Renoir Cinema Opens Without Illusions
The New York Times, March 18, 1977
by Anna Quindlen
The city gets a new movie house this week - the Jean Renoir Cinema - which is a product of unlikely parts: an unprepossessing theater space in the East Village, a letter of approval from the 82-year-old French film maker, and a partnership composed of a soap opera ingenue, a precocious film aficionado and a female projectionist.
So it should come as no surprise that Renoir fans as disparate as Cliff Robertson, Ruth Gordon, Joan Bennett, Andrea Marcovicci, and Burgess Meredith have been invited to a screening of Renoir's 1934 love story "Toni" at the christening tonight of the new movie house on the corner of Second Avenue and 10th Street, a venture that is as homemade as home movies.
Concerts and Plays, Too
"Capital was no problem," said Ilene Kristen, one of the founders of the theater, which is devoted to independent American films and foreign releases. "Things that we've been working on for the past 20-odd years were the capital. Our talents, our friends, are the capital. I think you'd be surprised how little hard cash went into this."
That is the thing - apart from the theater's being the first in America to which Renoir has agreed to lend her name - that makes the new movie house special. It has been founded, renovated, and will be run by Miss Kristen, 25 years old, who spends her afternoons playing Delia Ryan on the soap opera "Ryan's Hope"; Ray Blanco, the 22-year-old owner of Brauer International, a distributor of art films; and Nancy Newhall, 29, one of the first women ever admitted to the Projectionists Guild. The entire project, known as the Gate Theater Center, will include concerts and plays as well as movies.
Some American Renoirs
"It was a really obvious choice of name," said Mr. Blanco. "I just think of Renoir automatically when I think of great films. I was quite pleased when he agreed to let us use his name. We are in negotiations now for a full Renoir schedule, hopefully for this summer."
In recent weeks, the owners have transformed the caveronus indigo theater they will use to show such Renoir classics as "La Bete Humaine" (1939), based on the Zola novel, and "Marseillaise" (1939), a story of the French Revolution. It has gone from a somewhat grubby theater-in-the-round to a movie house with quadrophonic sound, all thanks to the three principals and their artist, actor, writer, and filmmaker friends. This crew wielded paint brushes and plaster cans once Miss Kristen, Mr. Blanco, and Miss Newhall had incorporated as White Screen Pictures. This name also had a cinematic reference - a corporation in the German film "Kings of the Road."
Mr. Blanco said the theater will offer some of Renoir's American movies - "This Land is Mine" (1943), with Charles Laughton, "The Southerner" (1945), with Zachary Scott and "Swamp Water," shot on location in 1940 in the Okeefenokee Swamp with a cast that included Walter Hudson, Walter Brennan, Anne Baxter, and Dana Andrews - as well as "The River" (1951), Renoir's only Indian film, which has not been shown in theaters since the 50's. The program will also include such American films as Martha Coolidge's study of rape, "Not a Pretty Picture," and "Loose Ends," David Buron Morris and Victoria Wozniak's feature about American working class men.
In August, Mr. Blanco said, there will be a village film festival. Already 30 movies representing 20 countries have been scheduled.
"But we're not forgetting the simple comforts of home," Mr. Blanco said. "We're putting this together like we'd like a theater put together. There's lots of leg room. The seats aren't great but they're a lot better than other houses. And we will also have an excellent concession stand."
As evident amateur decorators climbed a ladder behind them in a long overdue plastering effort recently, the three said that they had chosen the East Village despite some feeling that the neighborhood was fading fast. Mr. Blanco pointed to the existence of the nearby St. Mark's, a house that shows popular films at $1 admission prices, and the Theater 80, a successful revival house.
"An area builds itself up in proportion to the things that are going on there," said Miss Kristen, who worked in this same area seven years ago when she played the bubbly blond cheerleader in the original production of "Grease" at the Eden Theater. "This could become the film capital of New York."
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