What Makes Film Forum So Great Anyways?
A good crowd, comfortable seats, and A+ bathrooms, and a few respectable quirks.
By James Nalle
Local Ticket is a monthly column that reviews a different New York City movie theater each month. From seating, to popcorn, to showtimes, no detail is spared.
For the second installment in my series on summer cinema, I journeyed west to pay homage to a monument to theater-going— Film Forum. After nearly falling into the Hudson River, I hustled towards the movie mecca to beat the opening credits of my 6:50 showing. I was meeting a friend, and luckily, he was halfway through a sizable line when I got there.
Naturally, I played our greeting extra chummy, signaling to the schmucks I just cut in front of that I had business vaulting them in the line. That classic move got a little awkward when we paid separately, each of us swiping our moviepasses on our own, thus kind of making me look like more of an asshole (earned). I then joined the line for concessions, where I was delighted to find cool cats in their late 20s dishing out reasonably priced snacks. My small popcorn was $6, and my small Sprite was $4.50! I keep score here at Local Ticket, and I won’t forget the prices of a single concession.
Now, time to carve out too much time to talk about said popcorn, which is a layered and extremely delicate situation. There’s a lot to love right off the bat: the corn was freshly popped, and the price was right. It’s no secret that movie theater popcorn is best when it hasn’t been sitting for hours in one of those glass displays, so seeing each freshly popped kernel tumble down into the paper bag was a damn good start.
The bag was warm, and the volume was substantial for what I paid, but as I was waiting for my drink, I popped a piece into my mouth, and I was immediately struck by, well, a lack of flavor. I played it really cool, obviously, performing one of those slow nods to convey that I was fine with the bland popcorn, but the truth was: I didn’t sign up for skinny pop. I was secretly comatose from the lack of life in the snack and was luckily yanked back into reality by a distinct shaking sound before I melted to the floor.
Everything became clear when I looked over to the source of the sound to see a woman dousing her popcorn with salt. If you haven’t been before, sitting atop the bar at Film Forum are at least five Baleine salt shakers. In my haste, I shuffled quickly to one of the containers and liberally shook the fine crystals over my popcorn.
I intentionally added what I thought would be too much salt because of what I learned from the stranger and the papery taste of my own corn. I shook the bag in a circular motion to distribute the naturally white sea salt as I was ushered into my theater for the show. After I sat down, I took a few bites of the popcorn and allowed the crushing realization that I would still need more salt to wash over me.
The seats are comfy and conservative at the Film Forum, and even though they are packed like sardines in the railroad theaters, there was still enough room for a tall gentleman like myself to assume multiple different seating positions and even cross one leg over the other while avoiding kicking the seat of my down-stage neighbors.
Speaking of neighbors, I loved the crowd at Film Forum on that Wednesday night, whom I commend especially because it was earlier that particular day that all of that smog had rolled through. One thing that marked the quality of the bunch was the variety of characters: old, young, gay, and straight—the whole kit and caboodle. There was a lovely trio of men in front of us, each of them with a creative haircut and their own unique laugh. The middle one also took a handful of rips from a vape during the film in a surprisingly tasteful way.
The most striking architectural feature of Film Forum’s interior is introduced as soon as you enter the lobby, as a massive red pillar greets the guests. The memorable attraction rears its head again when you actually enter the showing room, where a row of them stands prominently, although carefully not obscuring the view of the audience.
The poles are awesome and kind of funny, and they fit alongside the other decorations in my particular theater: a ladder leaned up against the wall, a covered full-size piano, and other shit that just seems to be “lying around.” The screen in the room was small, and a blue dot lingered on the screen anytime the picture was dark enough, but otherwise, a top-flight to rival the theater’s storied reputation.
After the credits began to roll, I went for my second bathroom trip of my visit. I love the bathrooms at Film Forum. Great light, the paper towels had some real conviction, and there was absolutely peerless water pressure coming from the sink. I find this moment of the moviegoing experience very sacred: wandering in a dream-like daze from the dark theater past posters of classic Hollywood films and decompressing into a urinal. It’s no surprise that one of the finest theaters takes pride in a guest’s final moment’s in the space.
If you have spent any time around the New York film scene, Film Forum needs no introduction. The curation is superb; there are tasteful drawings and photographs on every wall, and proof of quality can be found in the people they attract on any given night. One of the best details I noticed in the theater was a stack of 3-D glasses that were wedged into a pamphlet display. Some of the choices may feel a little random—be they popcorn salt, leaning ladders, or retro eyewear—but everything is in service of a deep respect for the cinema, and that's all a guy could really ask for.