HAT's back...

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

HAT's back...

Updated 8/20/2008 - 5:23 pm

...and Westhampton Beach is damned lucky to have it.

Of all the things that are directed to the Village Board during the public discussion portion of their monthly meetings, the item that I found most annoying, and yet remained silent on, came at the very end of the June session when a gentleman from Seafield Lane spent over five minutes whining about the bowling alley, the supermarket and the "filthy, dirty conditions" of the Hampton Arts Theater.

In response to an inquiry from Trustee Joan Levan, he admitted without apparent embar­rassment that he and his wife hadn't been in­side of the latter establishment in more than two years... but he'd "talked to a friend who'd been there a week ago!"

(He also mentioned that the supermarket, Waldbaum's, was so deplorable, that his wife did their food-shopping in River­head! Hey! Join the ranks of those who expend an additional one-to-two gallons of gas to replenish the larder in Eastport, Riverhead or Hampton Bays!)

Why the Seafield Lane resident thought the Village Board the appropriate venue in which to vent personal gripes with elements in the commercial sector is best known to him... per­haps he's a Liberal who feels that Government should be all things to all people, or maybe the Waldbaum's part of Tim Laube's well-mounted but failed campaign for Mayor resonated.

But it was especially irritating to hear him disparage the Hampton Arts Twin (as it's now known), particularly since his views were far from current.

In the interests of full disclosure, I have a long-standing connection with the Hampton Arts (nče Hampton Star), from the early '70s when I prepared its display advertising to when I managed the venue¹ for certain of its "special events," from live rock concerts with Jama to midnight screenings of everything from "The Devil In Miss Jones" to 67 straight weekends of "The Rocky Horror Picture Show!"

But since the late '60s, I've been loyal to the place, through endless July-August weeks of "Elvira Madigan" and "Summer of '42," to al­ter­nating Winter weeks of "Shaft's Big Score" and soft-core "Therese and Isabelle" and "The Swingin' Stewardesses."

Then, Christmas 1974, through a fluke, Richie Westley was allowed to book a major studio release, "Murder on the Orient Express," ordin­arily the exclusive providence of the United Artists chain which had a death-grip on first run features on Eastern Long Island.

The Hampton Arts did so well with it that film distributors took notice of a heretofore un­tapped venue, and Mr. Westley started making some decent money all year round!

(If, however, one was a fan of fare like "Big Bad Mama," one had to travel to Patchogue's SunWave Twin to see Angie Dickinson get nekkid with William Shatner!)

Significantly, the increased revenue from the better bookings were put right back into the theater, starting with new seats, a new screen and, most importantly, specially contoured burlap wall-covering per the recommendations of an acoustic engineer retained to address a long-time problem.

(During live performances dating back to the Ron and Ruth Rawson-produced Sum­mer Stock seasons of the '50s, there were "acoustic black holes" on the stage from which no sound ever emerged!)

Mr. Westley, whose brother Mike was a mem­ber of Local 640, was insistant that the sound and projection equipment was main­tained at peak performance levels. The Hampton Arts was one of the first independent movie houses to abandon the traditional carbon arc projec­tors for the now-standard pulsed xenon ones.

And even when the economics of film exhib­ition dictated multi-plexing, the venue merely "twinned," and actually provided a more enjoy­able movie-going experience while keeping much of the charm of the older theater.

The family sold the venue to a exhibition chain in the late '80s, and the ensuing "bottom-line" approach meant that even routine mainten­ance suffered. Over the years the seating and acoustic wall-covering fell into disrepair, which fact was barely compensated for by the quality of the films shown.

But with the abandonment of the Main Street movie house² by United Artists, Six Corners was effectively the only movies game in town, and I've never stopped attending, even when one had to take special care to avoid the brok­en seats... in the dark, it wasn't always easy to avoid the ones covered by vinyl garbage bags.

The most critical factor has always been that it remained open... no mean feat when one counts the number of movie houses which have gone dark³ in the past several decades.

That almost did not come to pass not long ago, and while it was "back-fenced" that the Syna­gogue had purchased it (for a variety of dubi­ous reasons), it was actually a member of the congregation, Harvey Kaylie, who acquired it, has kept it running and made some much-needed repairs.

He's also taken the $4.00 first show admission price and extended it to all of Tuesday, a big reason why there was a packed audi­ence for this even­ing's 7:30 screening of the excellent new Woody Allen film.

