The Coolidge Corner Theatre has given Brookline residents an authentic arthouse cinema to call their own since it opened in 1933, but in recent years, it has seen a revival of a classic theatre experience: the midnight screening.
The Coolidge had a prior history of midnight showings, but over the last decade, such programs had fallen out of favor. But when Denise Kasell was named the new Executive Director in 2009, Program Manager Jesse Hassinger and Assistant to the Program Manager Mark Anastasio approached her about bringing midnight shows back to the Theatre on a regular basis.
“She was willing to give us essentially free reign, within budgetary confines, to build the midnight community back up, and get the whole program up and running again, and so we did,” said Hassinger. “She was really open to trying it out. She saw the potential both as a financial success and as a community, raising awareness.”
The idea would eventually turn into the @fter Midnite series, described on their website as “late-night, weekend programming for the cool insomniac crowd, including horrifying, weird, camp, avant garde, tripped-out movies, interactive and cult niche live performances.”
The first 6 months of the program served as a trial-and-error period, letting Hassinger and Anastasio play around with different ideas, and try to develop an audience.
“Part of it was us trying to figure out what worked, what people wanted. There’s really no big forum here to go out and say ‘hey guys, what do you want to see?’,” said Hassinger. “It was either going to be successful or it was going to bomb, and we were able to make it successful.”
The @fter Midnite series now offers a large variety of cult and horror shows, often stringing films together in successive weekends that follow a collective theme. For example, during the last month they’ve been showing “Creature Features”, and when June comes around, the program runs a bunch of summer camp films, from horror slashers to “Wet Hot American Summer”, one of their more successful showings.
“The last couple years [at the Wet Hot American Summer screening] I’ve barbecued outside, we’ve done s’mores, and things like throw a football and play four-square,” said Anastasio. “It’s a nice event.”
They also try to bring in filmmakers to speak before the screenings, as well as other live acts, one time even bringing in a local band to perform.
“We try to do a live show once every six weeks,” said Hassinger. “We don’t want to do much more than that cause we feel that would just saturate the audience. But we try to have it on a fairly regular basis.”
As the program grew, the opportunities increased as well, as distributors began to take note of the strength of the midnight crowd that was coming to the Coolidge every weekend. And with that comes a more diverse selection of movies that the Theatre can offer.
“There are few theatres in the country that have these niche programs,” said Hassinger. “I think we’re slowly getting up to the point where people are throwing us in that realm as well. We’ve developed a loyal customer base, so that we can almost program anything that’s good, and be assured a handful of people will come and enjoy it, and really have a great time.”
Hassinger and Anastasio are very happy with how the program has grown up to this point, and are looking forward to what is still to come.
“I think we’re on a pretty good trajectory,” said Hassinger. “At this point we touch almost every genre that there is out there, and its just a matter of keeping the programming fresh, keeping our eye on what’s coming up, what’s new, and most importantly listening to what people want to see. We’re on our Facebook everyday, interacting with people, which I think is a huge part of why we have a good audience too, because we truly care to hear from them. We’re always accessible.”
For Anastasio, what he enjoys most is the interactions with the audience, as he’ll often go out on stage and talk with them before the film starts.
“I’ll get up there and ask who’s seeing [the film] for the first time, and it’s half the audience,” said Anastasio. “Half of these people are experiencing the stuff that we’re playing for the very first time, and it’s in the proper setting: on film, in a moviehouse, with friends.
“I always like talking to the crowds after a movie. It’s my favorite part of doing the midnights. After the film, everybody pours into the alley, lights up a cigarette and they sit there talking about whatever strangeness they’ve just seen. And that’s fun, it’s nice to play things people haven’t seen before.”
That personal connection is something that’s unique to the smaller theatres. The two understand the difficulties that a venue like the Coolidge might face when compared to the larger multiplexes in the area, but are appreciative of the opportunities that it allows them.
“It’s not like we’re against the multiplexes, but it is the nature of the business,” said Hassinger. “They have things like Harry Potter that they’re going to make millions off of, and we have things that we show that are equally as good, if not better, than the films that are out there in the multiplexes, but not a lot of people necessarily know about them. So the fact that we can do unique programming on top of showing the first-run films is, I think, really special, and it’s really great that we’re still here.”
“It’s just great to have,” added Anastasio. “You can see something strange, every weekend of the year here.”
Tonight's show is the 1986 science-gone-awry horror flick "The Fly."