HBO Bryant Park Summer Film Festival
What follows is an essay I wrote a few years back that, until now, has not been published. The subject concerns my experience attempting to attend the “HBO Bryant Park Summer Film Festival.” The event, happening every Monday night, now through August 22, consists of an outdoor screening of a movie in Bryant Park, 6th Avenue between 41 and 42 Streets. The films will be shown in 35mm on a screen 20 feet high by 40 feet wide. As these are older films, it is unusual to be able to see them in 35mm, which may be an inducement for those of you who still choose to attend the event after reading about my misadventure.
I was walking past Bryant Park this past Monday when I noticed a sea of people seated on the lawn ready to watch one the movies being shown as part of the “HBO Bryant Park Summer Film Festival.” It was startling to see the entire lawn filled with an audience that spilled out onto the steps at the rear of the lawn and into the side areas beside the lawn. I could not help but happily reflect that in this day and age of Netflix and movie channels so many people would come out to see an old movie. The cartoon before the feature was starting. It was a Warner Brothers cartoon. People applauded as the familiar Warner Brothers music and logo appeared on the screen, seeming to recapture a part of their childhoods that they could now, in their adulthoods, regard with a combination of art and nostalgia.
I walked through the crowd, along the gravel aisle in the back, between the lawn and the steps, thinking I might take a seat. Many of the seats were already taken by this point but there were still some empty ones, occupied by people’s feet and back packs. I asked a woman who was using an empty seat as an ottoman if I might have the seat. She replied, unconvincingly, that she was holding it for someone. It soon became apparent that what appeared to be a friendly summer evening event had turned very territorial. Those who had the luxury of seats for their feet and back packs were not giving them up, requiring me to stand and block the views of others who were seated (and, no doubt, occupying otherwise empty seats with their feet and back packs).
Wherever I tried to grab a standing vantage point people shouted for me to move. At last I found what I thought was a considerate viewing position. Soon a man came up behind me and rudely yelled, “Hey buddy could you move? We’ve been here for three hours.” Not only was his grammar bad (clearly he meant to ask, in his Neanderthal way, if I “would” move) but I did not like the way in which he was speaking to me. So, I ignored him and stood my ground, my legs shaking from anger and the possibility of a physical confrontation with a trust fund hipster stranger in a darkened Bryant Park illuminated only by the glow of an Elvis Presley movie. Less than half a minute later he was on me again, “What didn’t you understand?” I turned around and, ready for anything, replied, “You don’t have to be so rude.” Again he coarsely repeated his plight that he had been there for three hours. I took a deep breath and yelled, “You got here three hours early to see Viva Las Vegas!? The joke’s on you pal!” As his date failed to suppress a laugh I realized I had gained the upper hand, at least for the moment. I left the park and made for the nearest video store.
The Bryant Park screenings start between 8 pm and 9 pm. The park’s huge lawn will open at 5 pm for those who want to grab a spot and picnic. I am told attendees can line up on the edges of the lawn starting at 4pm. The park’s restaurants and kiosks will provide meals, drinks and snacks. Free parking for bicycles is provided in the park, at 6th Avenue and 41Street. Unlike Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village, dogs are not allowed, nor are chairs, tables and plastic tarps.