Our favorite lil’ indie theater reopens tonight as a renovation project that choked up the reels for a whole month nears completion. For a brief time last year, the future of Spectacle at South 3rd Street, where it has occupied the ground floor for the last five years, looked like it was in jeopardy. Thankfully, the volunteer-run movie theater successfully raised more than $40,000 through a Kickstarter campaign to fund an overhaul that saved it from being forced out. I popped by this morning to get a peek at what’s new, fingers crossed that the theater had stayed true to its roots.
Spectacle is housed in a former bodega, and just a few months ago it had the grimy visage to prove it. The building’s new facade is almost unrecognizable, save for a door handle molded into a shape resembling the theater’s flaming “S” logo. I’ll admit, my stomach dropped ever so slightly when I saw what’s now a clean-cut, black wall with a poster display case– lights, perfectly-pressed flyers and all.
“There was this sticky substance on the facade that just attracted dirt, and also there were layers and layers of graffiti on it,” explained Vanessa McDonnell, a volunteer who’s been with Spectacle since 2011. “The front used to be made of plexiglass sheets, basically, so it didn’t do too much to keep out sound or cold.”
True, it was actually warm in there, thanks to a brand new heating and cooling unit. And heavy-duty soundproofing means the room is imbued with a muffled hush, a promising sign that movies will no longer be disrupted by giggling passersby.
That crusty facade of yore, as DIY-cool as it was, had not only made it drafty inside, it was also the major point of contention with Spectacle’s landlord. “The building’s a co-op, and it’s almost all families that have been here for a really, really long time,” Vanessa explained. “They really wanted us to change the front, to them it was like… well, they didn’t see the charm as much as we did, which I understand. So they urged us to fix it up and make it a little bit more presentable.”
Fortunately, beyond the quelling of comfort concerns, you’ll find a familiar space. (Although you might be disappointed that the inexplicable shower in the bathroom is now gone. “No one had showered in here for a while, so it was kind of not really use,” Vanessa admitted.) When I visited, the place still smelled of fresh paint, but there’s nothing else to indicate a betrayal of Spectacle’s past–the peeling layers of blue and brown paint remain untouched, the colored bulbs still glow inadequately on the walls. “We wanted to make certain improvements but not change too much, certain things are beloved,” Vanessa explained. “A lot of the changes were structural.” (The worn floors have been reinforced, for instance.)
I wiggled around in my seat to find it was the same surprisingly comfortable squeaker I’d sat in a few months back. The only difference being a welcome extension of leg room. But Spectacle has also received some exciting updates to its equipment. “Things to just make it a better cinematic experience as opposed to making it really fancy in here,” Vanessa explained. “All of the tech in here got a once-over.” On your next visit, feel free to stretch your legs, and enjoy the benefits of a better sound system and brand new projector. But don’t sweat the extra perks– the luxury doesn’t translate to a heftier ticket price, regular programming is still just $5.
To honor Spectacle’s past and present, the theater will expand upon the usual “Best of Spectacle” programming that dominates the January calendar. Instead it’ll host what Vanessa called a “Best of Best of Spectacle” lineup. “We’re bringing back some films from all five years that we’ve really loved, things that are defining for us,” she said. “And that will actually continue throughout the year, so each month there will be a few favorites.”
In keeping with the curation, tonight Spectacle will screen Věra Chytilová’s Panelstory, the Czech filmmaker’s cinema-vérité exploration of a Communist-era apartment block. “It’s amazing, and it’s a film that we showed really early on, when we first opened,” Vanessa explained. “And it’s also a film that’s very near and dear to our hearts.”
But don’t expect too much change from the schedule. “The model has worked really well for us,” Vanessa explained. You’re allowed to sigh with relief.
As for the neighborly dispute, Vanessa said things are all settled. “It’s good to live in harmony,” she smiled. Now, back to the show.