Save the Brattle Theater

by clarencecarter
November 2, 2005 4:55 AM
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We're perhaps a little late in jumping on this bandwagon, but the Brattle Theater in Cambridge, MA needs to raise $400,000 by year's end or else it will be forced to cease operations after 52 years of film programming. Now, I'd love to say that saving the Brattle would mean that we're preserving some grand, classic movie palace, but that would honestly be lying. No, the place is more of a film pit--you can see the seams in the screen in you look really hard, it's not uncommon for the projectionist to blow a changeover, and the audio system sits in plain site on the stage next to the screen--but these kinds of drawbacks are more than the "charm" of the place, they're what makes it lovely and vital. Cheesy to say, perhaps, but the Brattle experience (complete with the creaky floorboards, zero grade seating plan, antiquated "admit one" ticket stubs, heavy emphasis on Bogie...) has a real, tactile sense that shiny neon multiplexes only approach at that moment when your feet unstick from the floor. Put simply, going to the Brattle, for any program, represents a different kind of connection with movie watching, and anyone reading this who cares about cinema should recognize what I’m talking about. Don’t get me wrong, multiplexes have their place, and serve a purpose—often well—but our film culture can’t survive if left in the hands of AMC/Regal/Loews alone. And besides, The Brattle birthed the Janus Films folks whose library is now put out on DVD by everyone’s favorites over at Criterion. Imagine what the landscape would look like without them?

So, all of you cinephiles out there who open your wallets to the tune of $10 or $20 every time or Howard Dean comes calling, think about skipping a screening or two this month and go here to make a similar donation. I'm sure many of you are reading this in New York, Los Angeles, Toronto, etc., and though sympathetic, are wondering exactly how the closing of a grungy little screen in The People's Republic of Cambridge could possibly effect watching movies in your town, but stop and think for a second about the larger communal aspects of cinema—beyond the sounds of the creepy bearded dude two seats over. For many of us, the towns and theatres of our cinematic coming-of-ages are far from the places where we eventually grow old with movies, but we wouldn’t be the viewers we are today without those formative experiences. So, if we continue to allow economics to hack off the minor league screens out in the sticks (and hell, this is Boston we’re talking about—provincial yes, but not Duluth—if we can’t maintain an indie art screen here…), each successive wave of fresh-faced newcomers to New York or Los Angeles is going to have less respect for what’s playing at the Film Forum and or the NuArt than the last.

We can all sit around and bitch about how film culture is dying, how no one cares, and how it doesn’t matter because it won't be long before we'll all be watching movies beamed in HD directly up our anuses and into our spinal cords. Or we can each take small steps towards preservation. Tsai Ming-liang once told Reverse Shot, “You see these major changes over the past ten years and it hits you, the speed of things, how fast these changes are happening. But there's no way back. There's no use worrying or feeling sad about things.” He may be right, but I harbor a hope that there might just be more room for co-existence between the old and the new than it seems. We just have to care, and especially about small theatres programming small movies like The Brattle.

Again: to make a donation, go here

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  • Helena | December 11, 2005 6:06 AMReply

    A rare gem in Harvard Square. .. I lived in Cambridge from 1994-1997 while earning a architecture degree from Harvard. The Brattle Theater was one example of independent thought in Cambridge; we viewed provocative small and foriegn films, in our efforts to escape the over-the-top, mindless, crass Hollywood blockbusters shown by every other movie house. I was astonished when I heard about the Brattle's plight to stay open. It's a shame that a wonderful decades-old establishment like the Brattle is being squahsed out by massive national chain stores. I agree with all the posts here- it's critical to keep the Brattle ALIVE!! FYI: I found a website called Pledge Bank where you can pledge to make change and invite others to join in. It's empowering to see others who have similar interests work together for important causes like this. Visit
    and spread the word!!

  • D Grewal | December 1, 2005 4:37 AMReply

    Thanks so much for writing this blog. Readers, PLEASE help out the Brattle -- it is one of the few real theatres left that is committed to serious film! If we cannot keep something like it alive in Harvard Square, Cambridge, of all places, then I think there's no hope for the medium in public, and we'll all end up watching DVDs on home theatres. What a loss that would be! I've given my donation -- can others help too? 400,000 is not that much money to save something this important. It's 100 dollars each for 4000 people. Should be doable among cinephiles, in Boston alone!

  • anomie | November 24, 2005 5:25 AMReply

    Thanks for posting this! I'd really love to see some other national coverage of the plight of the Brattle. Locally, people here in Boston are really motivated, but we are desperate for some more outside help.

  • Homemade | November 3, 2005 5:52 AMReply

    An outrage, and a no-brainer donation. I saw so much there. I remember To Have and Have Not, Videodrome, and The Long Goodbye especially. That town needs zoning laws to keep all the crap out. Fucking soulless landlords. What a year, with Kim's Underground and the Beekman gone.

  • werebiginjapan | November 3, 2005 5:03 AMReply

    Not to pile on with more maudlin sentiment, but the Brattle was *the* formative locale for my movie education. If it's even possible, the theatre used to be even more run down than it is right now, with duct tape holding the seats together--and so it felt homey, more like watching a flick in your friend's basement than in a true movie house. I dragged my freshman year roommates to see Welles' THE TRIAL, saw DONNIE DARKO and RUN LOLA RUN before just about anybody else did, caught DR. STRANGELOVE, REAR WINDOW, and VERTIGO for the first time ever, spent a whole day watching THE GODFATHER PARTS I & II (for a paltry $5!) and fell in love with more than one movie heroine in a series of breathtaking double bills: Ingrid Bergman after CASABLANCA/NOTORIOUS, Rita Hayworth following LADY FROM SHANGHAI/GILDA, Audrey Hepburn in BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY'S/ROMAN HOLIDAY. When they called it Cambridge's unofficial film school, it wasn't an understatement. No other film experiences have been as rapturous and outright enthralling, and I'm sad even thinking about the possibility of the Brattle going dark.