Filmmaker Alexander Olch can’t help but be excited as he shows me around his latest project—not a documentary, like 2008’s The Windmill Movie, but an art house, still dusty with construction. “We literally raised the roof,” says Olch, with a smile, as he points skyward. We’re touring his 175-seat main theater, now a bit taller in order to accommodate a new balcony.
Metrograph, Olch’s long-held dream, opens Friday 4 on the quiet stretch of the Lower East Side’s Ludlow Street. It’s NYC’s first new indie and repertory cinema since Lincoln Center’s 2011’s debut of the Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center, but the impact for hard-core movie lovers will be bigger. As expectations go, Olch and his team have indeed raised the roof.
“The dream is to make a place that is very special for cinema, which is slightly different than just building a cinema,” says Olch, who is also a designer of men’s ties, suspenders and accessories. “It’s a place that you would come to that speaks to the world of cinema but serves your purposes beyond seeing a movie. It’s a place you’d want to hang out.”
To that end, Metrograph bears the care and personal touch of a finely tailored piece of clothing. New seats (extremely comfortable ones) are fashioned out of reclaimed wood from the old Domino Sugar Refinery in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. The facility boasts a film-specific bookstore offering new titles as well as rare out-of-print classics. The main-level candy store sells imported chocolates from around the world. Upstairs, a full-service restaurant, the Commissary (featuring a menu inspired by Hollywood’s old-time studio cafeterias), serves breakfast, lunch, dinner and a late-night menu. There will be two bars.
But the real meal here is surely movies, curated and presented with the same attention to detail that a master chef brings when picking fresh herbs for the day. “You only get one chance to open a cinema, right?” says Jacob Perlin, Metrograph’s artistic director and formerly a programmer at BAMcinématek and the Film Society of Lincoln Center. “Anyone who comes here at the beginning, we want them to leave saying, ‘I just saw a great fucking movie.’ ” In the first few weeks, those offerings include a series devoted to films that have scenes shot in theaters—Film 101 essentials like Taxi Driver and The Purple Rose of Cairo—as well as a worthy retrospective of the work of iconoclastic French director Jean Eustache.
“We thought that maybe the audience wouldn’t mind us throwing them a curve ball,” says Head of Programming Aliza Ma. “For Jake and I, Eustache is such a holy grail—so rare. So we’re asking people to trust us to sit through The Mother and the Whore. That’s how we want to define our full range of interest.”
Olch, Perlin and Ma have an easy rapport—they’re all serious movie geeks who, it seems, could happily spend the afternoon talking to me about Manhattan’s legendary celluloid palaces. For every hint about an upcoming title they’re showing (Howard Hawks’s 1962 safari conversation piece Hatari!), they strive to articulate a deeper connection to moviegoing. “There’s something magical that goes along with it,” offers Perlin. “The carpet, the walls, everything. Anyone who’s super into cinema had to fall in love with that as much as the films: the ritual. That’s the marriage we’re working on.”
Metrograph (7 Ludlow St; metrograph.com) opens Friday, March 4.