As a Brookline resident for a handful of years and a frequenter of Coolidge Corner well before that, I have and still highly appreciate that business district’s movie house—now bona fide art house—abbreviated endearingly as The Coolidge.
My introduction to the theatre came while attending college in the area and living in Brighton after graduation in the early 2000s. I hit up The Coolidge multiple times back then, seeing groundbreaking films such Being John Malkovich, Amélie, Waking Life andBottle Rocket. The latter two, however, were part of a special program: Midnite Movies, where films are screened at, yes, midnight. The films were usually independent, cult or amusingly retro (as in from the 1980s).
The tradition has continued on and off, from just before the time I started seeing them until roughly three years ago, when, as The Coolidge’s Executive Director Denise Kasell told me, they went to a weekly schedule. “Consistency is the thing,” she continued, because “If we do Midnite Movies, we do them all the time.”
According to Susan Quinn’s 2009 booklet history of The Coolidge—Only at the Coolidge: The Story of a Remarkable Movie Theater—a part-time ticket seller named Clinton McClung really made the midnites legendary, with sing-a-longs and viewings of cult, indie hits sprinkled in on various Friday and Saturday nights. Then George Bragdon expanded the format to include live concerts, comedy and performances by local burlesque troupes. All this was occurring during Joe Zina’s tenure as Executive Director—from 1999 to 2009.
Now, special programs include “Science on Screen,” featuring a talk by a professional on a scientific subject related to the accompanying movie; “Sounds of Silents,” which matches live music with classic silent films; simulcasts of plays by Britain’s National Theatre and operas by New York’s Metropolitan Opera; an annual screening of The Big Lebowski; and Box Office Babies, a series that presents films early in the day for families with babies, where crying is welcome.
Despite the popularity of the Friday and Saturday midnight showings and other programs unconventional for a movie theatre, Ms. Kasell said the cultural institution “doesn’t live and die by the ‘specials.’” Not-for-profit art houses survive, she explained, because people come to see the ‘regular’ offerings—which may or may not be playing at multiplexes as well. Those box office sales provide the money for the specials to be put on.
Nevertheless, the current head of the movie theatre, Ms. Kasell, described the specials’ popularity as “increasing,” and the curatorial process of the programs—finding the right films or speaker—as always a team effort, a consensus.
Speaking to one of the main people behind the Midnites, program coordinator Mark Anastasio, it’s clear that the cult-ness of the series is something in which he and program manager Jesse Hassinger revel. Mr. Anastasio’s favorite showings are splatter horror films and the annual Halloween show, which runs from 12 midnight to 12 noon, includes six talkies on 35-mm film and counts over 100 people in attendance. Part of the fun, Mr. Anastasio said, is “finding the print”; sometimes one of the last copies of a film to be shown is tracked down. He elaborated that they don’t like to run things digitally or on DVD for the Midnites. Other iterations of this program are the sing-a-longs and quote-a-longs, the film material to run them procured from an Austin, Texas movie house called The Alamo Draft.
All in all, the specials—and Midnites in particular—continue to draw people in, Ms. Kasell observed, which equals success for The Coolidge. In addition, the epic status of the late-night screenings among those who trek out in the pitch black to see movies they’ve probably seen before, but never on the big-screen, is just another unique offering of Coolidge Corner, Brookline’s independent movie theatre.
By Andrew Palmacci