In an era of superhero blockbusters in the multiplex, New York needed the Metrograph theater more than Bogart needed Bacall. When founder Alexander Olch was seeking a new venture for his creative instincts—he was already a filmmaker and clothier—a theater was the natural choice. But the 198-seat Metrograph on Manhattan’s Lower East Side has more than a perfectly curated film schedule, courtesy of artistic and programming director Jake Perlin. It also has a restaurant, a bar, a bookstore, and, most crucially, a devout following that’s already made the place a must-keep-up-with spot since it opened in February. Check it out before the month ends to catch one of Brian De Palma’s macabre classic hits—The Bonfire of the Vanities, Carlito’s Way, and Raising Cain, to name just a few.
Film critic Joe Neumaier talked with Olch about the role the neighborhood plays in the success of Metrograph.
Why the Lower East Side? This neighborhood attracts strong brands that people seek out and visit. The restaurants, the art galleries nearby on Orchard Street, my clothing store around the corner at 14 Orchard Street—all the places here are quite specific and well executed. People coming here are seeking something special, something unique. And that’s a very nice feeling to be a part of.
And in many neighborhoods, you can go to a great restaurant, a cool bar, hopefully a bookstore, then see a movie. But at the Metrograph, it’s all in one place. The ultimate goal here was to create a very social experience. One thing that all film people hold in common is a love of film books. So the bookstore was always important as a part of this process. And the Commissary is us tipping our hat to the commissaries of the golden age of Hollywood studios in the 1930s and ’40s, where everybody would eat—stars, crews, producers, extras. It had to make everybody happy.
The Metrograph keeps up that high-end experience. It’s all reserved seating, which makes it more pleasant, so there’s a certain kind of comfort here. If you’re running late, you don’t have to worry that you won’t get a seat.
Films play only once or twice, not for days. Does that increase demand? We’re playing around with the kinds of films that get canonical treatment. There are a lot of films from the 1970s through the early 2000s that we want to put into the cultural conversation of great cinema. And each day there’s a different film playing. What we were really hoping to achieve is having people say, “Let’s just go to Metrograph tonight and see what’s playing.” We’re getting to that point now, I think.
Of the films you grew up on, is there anything you’d love to program? I’m a very strong defender of Francis Coppola’s “Tucker: The Man and His Dream” (1988). Even as a kid, I understood I was going to be a creative entrepreneur, so to me it’s an important tale about America, entrepreneurship, and being an artist. And doing something different in business, which in many ways is what we’re trying to do at Metrograph.
Seems a perfect moment to reference the scene in “Tucker” in which Martin Landau tells Jeff Bridges that he “caught his dreams.” Yes! I hope people who come to Metrograph will catch our dreams, too.