ith a month of Mondays to go before the
conclusion of this year's HBO Bryant Park Summer Movie Festival series on August
20, and "Harry Potter" book mania sweeping everyone up, the events that have
revitalized New York City's Bryant Park, a lawn once known more for its frequent
drug-dealing and squalor than for its Good Morning America live concerts and
other assorted entertainment events, have not come too soon. The free
films keep the crowds flocking each Monday during the summer, for big screen fun
that begins at dusk. Crowds, complete with lawn spreads, blankets and
other permissible items, get ready to scamper on to the lawn at the whistle of a
park security guard at 5p.m. local time. It is quite a sight, one might
say not unlike what a July in Pamplona would look like, only without the bulls
charging at the heels of the masses.
Home Box Office has sponsored the Summer Movie Festival at Bryant Park for
fifteen years now, and Suzanne Pinto of HBO's Corporate Communications division
has been working on marketing, publicity and other matters related to the
Festival, as well as on "Screen On The Green", a five-week event held on
Washington, D.C.'s National Mall. Ms. Pinto, who has worked on the Bryant
Park Summer Movie event for eight years, spoke about HBO's role. "We use
35 mm projection equipment in both New York and in D.C., which is special
because it's the first time that people have seen some of the old classics
projected on a large screen using the original format of 35mm," Pinto said.
Must-see movie Mondays: This was the scene
on June 18, two hours before "Annie Hall", the opening movie on the first Monday
of the 15th Bryant Park HBO Summer Movie Festival. Suzanne Pinto of HBO
said that 10,000 people congregate at Bryant Park in Midtown Manhattan each
Monday to attend the free event, which she has worked on for eight years.
(Photo: Bryant Park Webcam)
Jim Byerley, a former inside film evaluator for HBO whom Ms. Pinto describes as
"quite a film buff", is one of the brains behind the decision-making on which
film classics make it to the large screens in the outdoors of Manhattan and the
Beltway. The process of selecting films for Bryant Park's 12-week Monday
movie night is done internally. "We get together usually in about January
and work with our business affairs office to try and develop a plan in terms of
what movies would be our wish list from the very studios that HBO works with,"
Ms. Pinto said. An emphasis is also trained on the quality of the prints.
Some of the earliest films shown in the New York City park, located between
Fifth and Sixth Avenues between 40th and 42nd Street, are from the 1930's such
as "Mr. Smith Goes To Washington", which starred Jimmy Stewart, in Frank Capra's
As well as American film classics, the movie selection committee looks at a vast
array of genres, mixing comedies, dramas, musicals and sci-fi films. "The
Graduate". "2001: A Space Odyssey". "American Graffiti".
"Citizen Kane". "Guess Who's Coming To Dinner". "The Sound Of
Music". "To Kill A Mockingbird". "Jaws". ("Who would have
thought ten years ago that "Jaws" would have been a classic?", Pinto says,
laughing.) These are just a few of the films that have shown in Bryant
Park over the years. Not all the films that grace the big outdoor screen
however, are classics. "We try to have a combination of quite well-known
films and then some films that may be a little lesser-known to people who aren't
familiar with them, but we usually try to get really popular ones at the
beginning and the end," Pinto said.
This year's HBO Bryant Park Summer Movie Festival, which began on June 18,
started with "Annie Hall" (which celebrates its 30th anniversary this year) and
ends on August 20 with none other than Alfred Hitchcock's "Psycho". For
good measure, the second-to-last film in the 2007 line-up is "Casablanca".
In the event that rain would fall on any of the movie Mondays, a rain date of
the following day would be set. But that is no longer the case.
(Rain in New York City last night forced the cancellation of "The Sting", which
was to have been the sixth film of the HBO Bryant Park free movie series.)
Movie posters for the opening and closing films of this year's HBO Bryant Park
Film Festival. (Posters: United Artists; Paramount)
In the 1980's Bryant Park was a place that many
of those who now congregate on its lawn on Monday nights wouldn't have dreamed
of going to. The park was in a state of disrepair; it was desolate and
unsafe. In 1992, Michael J. Fuchs, the then-HBO chairman, in conjunction
with Bryant Park Restoration Corporation founders Andrew Heiskell and Daniel A.
Biederman, came up with the idea to bring landmark cinematic entertainment to
the big screen, to help revitalize the park and recapture the masses.
Pinto's colleague Michael McMorrow, who was vacationing at the time that this
story was being developed, was in attendance at the very first Monday movie
night in 1993, recalled Pinto. "The first night, [he] had no idea who was
going to show up. They had very a rainy night the first night, and they
had only a few hundred people. And now, 10,000 people come to the park for
Ten thousand is the full capacity of Bryant Park, and the first photo contained
in this story shows every patch of green covered. Invariably on movie
Mondays there are overflow crowds -- standing room only -- that buttress out
onto exterior surrounding walkway areas of the park. It can be near
impossible to leave during a film because of the sheer masses of humanity packed
like sardines into the vast lawn space. Pronto Pizza & Pasta, a nearby
pizzeria, typically gets big business from the movie Mondays, so much so that
instead of customers coming to the food, the food literally comes to them.
Delivery men have the unenviable task of trying to find the people who ordered
the hot pizza they have in their grasp. In recent years a sandwich
business called 'wichcraft has been delivering sandwich and dinner orders free
of charge to patrons who attend the HBO movie series, provided that they arrive
to the lawn early and promptly place their order. ('Wichcraft also does
free deliveries of its food in San Francisco, the only other U.S. city that it
currently operates in.)
In the 1950's through to the early 1970's the drive-in movie would be a slice of
Americana for many youngsters who would be on a date in their cars parked in a
huge open space. With drive-ins now almost extinct in America, Pinto
asserts that the large screen in an open-air venue like Bryant Park "is much
more of a community experience . . . there's nothing like [linking]
blanket-to-blanket with your neighbor, sharing a picnic."
A shot of Bryant Park this morning at 3:45 am New
York City time. (Photo: Bryant Park Webcam)
Whereas drive-ins put viewers of outdoor big screen movie entertainment in an
isolated enclosure, the advent of open-lawn events like the one in Bryant Park
"[is] really a shared experience, as if you were in a movie theater.
People laugh at the same time . . . it's pretty amazing to see 15,000 people
laugh at the same thing," said Pinto, referring to the July 18 showing on the
big screen on the D.C. National Mall of "Annie Hall".
HBO used to sponsor similar outdoor free movie events in Chicago, Atlanta and
Boston, but those three cities have since ankled HBO and continued on.
As far as Bryant Park is concerned, the future with HBO partnering their movie
Mondays looks very bright.
Says Pinto: "[The free movie events] have become . . . a very popular summertime
tradition in [Washington, D.C. and New York] and the people look forward to them
and we get calls in advance, trying to find out what the schedule is, when it's
going to begin. I think the whole genesis behind [the outdoor summer
movies] was to really sort of cultivate the classic scene of the movie lover.
"For [HBO] it's a great community outreach vehicle in terms of giving back to
the community and really showcasing the classic films just like the way they
were supposed to be seen on the giant screen. A lot of people just simply
have not seen them on the giant screen."
Ever so rapidly, that is changing in Bryant Park, one summer Monday at a time.
Bryant Park Corporation:
Remaining films in the HBO Bryant Park Summer Movie Festival:
July 30 "All The King's Men"; August 6 "Bus Stop";
August 13 "Casablanca"; August 20 "Psycho"
Copyright The Popcorn Reel.
PopcornReel.com. 2007. All Rights Reserved.
Story originally published on July 24, 2007