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.”
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.
“My mother grew up in this neighborhood,” Jon said, standing in the middle of the theater.
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.
A hundred extras filed in, wearing their coats and protective masks.
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.
“Masks off, coats off!” shouted the producer,
Spills worked on his laptop, editing footage as it came in
while Jon’s photography teacher from college took stills on the mezzanine.
Members of the opticnerve™ post-production staff stopped by to check on the shoot’s progress.
more than one person swears they saw a ghost.
Eventually, after eight hours of shooting
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.