Jon Dieringer presenting at Spectacle / Photo: Matthew Sniegoski
Spectacle is a community screening space in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, open seven days a week. Established and maintained entirely by volunteers, its programming encompasses overlooked works, offbeat gems, contemporary art, radical polemics, live performances and more. Spectacle has an open door policy toward programming, and anyone can participate who – following the charter of “lost and forgotten”– obtains permission to show a title or arranges an event, submits a pitch, and maintains primary stewardship for coordination and publicity. A loosely organized collective of volunteers cuts original trailers to show in the theater and online, commissions and prints original posters by local artists, and otherwise hustles on the space’s behalf. Shows are $5, unless noted as free.
A Short History of Spectacle
Spectacle was established on the site of a former bodega distinguished by its barren shelves, backroom slot machine, loose cigarettes and selling of impure gin in Styrofoam cups. The property is owned by a Puerto Rican co-op dating to the ‘60s that struggled to evict its tenant and eventually succeeded after two years of unpaid rent. Resolving to never lease to a misfit outfit again, the co-op solicited suggestions for replacements from trusted neighbors and friends.
At the prompting of his friends who enjoyed his living room movie nights, an individual living next door entered into an informal partnership with the owners to open a screening and performing space on the site. In an act of herculean idealism and arduous love, four friends gutted the space, refitting it with salvaged construction materials and preserving its aesthetically pleasing decay. Continuing to work together, one friend handled the bills and much of the programming. Another provided the seats, wired the sound, and lent his projector, which only recently broke amid the first and final drafts of this article. A third drank beer, popped Adderall and stayed up all night live mixing and otherwise re-editing entire film trilogies, YouTube stunt videos, and bootleg DVDs purchased from bodegas in ethnic neighborhoods. The fourth used the theater primarily for one week a month, during which his theater troupe would stage live performances including Satanic blood rituals. Eventually, all but one dropped out, to be replaced by a constantly expanding collective of additional volunteers.
Impressionistic Account of Spectacle Milestones
- September 2010: Spectacle opens.
- Richard Brody introduces first short films by French New Wave directors.
- Spectacle’s first press in a major national newspaper leads to empty houses and its first cease and desist notice.
- Responding to public comments made by a film’s director, a radical collective with its own space plans to screen Jean Luc-Godard’s Film Socialisme (2010) in advance of its New York Film Festival premiere. After word reaches the film’s distributor, a heated exchange and legalistic threats against the collective are made public when they are leaked to Harper’s Magazine. The screening is quietly relocated to Spectacle.
- Neglecting to respond to an invitation to join, CAN’s Malcolm Mooney nevertheless attends a evening of films scored by CAN as a regular audience member. He declines to speak, explaining the Paul Newman cookies he ate earlier upset his stomach, as they always do, but he could not resist them.
- A regular patron who has furiously scribbled on a pad throughout a film offers the booth volunteer his “portrait of Abraham Lincoln” and hands over what is clearly a treasure map of a fictional country complete with named towns and topographical annotations.
- Fat Worm of Error scores video by kinetic sculptor Arthur Ganson.
- Late-September 2011: Spectacle realizes it has forgotten to observe its first anniversary, but cannot say when, exactly.
- Spectacle goes legit and never shows a movie without proper legal clearance again.
- Members of Spectacle furiously transcribe and create new subtitles for radical works to screen silently in Zuccotti Park.
- Throngs of people turn out for multiple screenings of an obscure Finnish movie from 1952 for reasons never fully revealed.
- During a weekend late show, an off-duty volunteer bursts through the door covered in paintball pellets and jumps out the back window onto the fire escape as angry youths tag the windows of the theater. An explanation is never made. The volunteer moves to Florida.
- “El Neo” shows me his “third mouth,” a curdled swath of scarred flesh streaking across his neck.
- It is the first east coast public screening in thirty years of the only feature film with a script credited to William Burroughs with director Tom Huckabee in attendance. Moments into the opening credits, fully outfitted FDNY firemen burst through the door wielding axes and flashlights in response to an alleged gas leak next door. One fireman remarks, “Hey, it’s a movie house!,” which pleasantly strikes the programmer as more than most people are willing to acknowledge. Days later, the fire marshal returns and demands Spectacle install exit signs and evict its live-in tenant, who occupies a small room behind the screen.
- A New York Times article using the word “microcinema” legitimizes its potential future use in grant applications, should Spectacle ever qualify for them.
- Saxophonist Diamond Terrifier scores a remixed version of Shamans of the Blind Country (1981). His instrument never touches his lips.
- Beer sponsorship threatens to “break up the band.”
- Spectacle’s first open volunteer meeting is standing room only.
- On the anniversary of Michael Jackson’s death, a volunteer decides to use the space to view Moonwalker (1988) and arrives to discover it is already occupied by a Marxist reading group.
- The projector bulb expires.
- Oscar-winner Peter Davis repeatedly visits Spectacle despite low audience turnout, gleefully leading Q&A’s that run late into the night.
- Having turned down many invitations in the intervening years, Estonian animation legend Priit Pärn agrees to travel to New York City for the first time since presenting his work at MoMA in 1989 after seeing pictures of Spectacle’s interior.
- Producer Ted Bohus is dissatisfied with the projection quality of The Deadly Spawn (1983).
- Alan and Sue Raymond pass around the taped-up Portapak camera given to them by Nam June Paik and used in the shooting of The Police Tapes (1977).
- Haitian rapper Blaxx’s music video “Tusty” has its world theatrical premiere.
- Village Voice writer publishes snarky comments about Spectacle’s screening of Intrepidos Punks (1980), then cashes check funded by sex trafficking ad revenue.
- Nirvana Night: Spectacle turns the lock on the seething alt-rock hordes who, undaunted by the absence of space among even the trash bins and aisles, lead a Woodstock '99-like assault on the theater's broken-ass door.
- Late-September 2012: Spectacle realizes it has forgotten to observe its second anniversary, but cannot say when, exactly.
- The projector breaks.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Spectacle is a community screening space in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, established and staffed entirely by volunteers. Described by Gothamist as "[Williamsburg's most] hardcore avant-garde obscure underground cinema," its programming encompasses overlooked works, offbeat gems, contemporary art, radical polemics, live performance, and more. www.spectacletheater.com
INCITE Journal of Experimental Media
Issue Number Four (Fall 2013)