Films/Theater Reviews — 05 June 2012
BAM150 screening at BAMcinématek

As a Brooklyn resident, the Brooklyn Academy of Music or as it is more affectionately called “BAM,” is a favorite venue of locals for concerts and cinema. Whenever I walk past the grand building I take a moment to marvel at it’s ornate architecture and sheer beauty, even though I know next to nothing of its history and the efforts taken to keep this venue afloat for one hundred and fifty years. As its historic anniversary nears, Director Michael Sládek combined with BAM executives Karen Brooks Hopkins and Joseph V. Melillo to produce a documentary that acts as a love letter to a place that art calls home. “BAM 150″ is a documentary that stands as an unique voice just like the borough of Brooklyn itself. And on Monday night, was fortunate to attend a screening followed by a Q&A with Sládek.

The director’s piece features a wealth of historical footage paired with a fantastic roster of highly informed talking heads like local New York historians, critics, and performers alike. He blends this style with a sort of Cinéma vérité, which results in a film that is both innovative and ballsy. Throughout the piece the viewer gazes upon beautifully restored found footage of the venue during various stages of it’s birth and several rebirths, providing us with textbook insight into what was occurring during each socio-economic time period. At times, the documentary combines elements which are touching, eye-opening, and even funny.

While the vérité is brilliant and engaging throughout, one particularly memorable scene witnesses the film brought back to the present as BAM is celebrating Martin Luther King Jr. Day, an event the venue has been producing for decades. As our esteemed Mayor Bloomberg is preparing to deliver a speech, he begins with a direct to camera praising of BAM, shown unedited before taking the stage. We are then cut to his speech onstage to the packed house, where the Mayor is roundly booed by many in the house. During the Q&A that followed the screening, Sládek commented that when the BAM executives screened the film, they did not ask him to cut the seemingly controversial scene, with the history of the venue’s good times and bad, accurately preserved without censorship. Perhaps Bloomberg said it best when he quipped, “Hey, it’s New York City”- which is essentially is frame of mind, once the speech had concluded.

Some of the piece’s finest highlights involved footage of former BAM executive director, Harvey Lichtenstein, who transformed BAM from an economically challenged venue to a thriving home of Art in New York City that rivals the likes of Lincoln Center. Throughout ‘BAM150,’ Lichtenstein is shown as an unwavering transformative figure, willing to take chances to advance the venue’s cause. And even though there were many bumps along the way, Lichtenstein along with the amazing team of the aforementioned Hopkins and Melillo, put in the hard work to create the landmark Art venue celebrated citywide.

Many may feel that a film with such a targeted subject matter would have trouble reaching audiences beyond the greater New York City area. However, “BAM150″ is not just the story of a highly popular local venue, but the story of Art appreciation in America. Each interview, performance clip, and even static shots of the venue serves a universal purpose, with mass appeal. “BAM150″ is a living, breathing film with a unique personality. Few documentaries have managed to keep us as engaged. The film has a certain magic that makes you want to get involved, to contribute, to experience the place’s history, and to be a part of it yourself. And inside the venue celebrating one hundred and fifty years, we had the honor of taking the film in.

- Jay Rubin

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