Indie Theater Tries to Scare Bostonians Out of Moving to NYC With ‘Taxi Driver,’ Slasher Flicks

A rivalry between cities resumes — and may help a nonprofit moviehouse

Last Updated: April 19, 2018 @ 3:01 PM

Remember when New York and Boston tried being nice to each other?

Those days are over. A Boston-area independent theater is trying to scare people out of moving to the Big Apple with a film series showing New York at its worst.

The Coolidge Corner Theater’s “New York City Psychos!” series includes the Martin Scorsese masterpiece “Taxi Driver,” the grindhouse classic “Maniac” and the less-acclaimed “Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan.”

Together, says series programmer Mark Anastasio, the films prove New York City is “a s—hole” that his friends should stop moving to.

“I was just frustrated with losing maybe my third really good friend to Brooklyn,” Anastasio told TheWrap. “I was having one of these Brighton porch conversations where you’re drinking and the other person is telling you how Boston is just a training-wheels city where you go to receive your education and party a little bit before going on to the big city, to be a real adult.

“I was enraged by that conversation.”

And so the film series began. It comes after a brief détente between the cities after the Boston Marathon bombings — and as Boston is arguably replacing New York as Hollywood’s go-to setting for grisly crime dramas.

Even if the series doesn’t help Boston, it may help the Coolidge, an eccentric not-for-profit theater persevering in a time of multiplexes.

The art deco theater, in the charming Boston suburb of Brookline, offers a movie nerd’s fantasy slate of indie films, midnight cult hits, blockbusters of decades past, as well as the occasional burlesque show.

“New York City Psychos” is the kind of idiosyncratic event that many indie theaters are turning to as they face pressure to transition to digital screenings. Though the loss of the independent Boston Phoenix newspaper wounded its ability to publicize its programs, the Coolidge is doing well. Its shows are regularly sold out, and it completed its digital transfer on Tuesday.

A spokesman for the New York City mayor’s office declined to comment on the film series. But a city employee who wouldn’t give her name offered a scoffing, “Pfff. Those movies are all from the ’80s.”

Actually, “Taxi Driver” is from 1976. But the response is typical of New York’s sometimes belittling attitude toward its rival to the north. After a few brief months of post-marathon unity, the cities’ rivalry, long played out in stadiums, has moved to the Coolidge.

Anastasio admits that the New York City movies he’s showing are old. But he insists that the city still sucks, despite whatever his fellow Bostonians may have heard about New York cleaning up since Travis Bickle drove its streets.

Whenever he visits friends in Brooklyn, he says, they live in windowless apartments that would be considered uninhabitable by Boston standards. Sitting in his office, overlooking two coffee shops, a high-end pizzeria and an independent bookstore, he explained how he chose the films.

“‘Taxi Driver’ was certainly the first on the list because it’s the overwhelming stench of the city, as Travis Bickle puts it, that drives him to do the terrible things that he does,” said Anastasio.

“‘Maniac’ is one of my favorite films of all time. It’s probably the best grindhouse-slasher title I’ve ever seen,” he continued. “It’s another time capsule. As much as ‘Taxi Driver’ captures New York in the ’70s — that 42nd Street vibe of porn theater after porn theater after porn theater and hookers — ‘Maniac’ shows you that that was still very much alive in the early ’80s. And it’s also probably one of the best performances in a slasher film from Joe Spinell.”

He pauses.

“And then we ended up throwing on ‘Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan,’ because” – he pauses again – “it had ‘Manhattan’ in the title.”

The screenings all have a gritty, old-Times Square feeling because Anastasio seeks out original prints whenever possible — including a rare, slightly scratchy 35-millimeter reel of “Taxi Driver” that played this past weekend. “Jason” started the series the weekend before, and it ends this Friday and Saturday with midnight showings of “Maniac.”

Asked if he’s worried his propaganda campaign will end the recent camaraderie Boston and New York, he says he hopes so.

The cities have always had complicated feelings toward each other. Anastasio, who grew up in what he calls the New York-Boston “Mason-Dixon line” of Bristol, Conn., concedes that he’s a Yankees fan. (It’s long story.)

If New York decides to mount an anti-Boston film series, it won’t have to look as far back as 1976. The past decade has produced “Gone Baby Gone,” “The Town,” “Mystic River” and “The Departed,” crime dramas that suggest modern-day Boston is as tough as New York in the 1970s.

Despite those onscreen portrayals, Boston may not need the Coolidge’s help to hold onto its population. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, it had a 3.1 percent population gain between 2010 and 2012. New York City’s population gained only 2 percent.

But the rivalry endures. Anastasio told a “Taxi Driver” audience on Saturday there was a “60/40 chance” that Nicolas Winding Refn might show up this weekend for a screening of his new film “Only God Forbids” — perhaps with star Ryan Gosling in tow.

“I think it’s fallen through at this point,” he said Tuesday. One reason? The actor and director would need to travel from New York.