When did movie theaters specializing in repertory cinema, foreign language films and alternatives to Hollywood mass-produced entertainments become an option for movie lovers in the U.S.? Some might think it all began with the Landmark Theater chain, founded in 1974, which eventually expanded into a network of 46 cinemas in 26 markets. No, the concept of the art house cinema can be traced back to 1952 when the Beekman Theater on Manhattan’s East Side opened and turned movie-going into an event. The man behind the venue was Donald Rugoff and his entrance into the world of film exhibition was due to his father Edward’s partnership with Herman Becker; the two men had built up a small empire of theaters across New York City during the days of the nickelodeon and vaudeville. Rugoff would soon have a major impact on movie-going, film distribution and film culture in the 1960s and 1970s but he is virtually forgotten today. Ira Deutchman, a former employee of Cinema V, Rugoff’s trail-blazing film distribution company, is bound to correct that situation with his fascinating, warts-and-all homage, Searching for Mr. Rugoff (The documentary was completed in 2019 and is finally screening and streaming at various venues).
Although less well known today than Stanley Kramer’s Oscar-nominated 1967 drama, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?, and still unavailable on DVD/Blu-Ray, One Potato, Two Potato (1964) was the first serious, non-exploitive attempt to deal with an interracial marriage as its main subject and was independently produced outside Hollywood. Set in the fictional small town of Howard (a stand-in for Painesville, Ohio, where it was actually filmed), the movie is bookended by a courtroom ruling on a child custody case and in between is the sad but all too true story of an interracial couple who become social outcasts in both the white and black communities. Continue reading →