I have a new favorite movie theater, and it’s located in the Museum of the Moving Image. I haven’t ever hidden my love of the museum and with a membership given to me for Christmas by my fantastic wife I’m all set to spend most every weekend of 2011 in the beautiful blue glow of the 267-seat theater.

First off, just check out what it looks like. The architect (Thomas Leeser) was influenced by 2001: A Space Odyssey (which would end up kicking off the first round of films) and you could just see everyone’s jaws hanging open as they walked into it for the first time.

Stunning, isn’t it? It’s one of those theaters that are designed so that there isn’t a bad seat in the house, and the sound and video is state of the art. If they could just figure out how to use those 70mm projectors… (more on that in a bit.)

Friday night was a members preview that allowed us to get an early look at the museum and then see the first full film ever shown in the theater- The Hustler. A brand new restored print of the classic Paul Newman flick was the perfect pick to show off the screen, as the black and white film positively popped off the screen. His pool games against Jackie Gleason are still riveting but I forgot how amazing Piper Laurie was, and how much of the film focused on Newman and Laurie’s sordid love tale. The theater was the perfect place to witness the Academy Award-winning cinematography.

Saturday was the big show, though. A double feature that film fans could only dream of- back to back performances of Jacques Tati’s Play Time and Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. Not only that, but both would be presented in new restored 70mm prints, they way they were both intended to be seen.

Having never seen Play Time I wasn’t prepared for the fun and whimsical time that the film was. Absolutely loved Monsieur Hulot’s journey through a nightmare of modern architecture. But it was a little disconcerting to notice that at a few times during the film a section of the screen would get blurry and go a little soft. It’s not something that’s supposed to happen during a 70mm film- it’s all supposed to be bright and crisp and in focus. I chalked it up to being the theater’s first 70mm film and shrugged it off.

2001, though, was a problem. The audience knew something up when the curator asked the audience to stick with them because they were still figuring things out. Uh-oh.
From about the time that Dr. Heywood Floyd entered the space station to the time he got to the moon the screen was out of focus, flickering, and then, startlingly, pulsating in and out. Twice the screen was covered as the projetionist tried to figure out what was going on, and twice the audience was pulled completely out of the film. I was with four friends, three of whom had never seen the film before (I know!), and it definitely tarnished the experience.
Which is a shame, because I’ve never seen a more beautiful print of the film. I can’t describe how vibrant the colors were, the scene where Bowman was shutting off Hal inside that red computer room a real highlight. The movie still worked and it was remarkable to see “The Infinite” like that, but it seemed strange that they wouldn’t have gotten this ready for the opening. This was a pretty important screening for them, after all, the theater packed to capacity (they even brought chairs in to fit everyone) and ready to show off what its got.

It wasn’t quite the flawless start we could have hoped for but I have faith in the staff and the programming for the future.  Screenings of The Fighter, Oliver Twist and The Big Combo this week help things, plus Way Out West next week. I can’t wait to see Laurel and Hardy on the big screen for the first time.

I’d definitely recommend picking up a membership if you live in the city, as there’s dozens of great films playing every weekend and for the price it can’t be beat. Course I’m a member, so I’m biased! Check the official site for all the info on upcoming screenings.