Theater in the Square

Harvard Square is said to have the most bookstores per square foot of any American city. But its density of art house movie theaters proves that the Square’s intellectuals are more than just bookworms.

The Harvard Film Archive, the Brattle Theater and even the Loews Harvard Square Theater cater to sophisticated viewers—those who crave big-budget fun have to make the trek out to Boston Common or Fenway. The people behind the movies at these institutions have little tolerance for exploding cars or Hollywood endings.

Brattle

The Brattle—founded by Cyrus I. Harvey ’47 and Briant N. Haliday ’49 in 1953—was the country’s first art house film theater.

Deeply influenced by the movies he had seen in Paris while on a Fulbright scholarship at the Sorbonne, Harvey selected the films that would be shown at his theater with the care and expertise of a curator.

Harvey located the Eisenstein classic Ivan the Terrible, Part II—then thought to have been destroyed by Stalin—and premiered it at the Brattle. He was also responsible for introducing contemporary European directors such as François Truffaut, Michaelangelo Antonioni and Ingmar Bergman to America. When he won an Oscar for The Virgin Spring in 1961, Bergman even had Harvey accept the award for him.

When not influencing the course of movie history, the Brattle still found time to leave its mark on the Harvard undergraduate experience.

In the mid-50s, Harvey and Haliday began screening Humphrey Bogart films annually during exam time.

“That’s something alums always come here and talk about,” says present-day owner Ned Hinkle. “Classes in the 50s and 60s were always blowing off exams to come see Bogart.”

A nation-wide Bogie cult ensued among college students, who would come to theaters and shout, “I want my Bogie.”

Legacies of the trend survive in the Square—the restaurant and bar Casablanca, located below the theater, was named in honor of the Bogart tradition.

Today, co-owners Hinkle and his wife Ivy Moylan, who have run the theater for the last year and a half, continue to promote cultural films they believe are neglected by larger theaters. Audiences are receptive—for the most part.

At the start of their tenure as owners, Hinkle and Moylan showcased an African-American directors series and a Cuban film series, both of which disappointed at the box office, according to Hinkle.

Of late, Hinkle says the Brattle has adopted a successful “vertical” series format, with themed days, such as Film Noir Mondays and Recent Rave Wednesdays.

Hinkle says in a gleeful tone, “Our biggest prize was Pépé Le Moko. The film is beautiful and amazing, but we didn’t think it’d be that successful.”

The film calendar is created as a group enterprise, with all Brattle employees contributing—the Brattle hires only people “with a passion for film,” says Hinkle. The theater tries to ensure that new prints of classics get shown and tends to use directors’ birthdays as excuses to do series on them. Harvard students are specifically targeted when the calendars are drawn up.

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