September 17, 1996
| TO THE LIGHTHOUSE
by Patricia Thomson
|Nyback comes to New York by way of Seattle, where he spent close to two decades running revival theaters. Last year this lifelong cineaste loaded his projection equipment, thousands of film reels, and vintage theater seats onto a gi-ant moving van and headed east. Hoping to find a suitable space near Film Forum, Nyback wound up joining the ranks of alternative subculture pioneers moving into the more affordable Lower East Side.|
| Originally a children’s clothing store, then a beauty-supply storage dump, the modest green storefront at 116 Suffolk Street is now site of the Lighthouse Cinema, the Lower East Side’s first and only art house. It’s definitely the most inconspicuous theater in town (a tiny “cinema” sign on the door and a film poster in the window are your only clues). It’s also got the most eclectic and offbeat programming anywhere in the city. Where else can you find Sergei Eisenstein, Sara Driver, and Peter Sellers all in die same month, not to mention HUAC newsreels. Ham’ Reasoner’s 1968 report on the hippie menace, and an evening of medical flicks like Chest Surgery in tlw Launder the billing “Scalpel Fetish Night”?
“I don’t call it that any more; I call it ‘Suture Fetish Night’—suture self!” says Lighthouse owner Dennis Nyback, revealing that special sense of humor one finds throughout his program notes.
Nyback considers himself a film archivist first and a theater owner almost by default. “I like to buy things I know are obscure and great, then I try to find a way to get people to see them,” he says. About half of the Lighthouse’s lineup comes from Nyback’s vast collection.
“One of the problems getting people to see what I want to show is I hardly ever fit a niche ” Nyback admits. “I show things over such a wide range: I have things from the early days of motion pictures; I have a lot of TV commercials from the ’70s. And I bamboozle things. I could show Méliès’s A Trip to the Moon, then show Diane Keaton in a deodorant commercial”
| Nyback’s first task was to clear out the mountain of hair products piled to the ceiling by a shop avoiding commercial garbage removal fees. Now toxin-free, the theater underwent further renovations last month and may soon boast a concession stand in the minuscule lobby.
The Lighthouse has just reopened with Highvay to Heartache, a country-western drag-queen musical that will play at least two more weeks. Nyback is hoping to present a series of silent films from his collection, including Gregory La Cava’s Feel My Pulse (1928), about a hypochondriac heiress confined to a sanitarium on an island she owns. William Powell, in his villain stage, plays an evil bootlegger. Be-yond that, Nyback’s plans are uncertain. “I’m kind of a sloppy person, so I do things by whim. Programming by whim,” he repeats with satisfaction.