't even there anymore, New York has changed so much. It's kind of eerie."

He points out a new apartment building that he says looks like "a prison yard" and that replaced a field that once sprang up in a vacant lot he used in the movie.



Perhaps a kindred vanishing-city obsessive, he mentions the same loss in this 1992 New York Times article:

"See that big red building, it's like an apartment complex?" he says, pointing down Spring Street. "That didn't used to be there. I filmed scenes from my first film, 'Permanent Vacation,' in that lot when it was an empty lot. Then they built that building. There were these big signs that said 'Little Italy Restoration Association,' which spells 'lira.' " He chuckles dryly. "Hmph. Dubious."

While he was filming "Permanent Vacation" in an apartment on East Third Street, the late painter Jean-Michel Basquiat took to using the set as a crash pad. "Every time we did a reverse angle, I'd have to drag Jean-Michel in his sleeping bag under the camera so he'd be out of the shot," he says. "He'd grunt and go back to sleep."

20 comments:

Bob Arihood said...

Jeremiah I certainly do remember the St Marks Cinema . I actually did some repair work on the projectors once ....A very long time ago in another century.

hntrnyc said...

if you are looking for an exterior shot of the st. marks theatre it can be found in Moscow on the Hudson, the robin williams movie. there is a rather good shot of it as williams leaves the theatre. i used to live across the street from during the Gap era and that shot is about all i remember about the film.

Anonymous said...

I think the guy that ran that theater is the projectionist at AMMI. If it's who I'm thinking, he has some great stories.

Anonymous said...

I worked there taking the money and dispensing tickets and selling the popcorn and goodies too--it was a cool scene-then a guy with a deformed hip came on board and hated everyone and slowly we all left and then the cinema closed--
I remember going there before it closed and enjoying myself--the bon bon ice cream drops were really good-

Jeremiah Moss said...

moscow on the hudson: good idea, probably has lots of 80s NYC scenes.

great to hear about the old cinema. wish we still had something like it. i really miss having double features at st. marks and 1st ave, too.

Joshua said...

Speaking of movies with great 80's New York scenes, I've always thought "Ghostbusters" and Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor's "See Know Evil, Hear No Evil" were two of the best.
The latter, especially, has some great scenes in Tribeca before it was Tribeca (the way I remember it), and Union Square before Vigin Megastore. I'm aware that many people dislike that film, but the version I used to watch on WPIX Channel 11 (which has alternate, character forming dialogue) was quite decent and enjoyable.

Joshua said...

Oh my goodness, I meant "See No Evil, Hear No Evil"! I don't know why I put "See Know" back there. I guess that's fatigue.

Also, "Moscow On the Hudson" is a great film to see NYC in the 80's (he even goes to the Village).

bakerina said...

Another movie with great 80's New York scenes is John Sayles' Brother from Another Planet. I saw it at either Bleecker Street Cinema, the Waverly or the Quad (I'm embarrassed to admit I can't remember which) when I was 16 and loved it to pieces. I just saw it for the first time in nearly 24 years in May, and I loved it every bit as much as I did when I was a kid. The exteriors are just great, and Fisher Stevens's cameo as a teenaged magician on the uptown A train is terrific fun.

Joshua said...

I love "Brother From Another Planet".
How about "Do the Right Thing" for Brooklyn and "Sisters" for Staten Island (granted, "Sisters" is from the 70's, but there isn't much to choose from for Saten Island).

freddy2000 said...

Todd Haynes' POISON for the Vinegar Hill/Dumbo streets (in the B + W section) and the best EV movie-- Phil Hartman's NO PICNIC-- avail at 2 boots video, natch!

Carol Gardens said...

Susan Seidelman's SMITHEREENS is the best for early 80s East Village. They cast a lot of the extras from The School of Visual Arts, where I was a student at the time. Also Richard Hell in the cast and cameos by Amos Poe, Cookie Mueller, and other downtown scensters. (Chris Noth plays a prostitute according to IMDB. I will have to rewatch to catch that...)

erikfromtheeighties said...

