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Late Nights At The Coolidge

A brief look at Brookline’s top-tier cinema destination.

By Danielle Miller

Photo by Will Chapman

“Good evening, folks, and welcome to the Coolidge Corner Theatre’s midnight showing of Barbarella!”

The audience, composed of about forty eager faces, erupted in applause. A few whoops and whistles echoed off the red and gold walls of the theater, a promising response for a first-time Barbarella viewer like myself. After an entertaining and enlightening introduction by Mark Anastasio, Coolidge Corner Theatre’s Director of Special Programming, the lights lowered and a hush blanketed the crowd. The show was about to begin.

Opened in Brookline in 1933, Coolidge Corner Theatre, dubbed “Coolidge Corner” or “The Coolidge” by customers and community members, established itself as a destination for film novices and cinephiles alike. Primarily, the theater showcases movies from the independent, international, documentary, and animated genres. This attracts a wide range of moviegoers, including many college students who can receive a discount on weekday tickets with a valid student ID.

Susan Quinn, Brookline resident and celebrated author wrote a detailed history of the theater that is featured on their website. Throughout its many years of operation, one theme continues to resonate in Quinn’s work: Coolidge Corner’s strong connection to its surrounding community. At the turn of the century, this relationship was essential to the theater’s survival when it faced dire financial issues.

“Harold Brown, a realtor and Brookline resident who had loved the Coolidge in his youth, made a proposition: his Hamilton Charitable Foundation would purchase the theater and lease it to the Coolidge Foundation,” Quinn writes.

Now, thirty years later, Quinn describes how the theater has flourished in its recovery.

“The Coolidge has experienced nothing short of a renaissance, transforming itself from a down-at-heel but beloved experimental arts venue to a stable, prosperous, and highly valued institution in the community.”

This renaissance is set to continue with an expansion plan, proposed by the theater last spring. This “Campaign for the Coolidge” promises all the current attributes of the theater, with additional spaces that will expand its offerings to keep up with modern times. The project includes two new theaters, a sixty-seat classroom space, and much more. A total of 14,000+ square feet will be added to the original structure, a feat that will require an estimated $12.5 million in funds. Thus far, the campaign has reached ninety percent of its goal.

The Coolidge presents twenty signature programs including “Coolidge After Midnite,” through which the showing of Barbarella was offered. On Friday and Saturday evenings, Coolidge After Midnite delivers “late-night programming for cinephile insomniacs with screenings of horrifying, weird, camp, avant-garde, tripped-out, and cult films, often from 35mm prints,” as described by the theater’s website.

Movie watching, especially in a quiet theater, can be a rather solitary experience, but not during Coolidge After Midnite! Instead, both the staff and audience adopt a “here for a good time” mentality that encourages laughter, screams, and anything in between. For my friends and I, the relaxed energy of the crowd and the entertaining visuals of the films have often drawn us to the theater after a long week of schoolwork. With popcorn buckets in hand and candy stashed in our pockets, we were quickly enveloped by our red velvet seats and transported to a world like no other.

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