Movie-Going

Source: John Hollander, extract from ‘Movie-Going’, in Movie-Going, and Other Poems (New York: Atheneum, 1962)

Text: … Always go in the morning if you can; it will
Be something more than habit if you do. Keep well
Away from most French farces. Try to see a set
Of old blue movies every so often, that the sight
Of animal doings out of the clothes of ‘thirty-five
May remind you that even the natural act is phrased
In the terms and shapes of particular times and places.
Finally, remember always to honour the martyred dead.
The forces of darkness spread everywhere now, and the best
And brightest screens fade out, while many-antennaed beasts
Perch on the house-tops, and along the grandest streets
Palaces crumble, one by one. The dimming starts
Slowly at first; the signs are few, as ‘Movies are
Better than Ever,’ ‘Get More out of Life. See a Movie’ Or
Else there’s no warning at all and, Whoosh! the theater falls,
Alas, transmogrified: no double-feature fills
A gleaming marquee with promises, now only lit
With ‘Pike and Whitefish Fresh Today ‘Drano’ and ‘Light
Or Dark Brown Sugar, Special.’ Try never to patronize
Such places (or pass them by one day a year). The noise
Of movie mansions changing form, caught in the toils
Of our lives’ withering, rumbles, resounds and tolls
The knell of neighborhoods. Do not forget the old
Places, for everyone’s home has been a battlefield.

I remember: the RKO COLONIAL; the cheap
ARDEN and ALDEN both; LOEW’S LINCOLN SQUARE’S bright shape;
The NEWSREEL; the mandarin BEACON, resplendently arrays
The tiny SEVENTY-SEVENTH STREET, whose demise I rued
So long ago; the eighty-first street, sunrise-hued,
RKO; and then LOWE’S at eighty-third, which had
The colder pinks of sunset on it; and then, back
Across Broadway again, and up, you disembarked
At the YORKTOWN and then the STODDARD, with their dark
Marquees; the SYMPHONY had a decorative disk
With elongated ‘twenties nudes whirling in it;
(Around the corner the THALIA, daughter of memory! owed
Her life to Foreign Hits, in days when you piled your coat
High on your lap and sat, sweating and cramped, to catch
“La Kermesse Heroique” every third week, and watched
Fritz Lang from among an audience of refugees, bewitched
By the sense of Crisis on and off that tiny bit
Of screen) Then north again: the RIVERSIDE, the bright
RIVIERA rubbing elbows with it; and right
Smack on a hundredth street, the MIDTOWN; and the rest
Of them: the CARLTON, EDISON, LOWE’S OLYMPIA, and best
Because, of course, the last of all, its final burst
Anonymous, the NEMO! These were once the pearls
Of two-and-a-half miles of Broadway! How many have paled
Into a supermarket’s failure of the imagination?

Honor them all …

Comments: John Hollander (1929-2013) was an American poet and academic. He wrote several poems on cinema, of which the long poem ‘Movie-Going’ is the best known. A third of the poem is reproduced here. Most, if not all, of the New York cinemas mentioned can be found, described and mapped, on the Cinema Treasures site. La Kermesse Heroique (France 1935) was directed by Jacques Feyder.

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