Oh that fucking theater - how we loved seeing the midnight movies there! Seeing those interior shots made me want to cry. And the shots of the burnt out rubble - that was my home, I lived on Ave C and Third street in 1980 when Jarmusch was shooting that film, I forgot what a surreal landscape that was to live in.

Years later (early 90's), when I came back to visit the old neighborhood and found that Gap there, I immediately peed on the window, right during the heart of Saturday night. It was childish, I know, but it felt good.

GrandSt. said...

Bleecker St., 8th St. Playhouse, the Art - miss 'em all.

...and I know it's mid-70s, but my favorite "New York" sequence is the first couple of minutes of "Dog Day Afternoon."

Joshua said...

That's true, "Dog Day Afternoon" was a great one--I like that sequence too.
There were a lot of great New York films in the 70's, not just for exterior shots but for atmosphere too.

JackSzwergold said...

Apropos to Moscow on the Hudson, it's very underrated. One of Robin Williams better performances. And the scene of him going to the supermarket to buy coffee is classic.

"Coffee... Coffee... Coffee... Coffee... Coffee... "

Anonymous said...

hi! i had to jump in this thread- i LOVE your blog & feel the same way about our vanishing nyc. anyway, some other good nyc films that i've been re-watching lately are Times Square, Story of a Junkie (watch it with the director's voiceover to get details about where exactly they were filming), I second Smithereens, Desperately Seeking Susan, Sid & Nancy, Blank Generation, Downtown 81, Basquiat, Alphabet City, After Hours, Johnny Thunders:What About Me (amazing footage of Tompkins Square Park around 90). Most of these can be found on Netflix. I'm always looking for other good nyc films, so if others have more recos, I'd love to hear them; thanks!

Anonymous said...

Good scene of Astor place in the late 70's in the Taking of Pelham 1,2,3

esquared said...

Anyone knows if St. Marks Cinema did not always have the apostrophe? Just wondering. Same with the street-- St. Marks PL. Anyone? Anyone? Bueller? This just got me thinking since Waterstone's in England is now dropping the apostrophe. Sorry for the deviation. Carry on.

arlsixb said...

Hi! I am so glad to find your blog.I have been looking for pictures of this wonderful place. I have so many fond memories of St Marks Cinema ("...where the admission is only 2 dollars, this week week we are proud to present..."went the phone recording) It was maybe 1978 or 9 as a hs student living in the neighborhood i was first hired to stuff and seal envelopes for a big mailing. From there I moved up to concession stand and ticket booth. You could get a popcorn with a a soda for under 2 dollars. I do remember the ice cream machine and the bon bons. It was a friendly and fun place. The owners were cool. I loved the double features, the midnight shows, the funky smell of soybean oil and popcorn, the good people, the tiny ticket booth and the tiny electric heater inside the booth to keep us warm in the winter. I left sometime in the early eighties and when I returned many years later, I was heartbroken to see that it was replaced by a GAP. How ridiculous and sad I thought. A big loss...

Anonymous said...

We used to live in Chelsea on 8th Avenue, and we (my father and two brothers) would walk to Saint Mark's Cinema (movie) located at 2nd Avenue and Saint Mark's Place. This was during the early to mid sixties. The price of admmission was either 15 or 25 cents. Saint Mark's showed old "B" and old first run movies which we enjoyed very much. The theater was run down, smelled of urine, and intoxicated people. I remembere it closed for a short time and it was cleaned up. The price of addmission was very inexpensive; however, it was now more enjoyable, very clean, and had a decent candy counter. I remembered the green walls. I assume it was under new management because of the changes. I have been looking for Saint Mark's Cinema to obtin some pictures. The first picture I had found showed the marquee painted a ugly purple. I continued to search and an additional photo was found. My heart leaped with joy when I saw the picture of the marquee. It was just as I remebered. However Saint Mark's is no longer and was replaced by a Gap. So sad - so much for progress. Saint Mark;s will always be one of happy times and memories. I would like to know when Saint Mark' Cinema was closed.
Keith
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