Trailer for The French Connection (1971), which screens for free tonight in Bryant Park
The always appreciative audience that gathers for the free HBO Bryant Park Summer Film Festival series on Monday evenings is typically a happy and most vocal bunch. When the movie being projected on the midtown Manhattan park's big screen is set in New York City, like tonight (July 5th)'s 9pm screening of The French Connection, the energy in the thousands-strong crowd that packs the lawn tends to be even louder than usual! So expect a lot of cheering along this evening as Gene Hackman, who won an Oscar for his brilliant portrayal of tough smack-talking NYPD narcotics cop Popeye Doyle, runs around New York City in this 1971 William Friedkin directed film that features the greatest car & subway chase of all time.
A New York City summer institution for many years, the Monday night free film series at Bryant Park, which typically screens American classics from the sixties & seventies but sometimes movies from the fifties and earlier, is a social hub where for the four hours prior to the film screening, New Yorkers secure their spot on the vast lawn, have picnics and happily socialize (even the possible thunderstorm is considered a minor distraction).
Until a few years ago it used to be you could arrive anytime during the day to spread out your blanket and secure your vantage point, but after some folks starting showing up as early as 10am to mark their territory for the 8:30 or 9pm screening, the rules changed, so the earliest you can get on the lawn is now 5pm.
Two weeks ago when I showed up for the packed 2010 summer series premiere (Goldfinger) the powers that be had initiated another new practice; they now search everyone's bag to make sure no alcohol is brought on the lawn (used to be a given that people would have wine or beer with their picnics, but not any more). Next Monday the film screening will be the 1936 film My Man Godfrey starring Carole Lombard, William Powell and Alice Brady. Future films in the series include The China Syndrome (July 19th), Monty Python and the Holy Grail (July 26th), and Roman Polanski's 1968 horror film Rosemary's Baby (August 2nd). The series runs through August 23rd.
The annual summer film series is just one of the many wonderful offerings the vibrant Bryant Park has to offer. A peaceful tree-lined retreat in the middle of a bustling city with huge skyscrapers towering overhead, Bryant Park is centrally located between Fifth Ave and Sixth Ave and 40th and 42nd Streets near such NYC spots as the New York City Main Public Library, Grand Central, Times Square & Rockefeller Center.
Truly a chameleon, Bryant Park shifts and changes from season to season. In the winter the lawn transforms into a skating rink. In September and February it becomes the center of the famed New York Fashion Week, although this Fall, after being based in Bryant Park since 1994, Fashion Week will move further uptown to Damrosch Park at the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts.
All year round the uniquely run & operated Byrant Park, which is not funded by city money but instead is completely financed by private money under the generous Bryant Park Corporation (BPC), provides a meticulously maintained urban park that offers non-stop free entertainment (including a musically diverse schedule of concerts) and other distractions. There's cafes, free educational programs, table tennis and chess boards set up throughout the crime-free park that also offers free Wi-Fi and (my favorite) has a free outdoor reading room where, in a nice shaded area, you can read newspapers and books all provided by the BPC. Oh, and perhaps the most (pleasantly) shocking thing about Bryant Park is their impressive public bathrooms, which are like the ones you'd find in a five star hotel (complete with floral arrangements)!
Bryant Park is open to the public from 6am to 10pm daily and is wheelchair accessible. The HBO Bryant Park Film Festival series happens every Monday until August 23rd. The lawn opens at 5:00pm for blankets and picnicking with the films (including previews and cartoons) beginning at sunset, typically between 8:15 and 9pm.