In its 109-year history, the BAM Harvey Theater in Brooklyn (originally the Majestic) has cycled between being a venue for live performances and a movie palace. Over two decades after it was restored as a showcase for live productions, BAM recently added a retractable 35-foot by 19-foot movie screen, which will allow the venue to show both movies and live performances. The renovation also included the addition of Dolby Digital 7.1 sound, as well as special acoustic panels that make the space more acoustically versatile. Before modifying the acoustics, the theatre was very reverberant, which is great for hearing live voices but horrible for movie sound. Tonight, the theatre will break in its new screen with the opening night selection of BAMcinemafest, the Sundance-approved western Ain't Them Bodies Saints.
Just as stunning as the large, seamless Steinberg Screen is the theatre itself, especially for those who have grown up seeing movies in modern multiplexes. The 1904 vaudeville theatre, which fell on hard times in the 1960s and was closed for two decades, was stumbled upon in its decrepit state by BAM staff in the 1980s. They were enchanted by the rundown space, and a restoration completed in 1987 preserved the sense of the theatre as a grand ruin. Corinthian columns in the lobby are half-chipped away, bricks are uneven, and paint has a hundred-year patina. In her opening remarks for a preview event on Monday, BAM president Karen Brooks Hopkins said the staff refers to the Harvey as a "state-of-the art ruin," an apt description that encapsulates its combination of modern amenities and romantic dilapidated look. With 745 seats, it hearkens back to the great movie palaces and will have enough seating for BAM's larger events. The theatre is just a few blocks away from the BAM Rose Cinemas, where the theatre held all of its movie screenings before the renovation of the BAM Harvey.
Any new theatre with boast-worthy screen and sound has certain films on their must list, and the Steinberg Screen will show them in the "Big Screen Epics" series from July 3-23, which will include runs of 2001: A Space Odyssey, Lawrence of Arabia, Doctor Zhivago, and The Godfather I & II. Besides these special series, the Harvey Theater will also book theatrical runs of indies like Woody Allen's Blue Jasmine, which play there starting July 26. New York City is known for its plentiful arthouse movie theatres, but the Harvey Theater's Steinberg Screen is truly a one-of-a-kind New York City moviegoing experience, one that will surely be showing up on the "best theatres" lists in months to come.