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Screen Dreams

New York's alternative movie houses can cure Multiplex Personality Disorder.

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Aging cinéasts still mourn the "golden" years of art-house theaters, when die-hard film buffs had their daily pick of revivals, rarities, and foreign fare, whether it was a Sturges fest at the Thalia, a midnight El Topo at the Elgin, recherché noir at Theater 80 St. Marks, or nonstop Bresson at the New Yorker. Those screens are history now, victims of video, cable, and DVD. But nostalgia can be pointless, especially now that a new generation of eager movie nuts has fueled a revival-house revival. Over the past few years, theatrical rereleases of 8 1/2, Touch of Evil, Nights of Cabiria, and The Third Man have all become surprise hits, sparking renewed interest in mint-condition prints for us to watch the way God intended: on a big screen, in the dark, surrounded by strangers. Offbeat venues have also been popping up -- bars, small cine-clubs, even all-night-marathon outdoor screenings -- and foreign-film societies have become the best places to catch distributorless foreign releases. Herewith, a brief and highly prejudiced guide to places where you can realize your celluloid dreams.

The Classics

MOMA (11 West 53rd Street; 708-9480) is the Mount Sinai of serious filmgoers, handing down the law since 1935. The museum currently screens more than 1,000 films a year in two basement auditoriums.

Across the street, for almost as long, the Donnell Media Center (20 West 53rd Street; 621-0624) has been unspooling films and videos from its 5,500-strong collection. And it's free.

Even though you may think the venerable Anthology Film Archives (32 Second Avenue; 505-5110; $7-$8) never shows anything but Eisenstein and Brakhage, consider this: It has more than 12,000 titles in its vault, and the curators been loosening up. "We used to show only the independent and avant-garde," says program director Jonas Mekas, who has introduced several generations of filmgoers to several generations of avant-garde film, "but we lost money." Anthology still offers a rigorously defined canon of essential classics, but it's also embraced more-commercial indies.

The Indies

"Bette and Joan are our guiding lights," says Dan Seitler of A Different Light (151 West 19th Street; 989-4850), referring to a series of camp classics offered free every Sunday night at 7 p.m. The technical quality is poor (it's just a video-projection system), but the audience is the real draw. "People cheer and applaud and occasionally recite lines," Seitler admits.

A former kosher winery is an odd spot for watching movies, but Tonic (107 Norfolk Street; 358-7501; $4) manages to make it work. Presented in its vast, garagelike performance space, the Monday-night film series draws cinéasts (not to mention Julia Roberts, spotted once) for screenings of Italian classics like Bellocchio's Fist in the Pocket and Visconti's Rocco and His Brothers. It's also one of the few places where filmgoers can drink and smoke in their seats. (Call before you go; the series is currently on hiatus.)

Despite the metal chairs and fans blowing from the back of the room, Sunday- and Monday-night screenings at Ocularis at Galapagos (70 North 6th Street, Williamsburg; 718-388-8713, www.billburg.com/ocularis) are always packed. Being attached to Williamsburg hot spot Galapagos helps. Recent screenings include 16-mm. prints of Ermanno Olmi's Il Posto and Errol Morris's Gates of Heaven. The program moves outdoors for the summer, to Socrates Sculpture Park in Astoria; P.S. 1 (22-25 Jackson Avenue, Long Island City); and impromptu "covert" screenings around Williamsburg (check the Website for locations).

Also offering screenings alfresco is Luca Pizzaroni's NY Open Cine (252-3465), Friday nights in Little Italy's De Salvio Park and Saturday and Sunday nights at Pier 40 (at the end of West Houston Street). Pizzaroni is not too organized yet, but he likes to show Fellini and De Sica.

Void (16 Mercer Street; 941-6492) offers videos of sixties and seventies favorites on Wednesday nights with a one-drink minimum.

The Pink Pony (176 Ludlow Street; 253-1922; free) shows silents with jazz accompaniment at 10 p.m. on Mondays.

The Golden Age

True heirs of the great old revival houses, these three theaters trump their precursors by offering better facilities and smarter programming than anyone ever had back in "the good old days." "I have a little bit of everything," boasts Bruce Goldstein, repertory program director at Film Forum (209 West Houston Street; 727-8110; $9, $5 members).

The Film Society of Lincoln Center's Walter Reade Theater (70 Lincoln Plaza; 777-film, ext. 954; $8.50, $5 members) is known for running retrospectives featuring titles even hard-core know-it-alls have never seen.

At the American Museum of the Moving Image (35th Avenue at 36th Street, Astoria; 718-784-4777; www.ammi.org), the emphasis is, usually, closer to home.

A recent arrival, Cinema Classics (332 East 11th Street; www.cinemaclassics.com) is still trying to find the right mix of silly and serious, with retrospectives of actors like Laurence Harvey and monthly themed series like "Racism at the Movies." There's a video retail business in back, and the prints are only 16-mm., but the theater is comfy and cheap (just $5). A café-lounge (homey by East Village standards) encourages patrons like Todd Solondz to loiter before and after the show.

Foreign Influence

The regulars at the two-year-old YWCA Cineclub (610 Lexington Avenue, at 53rd Street; 735-9717; $7, $6 members) are happy to sit on folding chairs, with black sheets draped over the windows to keep out the light.

The French Institute (Florence Gould Hall, 55 East 59th Street; 355-6160; $7, members free) frequently offers premieres of contemporary French films.

The Japan Society (333 East 47th Street; 752-3015; $8), The Asia Society (725 Park Avenue, at 70th Street; 517-2742; prices vary), and the Goethe Institute (1014 Fifth Avenue, at 82nd Street; 439-8700; prices vary) all keep their screens dark for the summer, but call about fall schedules.


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