"You must remember this,
A kiss is just a kiss,
A sigh is just a sigh,
The fundamental things apply
As time goes by...
In the hearts of film buffs, Harvard Square and Casablanca are practically synonymous. Harvard students in the '60s used to queue up for hours outside the Brattle Theater to see Dooley Wilson croon for bogie and Ingrid Bergman. Watching movies has always been a favorite activity of college students and Harvard Square and the surrounding area offers ample selection. The high concentration of theaters makes for a lot of selection, and has brought an unexpected side effect. Most of the Square's theaters used to be aggressively low rent, the kind the management keep almost completely dark between shows so you can't see the fifth. But with increased competition from each other and the suburban chains, the two best known theaters in the area have recently undergone extensive remodeling and others in the area may soon be following suit.
The Brattle Theatre(40 Brattle St.) doesn't show Casablanca much anymore. The Brattle now shows good foreign films and what can only be described as well-known obscure films. Bergman, Fellini, and Polanski works are standard fare. Although it tries to showcase "artistic" actors and directors, the Brattle is rarely an innovator and tends to show only what has worked in the past or in similar communities elsewhere.
King of the heap is the Harvard Square Theatre (3 Church St.), which does show Casablanca a lot. A couple of years ago it consolidated its one large roach-model of a theater into three smaller units. The one upstairs continues the daily double-feature tradition begun by its predecessor. Each day there is a different double feature--usually put together reasonably well. A few years ago, the groupings were more inventive, but now they seem to have found what pays and have decided to stick with it, serving up a steady diet of Woody Allen, Bogart, and James Bond, with only an occasional surprise thrown in. Downstairs, the two other theaters show slightly offbeat first-run films. They don't always stick to the Spielbergian gospel to that has poisoned the suburbs, but are willing to screen films like Entre Nous, currently showing.
The Galeria (57 JFK St.) half the time is showing extremely obscure foreign films that someone else has already designated as art and the rest of the time screening middling Hollywood releases. Keep your out for something good there, but it is nothing special.
The Orson Welles (1001 Mass. Ave.) is another foreign film-leaning theater but has a little bit more fun doing it. It was the first theater in the country to show The Harder They Come. Often their films are political footballs others won't touch, but they also show the most rock and roll movies in the area. They are also especially strong in exposing Brazilian and other Latin cinema as well as a smorgasbord of European movies.
Off the wall (15 Pearl St.) in the Central Square is one of the wackiest movie theaters around--they really show stuff you are not going to see anywhere else. Most of the time they show collections of short comedy films, cartoons. Outtakes, spoofs, etc. The rest of the time it could be anything from great cinema to a collection of the worst films ever shown. If you don't mind taking a chance it will probably be good, or at least different. Usually it will be stuff you never heard of but occasionally they come up with a real gem. This was the first theater in the area to show the complete version of The Seven Samurai. It was also one of the only cinemas around willing to show local filmmakers work. The only drawbacks are that the floor is flat and you have to sit cramped together at small tables, and the screen is small.
Two other theaters which go out of their way to show unusual movies are the Nickelodeon in Boston (600 Commonwealth Ave.) and Coolidge Corner in Brookline (290 Harvard St.), both on modeled and expanded, and it offers a good selection of foreign, offbeat, underground, and gay films. The Coolidge Corner is a little more mainstream, tending towards interesting revivals.
Mainstream Hollywood fare is dominated by the Sack chains, which show almost the same movies at their Boston theaters and giant suburban complexes. Nothing special, but they're where you have to go if you want to see the summer's latest escape piece.
One other theater worth mentioning is the Fresh Pond Cinema at the Fresh Pond Shopping Plaza out Concord Ave. Take the number 4 or 78 bus form the Square. It is usually a step behind the Sack giants in offerings, but it one of the cheapest theaters around. Admission is only $1.50 at all times.