Few involved in the new renovation of the Quad movie theater have particularly fond memories of it, at least in its last couple decades.
“I didn’t think the programming was the greatest, and I didn’t think the environment was the right environment,” admits Charles S. Cohen, its new owner.
“It was kind of claustrophobic and kind of shabby and not exactly packed with people,” says Gavin Smith, the new senior programmer.
Once a beloved fixture of the Greenwich Village moviegoing and cultural scene, the theater, which opened in 1972, fell on hard times sometime in the 1980s. Before it closed in 2015, it had been reduced to mostly showing “four-walled” films — movies whose makers paid to have them shown theatrically, not because anyone was itching to see them.
In came Cohen. When he purchased the space two years back, he envisioned an entirely new venue, though one that kept the same name. And he got it. The new Quad, which opens on April 14, has four screens. Three are for new art house releases; the fourth is dedicated to repertory. Each screening room has its own, distinct look, while the lobby is now handsome and sleek. Cohen was even able to expand into the space next door, which will become a wine and beer bar.
“It’s a total gut renovation,” Cohen says. “You won’t recognize it.”
Cohen made his riches in real estate and development, but he’s long extended his know-how to another love: cinephilia. Since 2008, he’s owned the Cohen Media Group, which has distributed acclaimed movies, including the Oscar-nominated “Timbuktu” and the recent Oscar-winning “The Salesman.” They also own a library of 1,000 classics, from Buster Keaton through Merchant-Ivory, which they release in theaters and on home video.
Cohen collaborated on every inch of the theater, helping pick out everything from the concessions to the tiles, and deciding the space would inhabit a single floor.
“You’re not coming in and going up an escalator 20 floors or going into a basement,” Cohen says.
Cohen has also surrounded himself with first-rate talent. Among those are his two main programmers: Smith, formerly of Lincoln Center and Film Comment magazine; and C. Mason Wells, from the IFC Center, who will be director of repertory programming.
The Quad will join a rich movie-centric New York landscape, populated by places like Film Forum, BAM, the Museum of the Moving Image and the still new Metrograph. The programming, Wells and Smith say, will go for breadth. While the opening weekend’s first-run fare includes Terence Davies’ “A Quiet Passion” (pictured above), with Cynthia Nixon as Emily Dickinson, the repertory screen will play films by Lina Wertmuller, the sadly somewhat forgotten controversial filmmaker of such ’70s Italian classics like “Swept Away” and “Seven Beauties.”
Wells says the rep calendar is pretty “aggressive” for the first two months, with a new double bill nearly every day. To show the range of the films on hand, Wells points to the series “Four Play,” which also begins opening weekend and includes movies with the word “four” or some variant in the title.
“On one hand it’s a cheeky nod to the fact that the Quad is a four-screen theater,” says Wells. “It’s also providing a sampler platter of the types of films we’ll be showing — from ‘Rocky IV’ to ‘Gang of Four,’ from Jacques Rivette to Sylvester Stallone.”
One of the most original series is called “First Encounters,” in which local luminaries, like Greta Gerwig (who picked “Blue Velvet”) and John Turturro ( “Pather Panchali”), pick films they’ve never seen before, then watch it with a paying audience. In most cases, the people are bound to love their respective filmic blind spot.
“I’m excited for the inevitable moment when someone will not like the film,” Wells admits. “There’s something fascinating to me about building up a movie in your head over a long period of time. And then when you see it you’re disappointed or confused that it’s different from how you imagined. There’s something beautiful about that.”
In other cases, they’re re-introducing moviegoers to legends. A series on May is devoted to Goldie Hawn (pictured above). It’s partly tied to the forthcoming “Snatched,” her first film in 15 years, co-starring Amy Schumer as her daughter.
“It’s also because I really love her as an actor — not even as a comic actor, but as an actor,” Wells explains. “She’s someone who’s won an Oscar [ed. for 1969’s “Cactus Flower”] but doesn’t really get appreciated or discussed in the same way as the best actresses of her generation. And I think she is one of the best, in the range that she has.
“I’m always looking for those kinds of figures, so we can give them the attention we feel they deserve, in the proper context,” he adds.
But what about streaming? Hasn’t an entire generation been raised to watch movies on their TVs or computers screens or phones? Wells and Smith think millennials will be drawn to the idea of seeing films as an event, perhaps experiencing old movies on the big screen for the first time ever. And besides, this is New York City.
“Young people don’t move to New York to stay home at night,” Smith says. “They move to New York so they can go out and experience everything the city has to offer.”
“People in New York are always looking for things to do because their apartments are terrible,” Wells adds. “And movies remain one of the cheapest and most fun options for doing so.”
The Quad, located at 34 W. 13th St., will open on Apr. 14. Visit the site for tickets and showtimes.
Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge