Approximately 300 late night moviegoers were turned away from the Brattle Theatre this weekend because the Cambridge Board of Licenses last week rejected the theater's application to permit midnight showings.
"We were shocked because the Board's decision, which we only received late Friday afternoon, seemed so discriminatory and arbitrary," Harvey Meyerson, manager of the theater, said yesterday. At least three other Cambridge theaters regularly show midnight movies on Friday and Saturday night.
Mary E. Calnan, chairman of the licensing board, said the board denied the application because midnight showings at the Brattle Theatre "would result in increased congestion in Harvard Square and would require more police protection in the early morning."
Cambridge Fire Chief William Cremin said that allowing midnight shows would "create a bad precedent." Cremin, Calnan, and Police Chief Leo Davenport, constitute the licensing board.
Davenport could not be reached for comment.
Both Calnan and Cremin said they were unaware that other Cambridge theaters show midnight movies, but said they could not positively state that no other theaters hold a permit to do so.
"If we mixed up our facts it should come out at a rehearing a week from Tuesday," Calnan said. The rehearing is being held at the request of the Brattle Theatre management, which announced yesterday it will appeal the Board's decision.
Meyerson said the letter denying his theater's application arrived late Friday afternoon, four days after the original hearing and just hours before a scheduled midnight showing of "Eraserhead."
The one-sentence letter, a copy of which is prominently posted outside of the theater, contains an explanation of the Board's action.
"Most of the people we turned away were upset and annoyed at the city," Meyerson said Sunday. The theater gave free passes for a future movie to all customers who came to the moviehouse for the midnight show on Friday.
"I am not aware of any ordinances limiting movie times in Cambridge," commented Mike Krafka, assistant manager of the Orson Welles Cinema. "We have been showing midnight shows for at least three years."
While no city ordinance sets a time restriction on movies in Cambridge, Calnan said the regulation of show times falls under the jurisdiction of the licensing board. Most theaters, she added, hold a special permit to show movies on Sundays.
Michael Nicholson, manager of the Off the Wall Theatre, said yesterday his operating permit specifically states that showings can run from 4:30 p.m. to 2:00 a.m. "To the best of my memory, when we applied for our general license someone asked what hours we would be showing movies. We told him and he just typed it on the permit."
The manager of the Harvard Square Theatre, which also runs midnight films on Fridays and Saturdays, was not available for comment.
Meyerson added that Brattle Theatre would try to reschedule "Eraserhead," described as a "modern day horror story," for sometime later in October.