IT is quite remarkable that all five Loew’s Wonder Theatres are still standing in and around New York City.
Built in the late 1920s, the opening of these grand theatres coincided with one of the gravest moments in American history – the Wall Street Crash. With this economic and social catastrophe, leisurely thoughts of the movie stars and popcorn quickly turned to taxing concern over bread lines and Hoovervilles. Fate could not have been crueller to the Wonder Theatres.
Yet despite being born into a period when American optimism was staring over a cliff edge, these locations found a way to survive – and are now edging towards a century of existence.
Irene Chin and Kurt Vincent’s short documentary film, Friends of Wonder, takes us inside the Loew’s Jersey City Theatre – now a non-profits arts centre for local theatre, classic film and the occasional concert – as musical duo Kurt Vile and Courtney Barnett stop in town for a performance.
From the opening images of the short, we are treated to behind-the-scenes footage of this historic venue as we venture down hidden, graffitied alleyways to turn on the theatre’s power generator.
This insight is also given voice by those – named ‘The Friends of Loew’s’ – who have fought tooth-and-nail to keep the Wonder Theatre from being torn down. Among them co-founder Patti Gordon and sound engineer Dave Vanderheyden.
But the widest smile is brought by Garden State Theatre Organ Society member Paul Citti. He plays on the theatre’s pipe organ, a complex and impressive throwback instrument that at one point ascends to the stage. Even Kurt has to stop by to get a closer look and admire Paul’s craft.
As the film continues, Chin and Vincent yoke together Courtney and Kurt’s concert performance with shots of the theatre’s beautiful architecture. As co-director Irene has pointed out, Courtney and Kurt’s ‘kind of run-down, but beautiful’ vibe helps bring out the character of the theatre.
Not to forget the sofa chats with Courtney and Kurt in which we learn about Kurt’s camera shyness and Courtney’s love of musicals. There is even time for Courtney to nonchalantly come out with a lyrical gem. She says: ‘That’s why I go to see music, because it re-fills you with hope in a hopeless world.’
The Loew’s Jersey City Theatre was born into a particularly hopeless world, yet it continues to be beacon of community, entertainment and architecture. Friends of Wonder is an endearing celebration of these enduring qualities.
Long may the Loew’s Jersey City Theatre stand. Long may all Loew’s Wonder Theatres thrive. Five wonders of a magnificent city.