The Sad Demise of a Landmark New York Movie Theater
On a recent night in Manhattan, people argued about movies for the last time, crunched the last kernels of popcorn — and lamented the demise of both a landmark movie theater, and the groundbreaking man who founded it.
There was some irony in the fact that the last movie to ever be shown at the Lincoln Plaza Cinemas was called “The Insult.” Many said that they felt injured by the closing of the theater, located between West 62 and 63rd streets and Broadway, which opened in 1981 and showed many Israeli and Jewish-themed-films.
Manhattan resident Alfie Germain stepped out of the theater at midnight.
“It’s an emotional experience, knowing that I’ll never be coming here again,” he said. “But it’s the city we live in. It’s money over matter [now].”
Under Dan Talbot, who became a world renowned art-film exhibitor, Lincoln Plaza Cinemas boasted a large crowd of Jewish theater-goers. About a month and a half ago, it was announced that the landlord would not renew the lease for the theater. Talbot died soon after, at the age of 91. On a recent Sunday morning, hundreds came for a memorial for Talbot — and to say goodbye to the theater.
“It’s like my synagogue,” said Karen Segal, 75.
She recalled coming to see a Sholem Aleichem retrospective — and remembered how the crowd, full of elderly Jews with canes and walkers, had returned from the bathroom and began to argue about seats that were supposed to be saved. Nobody could hear the featured speaker, Aleichem’s granddaughter, Bel Kaufman, so “the general manager got up and yelled: ‘Jews: sha!’”
Ron Millican, 78, of Manhattan, said that he was shocked to hear of the closing.
“I cried,” he said. “They show wonderful films here that you can’t see anywhere else.”
He added that he was enthralled by the last film he saw, “My Coffee With Jewish Friends,” and said that as someone with a Jewish wife and two Jewish daughters, he found it intriguing to see perspectives in a film where one man interviewed about 50 Jewish people.
Dan Talbot’s wife, Toby, lauded her late husband for bringing Claude Lanzmann’s nine-hour documentary “Shoah” to New York. She said that children of Holocaust survivors came up to the Talbots after seeing the film, and told them that their parents hadn’t spoken to them about their harrowing experiences.
Wallace Shawn, who played Vizzini in “The Princess Bride,” said that people owed much to Talbot.
“He created a group of Americans who, whether they had traveled or not, had seen Africa, had seen China, had felt the feelings of individuals struggling with their lives in Iran.”
Iberto Placido, 62, of the Bronx, took tickets and worked as an usher at the theater for the past 34 years. He said that he doesn’t know what his next job will be.
“This is not like a grocery store,” he said. “This is a big business with 30 people working. Millions of people are not happy.”
Projectionist Brian Berman said that he’s worried about the future of people buying tickets to see films.
“[Now] it’s all about the experience — the food and the leather seats,” he said. “It’s not about the movies — and it’s a shame. I don’t know what’s gonna happen in the future.”
Noel Matthews, who worked at the theater for the past 37 years, ripped the last ticket to be sold, and ate a piece of lemon cake with a knife — because no forks were left.
“I’ve spent my life here,” he said with a tear in his eye. “Dan was a great person. It’s all very sad.”