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BY SCOTT STIFFLER | One-year-olds aren’t usually this sophisticated — but the manner in which the Quad Cinema has chosen to celebrate the first anniversary of its rebirth is a self-aware exercise in symbolism and synergy that speaks to the bread and butter business of looking back, while wholeheartedly embracing the unknown.
On April 14, one year to the day after it reopened to reveal the fruits of a 24-month renovation process. “Saturday Night Fever” will be screened as part of the Quad’s ongoing “First Encounters” series. Created and curated by C. Mason Wells, Director of Repertory Programming, the series invites “notables from the film world and beyond” to come face to face with a flick they’ve never seen before — then asks them to engage the audience in conversation.
“It’s a very interesting process,” Wells said. “It’s unlike any other series I’ve programmed before. Those reactions are so genuine.”
On board for his virgin experience with the 1977 disco-era classic is John Cameron Mitchell. Inexplicably, the book writer and stage/film star of “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” — who directed its film adaptation, as well as 2006’s “Shortbus” and the upcoming “How to Talk to Girls at Parties” — has never seen the vehicle that propelled John Travolta out of Mr. Kotter’s TV classroom and into the global consciousness. But surely Mitchell knows a little something about it — and that, Wells said, is part of what gives “First Encounters” its off-kilter mojo.
“With the better-known films in the series,” he noted, “you’ve heard quotes from it, and you have a sense, in your head, of what it might be like. ‘Saturday Night Fever’ looms so large for American culture. But the movie itself is a lot darker and stranger than its reputation suggests.” So when the Bee Gees sing “How Deep is Your Love” as credits roll and it’s time for Mitchell to weigh in with his verdict, “It will be interesting to see John’s preconceived ideas come across.”
Asked if any guest had ever suffered the inevitable fate of all adventurous moviegoers — loathing the film — Wells deadpanned, “It hasn’t happened yet.” But he promised there’s still plenty of unpredictability built into the series. The majority of audiences, he noted, seem to arrive at “First Encounters” with both familiarity and affection for the selection, leading to a post-screening experience that “flips the script on what Q&A sessions are. You usually have a director or actor, and they are the experts on that film. Here, the audience knows more than the guest.” That’s resulted in more than a few humorous exchanges. “We like to be fun and cheeky and adventurous,” said Wells, “but we take movies very seriously.”
Backing up that declaration is the fact that within the past year, The Quad (which opened in 1972 as NYC’s first multiplex) has screened over 400 35mm prints as well as engagements for over 100 first-run films and new digital restorations.
“International and domestic, old and new,” Wells said of the Quad’s programming, which since its grand reopening has included actor retrospectives featuring Barbra Streisand, Goldie Hawn, and Daniel Day-Lewis, as well as director retrospectives from the likes of Billy Wilder and Bernardo Bertolucci — plus thematic series (3D films and the Inspector Clouseau films, among them), alongside a solid block of queer programming the pre-restoration Quad was well-known for. (Among 2017’s highlights, a 4K digital restoration of Toshio Matsumoto’s seldom-seen “Funeral Parade of Roses,” a 1969 black and white, documentary-like look at Tokyo’s drag and “gay boy bar” scene, whose visuals and violence were said to influence “A Clockwork Orange.”)
Extending the April 14 celebration, Wells said the “Quadrophilia” series, which “is an ongoing thing we do that brings back some of the more popular hits from films that opened or screened at the Quad in the four decades past,” will further serve to “remind people what we’ve done so far.” Their meta take on the series — screenings of “Quadrophilia” selections that happened since reopening — includes a musical fanatic’s delight on April 16, with a 3pm screening of 1983’s “Yentl” (from that abovementioned Streisand retrospective) and a 5:30pm screening of 1970’s “Original Cast Album: Company,” which was part of a 2017 series curated by Oscar-nominated director Greta Gerwig. “She’s a big Sondheim fan,” Wells noted, citing her use of his work in ‘Lady Bird.”
Also of note among the “ton of stuff” Wells was eager to plug when asked what else was worth pricking our ears up for, is a “near-complete 35mm survey” of work by independent filmmaker Alan Rudolph. The director will come in from the West Coast to appear at select screenings during the series, which runs April 27 to May 9. Among the over 20 titles are “Choose Me,” “The Moderns,” and this publication’s personal pick: 1985’s new-wave-meets-noir “Trouble in Mind” (with Kris Kristofferson as an ex-cop/ex-con, Lori Singer as a former flame/diner owner, and Divine, in a villainous male role).
Said Wells of Rudolph, “He’s never had a proper retrospective. His movies were hits in the ’70s and ’80, but he never quite broke through to the level of his contemporaries.” Like so much of what the Quad excels at, the well-programmed lineup promises to hook the uninitiated and reward the devoted.
The Quad Cinema is located at 34 W. 13th St. (btw. Fifth & Sixth Aves.). For more info, visit quadcinema.com.