(The fresh-popped corn is bad either... just don't let them drizzle the warm salad oil on it!

What?!? You thought it was actually "butter?")

I don't know Mr. Kaylie, but I hope to thank him some day soon... and I hope that the dis­gruntled gentleman from Seafield Lane will give it a try again.

If he's still disgruntled, there's always Netflix!


¹.- Owner Susan Puma's son, Richie Westley, loved "events" at the theater, but worried about anything too controversial: "I'm a teacher in Massapequa... I can't be on the front page of Newsday in handcuffs! You've gotta run the place that night!"

².- While sparse and sporadic, the Performing Arts Center does offer a year 'round pro­gram of "art" and off-beat cinema to which my wife and I have always subscribed.

³.- Including the enormous and relatively new (1985) Brookhaven Multiplex, a favorite of my daughter's and mine for catching up on new releases, serially three-at-a-time.


1. Frank Wheeler said...

What are you taking about with the twin theater being "more enjoyable?"

And "Sgt. Pepper Anderson" and "Captain Kirk?" You're kidding, right?

It was to me. Richie took an almost 600-seat cavern which was rarely more than one-third filled... toward the end of a contractual three-week play date with just ten in the audience was brutal!... and created two 275-seat theaters, which was a lot less daunting even with just a dozen viewers. Lot of other factors involved as well.

Nope... Angie and Bill in the buff![r]

2. Bonnie Motts said...

The first time I ever mulit-theater hopped at Brookhaven was with your daughter!!!

3. Hampton West said...

Re-call seeing Polanski's "The Tenant" there with my wife - we were staying in what is now the Inn on Main for a few days - 1976 perhaps? Was amazed this movie was playing there. Caught the late show screening during the week - could not have been more than 10 people in the place.

4. William Rodney said...

Caught the late showing of the Woody Allen flick (I mean film) Sunday night. Face it, the place is a dump. Bathrooms are a mess; the ticket taker and candy counter person had their children (or someone else's) playing on the lobby floor when the movie was over at 11:30 or so. This was particularlly distressing. Four dollar Tuesdays aside, the place needs an overhaul. Maybe the owner has grander plans for the venue?

I have no information on what the owner intends... I've never met him. But since taking it over, the conditions have improved, #1, and, #2, critical for me is that it's still open!

Some of my favorite movie venues when I lived in the city almost 50 years ago were similar "dumps," the legendary Thalia on West 95th, and the Charles on Avenue B between 12th and 13th.

Sure there are still improvements to be made, but in an age of sensatory-assaulting neon-lit, eletronic-audio blaring multiplex venues, the Hampton Arts endures, and I'm pleased that I can walk there if I'm in the mood. Hampton Bays or Mastic? Fine if you wanna burn the gas!

5. Hampton West said...

Ah, the Charles - knew it well - the building is still there - don't know its status - became a Spanish Evangelical church for a while. Nabe has picked up since. Recall seeing "Claire's Knee" there and a couple of Fellini movies, all in one weekend - great place for its day. About that night we saw "The Tenant" at Six Corners - when we left there was a beautiful just past full moon rising - nice memory.

6. William Rodney said...

Now that everyone is waxing poetic, I must admit I do have some fond memories of the HAT. Twenty five years ago my girlfriend lived in an apartment on the second floor of a home on Potunk. She would cook dinner and we would eat on a small round table for two in the tiny living room. Sometimes we would walk to the theater in the biting cold with snow falling or on a crisp clear late winter night with bright stars above.

Few people were in the theater, but it didn't matter.

We still talk of those nights today a quarter of a century and three children later.

Please retract my earlier entry.

We'll just let you, as they say on The Hill, revise and extend your previous disgruntled note with this one.

I have sooooooooo many great memories there... dancing with a squeeze named Lynn to the soundtrack album whiling for The Harder They Come to start showing.

And the two nights in May 1975 watching a little known Jack Nicholson/Warren Beatty film, The Fortune, which was stolen by the incomparable Stockard Channing. I laughed so hard during the last 20 minutes of it, that other people also returned a second evening to see what they had missed!

If a movie really tickles me, I'll give myself an asthma attack. When my daughter and I first went there after the "twinning," she said they should have done that a long time earlier because "when you got one of your laughing spells, Kim Barefoot and I could have gotten up and gone into the other movie instead of trying to hide in the same theater!"

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