Cool Movies, No Tchotchkes

Summer movie season is in full swing. For Hollywood, that means blockbusters, superheroes, franchise installments and 3-D fare. But for me, a real summer movie is one that’s set in the season and uses its sweltering heat and often blistering emotions to tell a story: following the sweat-drenched characters of Spike Lee’s Do The Right Thing as they try to keep their cool in Bed-Stuy; or the claustrophobic atmosphere of an un-airconditioned bank during a heist gone wrong in Dog Day Afternoon; or the contrast of hot and bothered (literally) men with cool beauties in Rear Window and The Seven-Year Itch.

Yeah, they’re all set in New York, universal stand-in for gritty, grimy Summer in the City. And they’re all classics best viewed on a hot and humid day (watching a Summer in the City movie any other time feels as wrong as It’s a Wonderful Life in July). You might find them on cable, but for New Yorkers, a favorite place to duck in from the heat and catch a screening is Film Forum.

I’ve had a powerful hankering to get to the Film Forum in Soho the last couple of days, after a friend forwarded an email solicitation from the nonprofit cinema, one that beautifully captures what movie lovers so love about this legendary downtown art house.  Why would I want to support Film Forum? The message supplies a dozen or so answers:

  • Can’t get enough early Godard
  • Have had enough early Godard, but have a yen for pastry chefs and French orangutans
  • Because Leslie Caron smiled at me when she signed my book
  • Member tickets cost just $7
  • Cheaper than therapy
  • I like the convenience of visiting Thailand, Kazakhstan and Senegal without going above 14th Street.
  • At Film Forum, I met my true love on line, not online
  • Beautiful new 35mm prints
  • Live music with silent movies
  • The #1 train doesn’t go to Telluride
  • Love illy espresso & Jacques Derrida’s favorite banana bread
  • Love the automatic foamed soap in the renovated restrooms

They forgot to mention that they have the best movie popcorn in the city, or the amusement factor of seeing if your seat bears a benefactor’s bold-faced name (Warren Beatty, last time I went).

OK, a lot of those bulleted points are only funny to insiders, as pretentious and inscrutable as a New Yorker cartoon to others. But wouldn’t it be nice if all nonprofits had such a sense of humor? Or acknowledged that even small donors are vital to keeping the lights on and the popcorn machine humming? “But seriously,” the email continues. “Your help keeps us alive. Members and donors give more than $800,000 a year to offset operating costs. By supporting us now with a contribution—of any size—you will ensure that Film Forum continues to thrive.”

All the little people, those who contribute $50 or less, are thanked publicly on Film Forum’s “small is beautiful” (lowercase intentional) campaign page on the web site, where their names are listed, just like the big-bucks folks usually are.

So there. In a pithy email, Film Forum points out what film lovers get out of the deal, tells them how they can support at any level and feel appreciated, politely thanks them for considering a donation, and invites them back to see a movie at any rate. But not before one last parting thought, demonstrating that this organization knows better than to pander to its audience: “What don’t I get with my donation? Not a single Film-Forum embossed tchotchke.”