|Art Gardiner owned
the New Strand, an old theater, in Lambertville, New
Jersey. Mr Gardiner's selection of movies
provided an education into the deeper feelings of the
wide world, something the public school system failed
to do. Every week, Mr Gardiner presented a
different double feature for a low admission
price. And while most of my peers took their
dates to the local movie house chains for the latest
James Bond or Jerry Lewis flick, my few friends and I
ventured far away to see films. I mean art films,
underground films, foreign films, silent films, and
documentaries. We didn't call them movies, and art
films had not yet become a euphemism for pornography.
It was a trip of twenty-one miles from my parents'
home to the New Strand, a race along back country
roads, zigzagging around farms and estates, leaping
hills in my 1967 MGB. I drove in imitation of a
Monte-Carlo rallyist, racing against other friends,
all of us converging on Lambertville and the New
Strand. (Once I managed the trip in a
breathtaking twenty-one minutes, a record that was
eventually broken by Paul Thompson with his nineteen
ago, Lambertville, New Jersey still had the qualities
of a small country town. Its speciality was and
is antique shops. The town presses against the
Delaware River and through it runs the Delaware and
Raritan Canal, which once shuttled barges of
anthracite coal from northeastern Pennsylvania to the
cities of the eastern seaboard. The canal
system was made obsolete and finally put out of
business in 1931 by a railway that now runs alongside
the sixty foot wide canal. The New Strand, on
Coryell Street, was within a few yards of the track
and canal. Often enough a passing train, with
whistle blowing, would disrupt a film.
This merely contributed to the peculiar charms of the
Another such charm was the occasional empty soda pop
bottle rolling down the sloping floor of the
auditorium, intermittently clanging against the iron
seat legs. Sometimes it would halt half way and
one would anxiously wait for it to start again, to
finish the remainder of its journey.
Approaching the front of the theater, one bought
their tickets at a tiny booth set between the entry
doors. Through those first set of doors you
entered a small lobby. The ticket seller would
open the back of the booth, if it wasn't busy, and
strike up a conversation. There was no candy
counter nor popcorn machine in the lobby. The
lobby was the place to hang out if one wasn't
enjoying the film. During The
Umbrellas of Cherbourg, I had announced
to my friends, if Catherine Deneuve gets pregnant,
I'm walking out. She did, so I went to the
lobby to stroke the Gardiner's old basset
hound and play chess with Gardiner's young daughter
until the next feature started. Their daughter,
somewhere between four and six, beat me at the game.
Passing through the second set of doors brought one
to the theater proper. You found yourself standing at
the back of the auditorium in a small foyer. A low
wall separated the foyer from the arcing rows of
seats descending toward the screen. There was
one sleepy night I had to keep myself awake by
standing behind that wall while watching the
film. The movie was Long Day' s
Journey Into Night.
On the right of the foyer was the cooler, like a
large refrigerator lying on its back. I remember it
as being deep red and marked Coca-Cola. Lifting the
lid, as one would with a treasure chest, inside were
soft drinks and frozen candy bars. I favoured
the Three Musketeers. Most people preferred the
Snickers. A list was posted giving the prices
of things. A metal box was provided for the
money and from which you could make change. It was
On the left was an upright piano, a player piano.
There were those of us who came early, for always, if
there wasn't someone to tickle the keys, we could at
least insert one of the many paper scrolls piled atop
the piano. In today's theaters an audience
listens to the top forty while watching slides of
advertisements. At the New Strand we pumped the old
clockwork and pneumatic mechanism, entirely absorbed
in the wonder of it, filling the theater with rags
and ballads. And we were not shy, but sang along, the
printed words slipping by on the perforated sheet.
The lights would dim, go out, the memory of my
cardboard home in a sterile suburban landscape
vanished in the dark, and I focused on the screen.
That first image was often the familiar two-faced
logo for Janus Films. The screen became an
immense window through which I observed people in a
foreign country, in a foreign time, and I discovered
I felt a simpatico with strangers around the
world. Even though they wore foreign dress and
spoke an unfamiliar language, they could feel and
think as I did. The big window revealed the
broad spectrum of humanity that our parents and
schools tried to conceal from us. There were
other places, besides my nation, where the people
thought theirs was the greatest nation and one true
religion. And around the world there were
others suffering existence. I shared in Ingmar
Bergman's anxiety, Federico Fellini's lust, Francois
Truffaut's uncertainty, Jean-Luc Godard's anger, and
Akira Kurosawa's courage, to name a few.
They all seemed to recognized emptiness, which
Hollywood films consistently ignore.
In addition to the New Strand, Art Gardiner also
owned the Band Box, a theater located in Germantown,
one of the outer regions of Philadelphia, where I saw
D.W. Griffith's Intolerance.
Also a small drive-in theater in Ringoes, New Jersey.
It wasn't paved, so we climbed out of our cars to
picnic on the grass while watching Marat/Sade.
That was thirty years ago, when the secret routes
between Levittown and Lambertville were usually
deserted; beautiful, scenic roads. Not true
anymore. What was once a spiritual pilgrimage
out of blah Levittown and into the rolling hills of
forests and fields, past quaint fieldstone farmhouses
and ancient barns, is now a time-consuming
task. The scenery has become cluttered with
developments and strip malls. The old route is
jammed with traffic.
In those thirty years the Band Box, the drive-in at
Ringoes, the New Strand changed hands and the
Gardiner family moved away from the community.
The New Strand began showing pornography, until one
day it suspiciously caught fire and the building was
gutted. After that it was closed up, eventually
to be sold again. Today it is used as a warehouse by
Mr Gardiner, wherever you are, thank you.