The Kings Theatre

Forty-six days before the infamous stock market crash of 1929, the Loew’s Kings Theatre on Flatbush Avenue first opened its doors.  An architectural triumph, the building was vast and palatial, extending diagonally over a series of lots.  A grand carpeted staircase led to the curiously designed mezzanine, which overlooked the extended rows of seating on the orchestra level. No expense was spared on the interior, which was showy and meticulously detailed: red velvet curtains draped in front of the screen, matching the plush red seats; chandeliers of etched glass hung over a mahogany-paneled lobby; richly embroidered draperies set off the elaborate wallpaper; even the ceilings were decorated with ornate molding. In the decades that followed, young unknown performers like Sylvester Stallone and Barbra Streisand would work in Kings Theatre as ushers.  The theater enjoyed almost forty good years of films and live revues, but eventually attendance began to decline and, in 1977, they shut their doors for good.

When Jon Kane stepped into the theater lobby on a grey spring morning in 2011, it was damp and black and desolate, colder indoors than it was out.  Folding tables of packaged snack foods and industrial facemasks sat forlornly against one wall.  An angry watchman approached him and said “Hey! Hey, you can’t come in here.”

Jon said, “I’m the director of the movie that’s shooting here and I’m late.” The watchman considered this before allowing him to pass.  “I met you yesterday! I can’t believe you don’t remember me,” said Jon, writing his name on a clipboard.

“Hey man,” went the watchman, “I’m not ambidextrous.”

Who is, these days?

The interior of the theater is crumbling by now, of course.  When they closed the building thirty-two years ago they locked it up just as it was.  Today the velvet curtains hang in shreds over the blank grey screen, and the damp carpets are peeling off the floors, leaving man-sized patches of bare concrete throughout the building.  In the mezzanine an empty filing cabinet rests, upside down, across the middle of three rows of seats.  One member of the opticnerve™ staff found yellowed workers’ permits from 1976 scattered across a backroom. In some places, the ceiling is falling down. The dusty concrete water fountain has been dry for over thirty years, but DRINK AND BE REFRESHED is still etched into its empty basin. The refreshment stand in the inner lobby still advertises TASTY POPCORN.

Think, and be impressed.

“My mother grew up in this neighborhood,” Jon said, standing in the middle of the theater.

"She used to go to movies here when she was a girl."

Cold, he sent his assistant for a space heater and some warmer clothing.  She returned with a plastic package of boys’ XL thermal underwear and a plaid hat from the dollar store. “I think these should fit,” she said,  “Twenty-eight waist, right?”  There was a picture of a small boy giving a thumbs-up on the package. They fit.

Jon liked the hat.  He put it on and was ready to start.

He doesnt like this picture because he says his face looks like a lamb chop.

A hundred extras filed in, wearing their coats and protective masks.

A scene which might seem familiar to you.

By some accounts, the theater seats 3,676.  The extras sat close together in the intact chairs in the front right corner, the little crowd dwarfed by the ruined splendor of the building. Still, on camera it looked like a packed house. They faced a green screen on which nothing played and pretended to watch a movie.

The crew turned on the fog machines.

And waited for them to warm up.

Then the fog rolled in.

“Masks off, coats off!” shouted the producer,

and Jon called "Action!"

(He faced a captive audience indeed.)

Spills worked on his laptop, editing footage as it came in

(He sat in the cubicle of the future)

while Jon’s photography teacher from college took stills on the mezzanine.

(Can you spot him?)

Members of the opticnerve™ post-production staff stopped by to check on the shoot’s progress.

Anonymous

JB

while friends of opticnerve™ watched the shoot from a distance.

Interns sent text messages in the hallway and

more than one person swears they saw a ghost.

Eventually, after eight hours of shooting

it was time to wind down and go home.

The nail on Jon’s left thumb was painted blue, the other was painted pink. He hitched his bags over his shoulder with a flourish and got into his car, a Checker Marathon built the year before the Kings Theatre closed.

A light rain fell as the crew stood outside with their facemasks around their necks. Passing them on the sidewalk, an elderly woman covered in burn scars stopped and asked if they were renovating the old theater.  They responded, “Sorry, just shooting a movie.”

“Oh,” she said wistfully, “That’s too bad.  It was such a beautiful theater.” She asked if it was still beautiful and they told her it was.


Which Picture is Worth a Thousand Words?

We have been silent for the past two weeks– but we have been busy.  (Making a masterpiece is hard work.) After climbing mountains of garbage and shooting a Gambian model; entertaining hypnotists, Coney Island performers, and holy men; paying a crowd of people to get drunk on a Bushwick soundstage; and giving manicures to bongo players and goldfish crackers to children, it’s hard to know where to begin.

That’s why we’re leaving the decision up to you.

Each of these photos is a door into a story.

one.

two.

three.

Which door would you like to open?

Some doors have better pictures behind them, some doors have better words.

Voting will close on Tuesday, after which one door will swing open.


