Greenpoint’s Film Noir Cinema brings darkness to light
The wry Founder Will Malitek brings humor, lightness to dark
GREENPOINT — On the quiet, residential corner of Leonard Street and Meserole Avenue, an independent cinema is bringing darkness to light. Film Noir is at once: a 54-seat independent theater hellbent on the hardboiled, a treasure trove of underground and hard-to-find films and the lifelong passion project of its founder Will Malitek.
A resident of Greenpoint for 33 years, Will has been at the helm of Film Noir for 20, since its genesis on Bedford Ave in 2005 as a rental shop catering to arthouse, foreign and rare media. Some locals and patrons may already be familiar with its triumphant legend: Film Noir not only survived the advent of on-demand streaming but continued to thrive as one of the last remaining places of its kind as rental stores everywhere shuttered their windows. A few years after the last Brooklyn Blockbuster closed down, Film Noir expanded to become a full-fledged cinema. (Only one Blockbuster remains worldwide. The so-dubbed Last Blockbuster, in Bend, Oregon, is more of a nostalgic museum, hosting in-store sleepovers.)
In 2017, Will converted a funeral home on 122 Meserole Ave. into an intimate screening room, salvaging seats from a bankrupt old Hollywood movie theater. Local artists Abby Lloyd and Chris Retsina collaborated on a bathroom mural as well as the marquee where Humphrey Bogart smokes a cigarette (apt, as the Maltese Falcon was the first film to premiere on its opening night).
A few weeks ago, late March snowflakes spun in dizzy torrents while Will and I discussed life and cinema in Film Noir’s anteroom. Will is originally from Gdańsk, where in the 70’s, one of the two available daytime TV channels featured the works of Pasolini, Fellini and Bergman. (“Channel Two. The other was purely national propaganda”.) However, the catalyst spurring a lifetime of devotion was Minilla, the smaller, friendlier child of Godzilla. “I watched every film in theaters from the age of nine, when my father took me to the cinema for the first time to see Son of Godzilla,” Will recalls, “I had my mind blown. That was the beginning of everything.”
Arriving in NYC through East Berlin just as the wall fell, then Greece and Miami, Will says “I had no job, no friends, just 200 bucks in my pocket.” He spent five years working along the infamous 42nd Street grindhouse cinema strip. In the post-Vietnam landscape of New York, crime, corruption and violence took up space in the American consciousness and low-budget B films reflected it. These films pushed the envelope, often “exploiting” serious themes for profit by adding visceral horror and shock aspects, earning the name exploitation films. It was the Wild West of film, where daring and experimentation were encouraged and that yielded in strange films in even stranger venues. Barely any trace of that New York remains in Midtown today. The works of that time are perpetuated by only a handful of remaining independent cinemas.
The cinema has several vintage film projectors. Recently upon seeing the grain in a filmmaker’s work, Will asked “Was this shot on film?” It turned out it was and the filmmaker still had the reel. “Let’s do the screening on the reel,” he suggested, “Digital is so flat”.
Film Noir’s intimate scale allows for careful curation, discussion and community. “My regulars are all hardcore film buffs,” says Will, “They’re like me, we can talk forever.”
The programming includes regular staples: Film Noir Mondays are a blind screening of an obscure pick fitting the genre. A few weeks ago, I was introduced to James Cagney and Barbara Payton at the height of her career, in Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye, right before her own tomorrows met alcohol-fueled ruin. Watching a film blind is an interesting experience I’d recommend. It’s a nice vacation from preconceived notions, algorithmic consumer-profile-based recommendations and spoilers: a purer experience where initial meaning construction and interpretation is yours and yours alone (BYOM: Bring Your Own Meaning). There’s also Film Club Thursdays where regulars write down a film they’d like to see in a hat and one is drawn at random for the following week.
“I love to challenge people and surprise them,” says Will. “That’s what makes me happy. I like to show films that people will never forget.”
The Miskatonic Horror Institute, an international collaboration based in NYC, Los Angeles, London and Toronto hosts their monthly New York meetup here. They list their mission statement as “It’s not enough to know we’re scared – we need to understand how and why, and what being scared means. The Miskatonic Institute of Horror Studies is an initiation into an understanding of horror, which is – in the end – a key to an understanding of everything.” They reference that bodies used to be kept in an ice chute in the Film Noir basement in its past life as a funeral home.
Film Noir frequently hosts original and syndicated film festivals. Later in April is Troma night, screening hits from the independent horror-comedy production company (responsible for the Toxic Avenger) with Q&A from founder Lloyd Kaufman. In September, catch the New York Supershorts of the NYC Film Festival. There’s also a recurring 3-day horror film festival every year in February. Greenpoint is the second largest Polish community in the US: Film Noir previously screened Dekalog, a ten-series Polish drama inspired by the decalogue of the Ten Commandments.
At the end of the interview, I had a few questions about Will’s philosophy of Film Noir.
Janna: “Who are your personal favorite directors?”
Will: “Masahiro Shinoda, of 60’s Japanese New Wave fame, and Jean-Pierre Melville, ‘spiritual father’ of French New Wave.”
Janna: “Would you say most people shy away from darker realities of life?”
Will: “Not my customers.”
Janna: “Are there any films that still scare you?”
Will: “The best ones.”
Janna: “Have you ever thought about acting or directing?”
Will: “I have a film in my head. One day, I’ll get the right people around and make it. It takes 7-12 people to make a film. I have been in a few films, Three Deeds, I was a pimp in that film, and another, His Man. I was a cop in that film.”
At the end of the interview, I turned my recording off and asked Will a question I couldn’t help. “Can a person get too dark?”
“It depends on the person,” he said. “Some people have a capacity for that sort of thing.”
New events are being announced regularly, to stay in the loop, keep an eye on their online program schedule.
Janna Shaftan is an electrical engineer and avid reader. She has a particular interest in independent literature and film, as well as digital and analog technology. She has spent the past ten years working on kernel technologies at Google and Apple.
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