"I'm walkin' here," quipped Spike Lee at Thursday evening's Grand Classics screening of Midnight Cowboy. He was -- as most of the guests already knew before seeing the film -- referencing the film's most iconic line, courtesy of Dustin Hoffman's Ratso Rizzo. On the 31st floor of the W Downtown Hotel, guests including Susan Sarandon, Alvin Valley, Antony Todd, Amy Heckerling, Lucy Sykes Rellie, Sofia Sondervan and Whit Stillman were game for Lee's entertaining introduction to the first (and thus far only) X-rated Best Picture winner, while an electrical storm raged outside. "Good luck catching a cab tonight," Lee deadpanned.
Grand Classics, a now well-known film series founded by Katrina Pavlos and celebrating its tenth anniversary this year, first began as a way to bring people together in the aftermath of September 11th, providing a platform for celebrated actors, directors and fashion designers to share films that have inspired them. The films selected have not always taken place in New York, but as part of its milestone celebration, Grand Classics has gone back to its Big Apple roots with its "New York in Film" summer screenings.
In fact, Lee selected Midnight Cowboy when Grand Classics first launched 10 years ago. But as the director explained, "I watch this film once a month" because "this shit never gets old."
"In 1969, I was 12, and I could not see [the movie] because it was X-rated. I wasn't too into film back then, but in '69, The Knicks won the championship and it was a good time to be in New York. Now, if you don't have a million dollars, you can't live here. So I get very nostalgic about this film." Lee has kept a Midnight Cowboy poster all of these years, and he got director John Schlesinger to sign it before his death in 2003.
The evening kicked off with an intimate cocktail fete on the hotel's 5th floor lounge and terrace, where influencers of film, fashion, and philanthropy readily mingled with one another whilst sipping wine and champagne and sampling a slider or two.
As guests took in the sweeping views, the irony was not lost on many that we were enjoying a New York that is very different -- if not downright antithetical -- to the one that we were about to celebrate on film. The first movie screening of this summer series, Bob Fosse's Sweet Charity, was also released in 1969. It's fairly safe to say that the Manhattan-set paint-by-numbers rom-coms of today will not appear on the schedule anytime soon.
So can New York remain "cinematic" when it has lost so much of its edge? "Go see Union Square," Whit Stillman insisted during our round of pre-movie drinks. He was referring to the small-budget film starring Mira Sorvino that takes place... well, guess where. "It's more of a challenge, certainly," he said of filming in our kinder, gentler New York, "but there are still interesting pockets of the city that a good, engaged filmmaker can explore."
And on that optimistic note, we headed up to 31st floor screening room, where we enjoyed an array of retro candy, spiced popcorn and more libations amidst the 360 degree views of the Hudson River and Lower Manhattan.
It's not too late to catch Midnight Cowboy on the big screen. Tickets for the July 31st showing are on sale and available to the public online; all proceeds will benefit NYU film school.