The Satisfaction is Mutual

This morning, Jon Kane received an email from an impressed client.

Jon & [Spills],
Now that the Upfronts for [Important Company] are fully underway, I wanted to take the time to personally thank you for the incredible job you did. The response has been overwhelmingly positive amongst the staff and the management.

You took our old sizzle tape – a tired, bland and ineffective branding piece and brought it to life. The only credit that I deserve was thinking of you in the first place, and then getting out of your way. The music, the graphics, the timing, the pacing, the choices, the tonality – everything gels into a comprehensive piece that takes your breath away.

Yes, it’s only a sizzle piece for a cable network. A cable network whose shows are not slick or high art. But you were able to give it humanity and to unapologetically elevate it to pop culture relevancy. Kudos to you and your staff for making us look so good. I look forward to many, many more projects with you in the future.

Regards,
[Important Man]

 

Jon Kane responded:

 

Thanks [Important Man]. Likewise it was a pleasure working with you as well, and re-connecting personally.

I hope you don’t mind that I made a huge printout of your letter, taped it to my bedroom ceiling, and lay under it,  nude, writhing joyfully like a kitten on catnip, as I read it aloud, repeatedly.

Is that weird?

 

 


We Know What Boys Like

International Playboy and Devoted Father of Two

Sixty percent of our Facebook friends are male. They like things like Playboy and Tabasco Sauce and Tequila and opticnerve™.   They like opticnerve™ because here there are girls and hot sauce… and more than you can imagine of both, though perhaps in a different capacity. Jon Kane has strong feelings about employee health and morale; accordingly, the men of the opticnerve™ studios skateboard between their workspaces, sip custom drinks from our fully stocked bar and, sometimes, make use of a steam shower recently installed in the back room of Studio 4B.  Jon Kane knows what boys like.

When Spike TV began a rebranding campaign in 2006, they changed their slogan to “Get More Action” and sensibly gave international playboy and devoted father of two Jon Kane a call.  Soon, Jon’s production-assistant-cumproducer, “Matt” was out at strip clubs night after night, scouting for talent, accompanied by a female friend and carrying fistfuls of bills.  After a long and arduous fortnight of lap-dances and interstate travel, “Matt” finally had enough interested young ladies to hold a two-day casting call.

opticnerve™ held the call in the basement of their old studios in Manhattan. The floor was concrete and all the dancers were slipping in clear plastic heels.  The girls took off the tops of their string bikinis and jumped up and down as slowly as possible.  They danced sensuously and jogged in place while undressing.

But when the girls needed to kiss each other, they refused to kiss each other.

Like this

Kissing was not optional; Jon needed to film it for the screen test.  He didn’t want to make the girls feel uncomfortable, so he suggested that they demonstrate on his production-assistant-cum-producer, “Matt,” instead.  The young Hollywood hopefuls all felt okay about that.  One after another, for the rest of the day, they did. Somewhere, raw footage may still exist of “Matt” in the studio basement, engaging in kiss after open-mouthed kiss with girl after girl.

In the end, this is the commercial that aired on Spike TV instead of the kissing spot (though, rest assured, the girls did kiss).

When the auditions were over, Jon and “Matt” thought about who they should cast as the dancer for a second Spike TV spot, but decided that none of the girls who showed up for the casting call were quite right.  Instead, they recruited the receptionist of their company, who was nervous.  She said she had never done anything like that before.


Golf with the Epsteins

It’s Monday morning at opticnerve™ and the studio is suffused with a reddish light.  The tide is low and on the side of the pier a few feet above the waterline a blue balloon is rolling from rock to rock.  Spills sits next to the refrigerator beneath a cow skull and edits a spot.  Zucchini sleeps on a cushion in front of the fire.  There are two bananas left in the fruit bowl.  Telephones ring and everyone says Good morning.

Jon Kane is wearing a red shirt that is shiny and buttons up in the front.  There are dolphins jumping on the back of it. His shoes are checkered, black and white.  They match the checkers painted along the sides of his vintage car.  Godfrey stands in the kitchen holding a coffee mug and tells Jon he looks like the Prince of opticnerve™.  Spills points out “You got a zipper issue,” and Jon zips up his fly.

No-body sits at the dining room table.  Godfrey holds a postcard up in front of her and asks her if she knows what it is; she answers that it is the Mouth of Truth.   “Yes,” Godfrey says. “La Bocca della Verità.”

On Friday the first of many guest bloggers visited the studio to interview Jon about a plane crash he witnessed in 1977.  The resulting story was what might be called a qualified success: in his private correspondence with No-body, our guest blogger remarked, “[the post] was incoherent and got no comments.”  You can read the story for yourself to make up your mind.

Jon pours half and half over his raisin bran. He says yesterday he bit his tongue so hard it bled for half an hour.

No-body thinks our guest blogger got the story about the plane crash right but two important details are missing. First, the man who survived the plane crash was the first person to survive a fire that burned off 100% of his skin.  They kept the man alive by putting him in a full body rubber suit with tubing that cycled healing chemical fluids between the rubber and his burned off skin.  This made him famous.  He spoke at conventions.

