Columns, Film Festivals

UP ON THE ROOF

By • Jun 23rd, 2015 •

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I once asked an architect friend what the staterooms would look like on a space-ship bound for Venus, and she recommended that I visit Yotel on 42nd Street and 10th avenue. This unique building is bathed in soft, hallucinatory, moody colors, a sense of durable translucent glass-like material for its walls, and an economy of space wherein staterooms are like small but luxurious cabins. Up on its fourth floor is a large, casual dining/drinking area, extending outdoors onto a roof terrace which completely encircles the building,looking out over Manhattan’s Times Square area.

And it was on this fourth floor roof area – the largest outdoor hotel space in the city – that the Rooftop Film Club was launching its debut event. First there was the food:sliders – burgers, cheeseburgers, and tuna burgers. Chicken and vegie tacos, sweet potato fries. Sangria and beer. For the price of your ticket, in addition to the screening, you’ll be entitled to a taco and either beer or sangria. (The sangria was excellent, and I’m a big sangria fan, but don’t let me steer you away from a good brew if that’s your standard selection.) And then, of course, comes the movie.

Affable, knowledgeable entrepreneur Gerry Cottle Jr., co-creator of the Club, oversaw the proceedings. His father owned a circus, and it is to this he attributes his inventive show biz inclinations. Which couldn’t help but bring FREAKS to mind. Wouldn’t that take his family heritage full circle… But maybe Tod Browning’s shocker would be a bit too divisive for Rooftop audiences. In 1932 it was reviled, pulled off the market and buried; in the 60s, on the heels of the dreadful Thalidomide pregnancy tragedy, it was seen completely differently, as a compassionate portrait of humanity’s less physically fortunate demographic. A pleasant evening’s viewing on a Big Apple rooftop might not exactly be the ideal place to do a hand-count on how many felt the film was offensive, and how many found it therapeutic.

The films Cottle mentioned as probabilities for his rooftop screenings were established classics, some cult, some slightly less so: GHOSTBUSTERS, CASABLANCA, Woody Allen’s MANHATTAN, Blake Edwards’ BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S, as well as many films by Hitchcock (STRANGERS ON A TRAIN was run recently). No gore, though AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON, containing some bloody makeup sequences, is at least half played for comedy, so it qualifies. We discussed the possibility of running a British cult classic that he’s shown to great success in his home town – WITHNAIL & I. A timeless comedy, it was released here on DVD by Criterion – the Rolls Royce of the DVD/BluRay industry. But would its English accents and skewed sense of humor go over with the rooftop crowd? I couldn’t hazard a guess. No way to find out, I suggested, but to give it a try some night.

Cottle started his rooftop concept in London in 2011, first on one rooftop, then spreading to five. A difficulty in the UK was sunset, which falls later there than it does in NYC. Having to start the film after 9:00 pm had a palatable impact on people with baby-sitters to pay, parking, etc. The NYC Club can start its films closer to 8:30.

The Rooftop Film Club commandeered one chunk of the roof area, roped off from other boisterous denizens of the evening. As I sat, nursing and swirling my sangria and waiting for night to fall, I chatted with Lauren, a writer for Travel & Leisure magazine who, along with her boyfriend, was having as nice and relaxed a time as I was. On the other side of the rope, a young guy got down on one knee and proposed to his girlfriend, opening a case containing what seemed to be a jewel-studded necklace.

And on our side of the rope, the jewel-studded vista that is Manhattan lay spread out before us as we took our seats in the falling dusk. The surprise choice for the night’s screening was TOP GUN, the ever-popular, testosterone-driven action-romance starring Tom Cruise. Tony Scott, the film’s director, knew how to blend sound & image into a memorable audience experience. Headphones were provided to ward off NYC’s ambient noise, and the sound mix was perfectly presented through them – more articulately separated, in fact, than it would be in most theaters. The projection equipment is apparently state of the art, because all the rainbow colors of the encroaching city, visible from our seats, still couldn’t erase the rich tones and deep blacks of the film’s images. Perhaps I could compare it to an outdoor home theater screening party with a hundred friends, if we had that many. And if we didn’t, this would be the quintessential environment within which to make some more.

Want the schedule? Check out WWW.NYC.ROOFTOPFILMCLUB.COM

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