Reports | Theatres

Battle for the Brattle

1 Jan , 2006  

Written by Sara Faith Alterman | Posted by:

What is the future of the big independent screen?

If you’re reading this article, you have likely been as profoundly and extensively influenced by the cinema as I have. When I began writing for NewEnglandFilm.com two years ago, I was thrilled to combine my awe and respect for feature filmmaking with my own creative aspirations; what better way to promote local and homegrown artists than to write for their premiere online resource?

One of my earliest memories is of my mother nestling me into an auditorium seat, handing me a popcorn kernel to gnaw on and tucking a sweatshirt around my little legs to shield me from that unrelenting blast of movie theater air conditioning. The film was E.T., and though I fell madly in love with that adorably raisin-faced telekinetic, I became even more enamored with the experience. Sitting there in the dark with a roomful of people, laughing, gasping, sobbing in unison, I developed my first real understanding of community.

Twenty-something years later, I still see movies as a social glue. My girlfriends and I order Thai food and Pay-Per-View. I’ll spend cozy Friday nights cuddled on the couch with my guy, giggling over hot chocolate and a mockumentary. Still, as cheesy as it sounds, I find there to be something truly magical about viewing a film in a theater. I went to college in Rochester, New York, home to the George Eastman House, an international museum of film and photography and home to the Dryden Theatre, where cinematic classics are projected on the big screen in a theater stuffed to the gills with red velvet seats and adorned with tapestries and evocative paraphernalia. It was during the pursuit of my B.A. in Film Studies that I saw masterpieces like Citizen Kane, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, The Battleship Potemkin, and more obscure delights like Meshes of the Afternoon and Window Water Baby Moving. Campus proximity to the Dryden nurtured my love of viewing such nutritious brain candy on the big screen.

Now that I live in Boston, theatres like the Coolidge and the Brattle satiate my appetite for indies and classics. I’m not the only Bostonian who cherishes the cinema, of course, which is why it’s imperative that we, as nostalgic moviegoers, help the Brattle Film Foundation save a cultural institution that’s been around for more than 50 years.

Located in Harvard Square, the Brattle is the city of Cambridge’s only independent cinema. Thanks to $200,000 in back debt, increased operations cost, and a surrounding urban environment that, in the past few years alone, has undergone a transformation from bohemian rhapsody to cookie-cutter consumerism, the theater is in trouble. Hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of trouble. Thanks to stalwart fundraising efforts by the Brattle Film Foundation, an outpour of worldwide grassroots donations, and movie marathons of heroic proportions, the theater has managed to raise [at press] almost half of what they need to keep the theater operating. But as the end of February fundraising deadline approaches, it is beyond urgent that the theater raise the remaining necessary funds; money that will go to paying off the aforementioned debt, enhancing the theater’s programming, boosting marketing and publicity efforts, and expanding community programs.

Recently I took my gentleman friend to the Brattle so he could see, for the first time, The Seven Samurai. I probably don’t have to tell my NewEnglandFilm.com readers about how entrancing Akira Kurosawa’s masterpiece is, but, not being the cinemaphile that I am, my date had never seen it before, and he was justifiably enthralled. As we sat there licking butter and salt from our fingers, our asses molding into the shape of our seats over the course of the four-hour flick, I couldn’t help but wonder; would we have been as engaged by this epic film had we been sitting at home on my couch? Yes, the story of humble villagers who rise from pitiable circumstances to defend their meager home is universally humanitarian, but Kurosawa’s cinematography is gorgeous on a larger-than-life scale; it deserves to be watched on a larger-than-life screen! Each and every shot is framed with the precision of a still photograph; swaying stalks of grain, worry lines that ford elderly faces like rivers tinged with wisdom. All of these images are visceral, practically tangible. On my teeny television, such imagery would all but disappear; overshadowed by action and dialogue.

Filmmaking is an artform that deserves a platform. Yes, yes, there are movie theaters, and yes, you can see films on the big screen. But what happens after a three month run at a Sony theater? Movies go to DVD, and imagery is resigned to mediocrity. But enough about me and my loyalty to the big screen. What about yours?

Help keep the Brattle alive. Your contribution can range from volunteering your time, purchasing a seat in a loved one’s name, or the ever-helpful cold hard cash. Please visit http://www.brattlefilm.org before the website is the only part of the Brattle that’s left to visit.


Help keep the Brattle alive. Your contribution can range from volunteering your time, purchasing a seat in a loved one's name, or the ever-helpful cold hard cash. Please visit http://www.brattlefilm.org before the website is the only part of the Brattle that's left to visit.