The second important detail is how this story began.  It began with Jon’s father telling him “Today we’re going to play golf with the Epsteins.”

No-body knows this is important because No-body is sitting at the dining room table at the beginning of a story that hasn’t happened yet.  She looks at the serpent painted on the wall and its forked tongue.  The empty swing sways before her and the table gleams.  The studio looks like a postcard in her mind.  She imagines Godfrey holding it up before her and asking her if she knows what it is.

Yes, she answers.  It is golf with the Epsteins. This means any minute the world will explode into terrible, incomprehensible beauty.  Although right now people are eating cereal, soon they may be weeping on their knees.   No-body knows for sure.


Live-Blogging the Apocalypse

On the bus to opticnerve™ in Red Hook, No-Body told me about a plane crash Jon Kane witnessed when he was fifteen. As she told the story, I closed my eyes and imagined I was there, eying the golf flag flapping down the fairway on a par four in the outskirts of Pittsburgh…

… and as I swung my nine-iron into the sky, I saw my father flailing wildly with both hands in my peripheral, and looked backward over my shoulder. Bearing down through the clouds was a twin-engine Cessna. The next thing I knew some groundskeeper’s shoulders were plowing me out of the crashing plane’s path. I was thrown into the rough, though I felt as if I were floating through a dream.

As soon as my eyes found the plane, an explosion rocked the links and I felt a ripple of terrible heat. I threw my forearm over my face. Screams penetrated the haze of smoke and noise, and out of the heap of crumple aluminum burning like a fallen star on the bright green grass, a man with no clothes, no lips, no eyebrows, and gray skin like seared steak struggled out of the inferno and groped toward me…

I shook the vision out of my head and entered the opticnerve™ studios where No-Body immediately began making coffee, building a fire, filling candy dishes with almonds and chocolate-covered raisins, and restocking espresso canisters, wondering if I would ever hear the real plane crash story from Jon Kane. No-body introduced me to the whole opticnerve™ staff, who were busy but welcoming, and much better dressed than me.

The morning took another turn toward the apocalyptic and strange when Spills pulled up footage of the Japanese Tsunami on his laptop and everyone gathered round.

Mile-long jetties of rolling trash bulldozing acres of farmland. A man in a third storey window waving a white towel helplessly at a circling helicopter. A huge hole opened up in the ocean and slowly swallowed a ship. On CNN a reporter was asked, “What is the mood like there?” and incredulously replied, “Tense.”

Everyone at opticnerve™ looked out the window at the Statue of Liberty in the distance. The waters of Buttermilk Channel remained calm, speckled with seagulls. But for a moment we wondered when our time would come. No-body’s fire crackled apocalyptically in the background.

Just before lunch No-body and I took Zucchini, Jon Kane’s Yorkshire Terrier, on a little walk around the waterfront. As we neared the end of the pier a tugboat pushed a gigantic, rusty barge around the corner of the dock. This is only my third time visiting New York. We smoked a cigarette and I felt like I was in the Sopranos.

During lunch Jon Kane called me into his office. I was nervous because I was wearing a pair of really ugly Nike tennis shoes, and at one point sitting in front of Jon I crossed my legs so that my shoe was very visible. But if Jon judged me, he never let on. He simply told the plane crash story, and in my mind I watched…

…the Cessna’s wings teetering down the fairway, flicking pine trees into the sky where the wingtips touched the earth. The man with no skin walking out of the fire and into a life that would never be the same. The Pittsburgh morgue van skidding across the grass to a stop. The emergency workers lifting a skeleton locked in a sitting position, whose seat had vaporized beneath him, and having to break his bones in order to fit him into the body bag.

As Jon told this story I watched his hands. They flew around his body in a whirl of comic and dramatic expression. He described the entire experience as if it were not even his, as if it were seen from the point of view of a stranger. Then he told me he’d felt like he’d seen behind some dark, strange curtain, as if he’d seen a glitch in the inner mysterious workings of the universe. As Jon told me this I watched his eyes. They didn’t blink.


Something Has to Happen

Jon Kane is out of the office today and the woodshop stands empty.  Outside the opticnerve™ studio windows, the ocean is a swampy green. The hatchlings in the walls were noisy last week; today they have fallen silent. The cold may have put them to sleep.

Here it is happy hour (the woman at the liquor store calls us The Bulleit Boys).

What kind of adventure would you like us to take you on next?  We have an excellent firsthand account of a fatal 1977 plane crash stored in the backroom.  Alternately, Rang Rang has suggested we lighten things up a little and begin an opticnerve™ dating game.

Remember: while the grim past is illuminated by memory’s lantern, the future remains obscured by the darkness of the unknown.

Today the pictured door is closed.

If you have any comments for Jon, rest assured his door is sometimes open.  No-body can convey said comments to him when it is.