It’s been a magnificent time to see alternative movies in NYC, between the recent openings of the Lower East Side’s bespoke jewel Metrograph and Brooklyn’s cult-film–friendly Alamo Drafthouse, plus the city’s already robust viewing options such as Film Forum, IFC Center and BAMcinématek. Missing from that list (at least for connoisseurs who remember better) is Quad Cinema, Greenwich Village’s famous four-screen viewing box; it was Manhattan’s first multiplex when it opened in 1972. Since 2015, though, the theater has been shuttered for a complete rehaul under the new ownership of real-estate mogul and cinephile Charles S. Cohen. Prior to that, the Quad, fallen on hard times, had become notorious for “four-walling” (renting out) its space to less-than-stellar indies, hoping to buy a quick release and some press coverage.
“I would say that we’re 100 percent committed to continuing the grand tradition of four-walling,” jokes Quad senior programmer Gavin Smith, flashing the sarcasm familiar to those who recall his dry intros from years of Film Society of Lincoln Center screenings. Smith and his new colleague C. Mason Wells—formerly of IFC Center but now Quad’s director of repertory programming—laugh at the crack but quickly get down to business: It’s a thrilling time for them, relaunching a theater with a lengthy history, one they hope to honor (at least its historic peaks) while reshaping it in their own curatorial image. Quad Cinema reopens April 14 with completely new interiors, luxurious seats, state-of-the-art projection facilities, a wine bar, a snazzy rebranded logo and a rekindled mission to serve the best cinema in the city.
“We want to highlight the things the Quad did well,” says Wells, whose months of historical research led him to discover key runs of pivotal movies by Jean-Luc Godard, John Sayles and the legendary Merchant-Ivory filmmaking ensemble. “It’s a survivor,” he adds, of the Quad itself. “It’s always managed to find a way to stay. And what that means for us now is breadth: Just the sheer quantity of films that we’re going to be showing will be overwhelming for certain viewers but in a way that I find exciting. I love the idea of having so many options from just one theater.”
In real terms, local film fans should brace for impact. During the new Quad’s first month alone, there will be, among other offerings, a retrospective of Italian provocateur Lina Wertmüller (best known as the Oscars’ first female nominee for Best Director with 1975’s Seven Beauties), a run of Terence Davies’s elegant historical drama A Quiet Passion (starring Cynthia Nixon as poet Emily Dickinson) and a radical series called “First Encounters” in which directors like Noah Baumbach and Manchester by the Sea’s Kenneth Lonergan watch movies for the first time and hash out their reactions in conversation with the crowd.
Both Wells and Smith describe themselves as obsessive filmgoers, particularly in the context of seeing older works. “The obvious parallel is the way people are going back to vinyl,” says Smith, describing the new wave of 35-millimeter fans—viewers he hopes will make the Quad a frequent destination. “There’s a cult built around authenticity,” says Smith. “I’ll be at the Quad a lot.”
Quad Cinema reopens to the public Apr 14.