Cult Camp Movies Screen in Hell’s Kitchen as Chelsea Classics Series Relaunches (2024)

If you’ve ever shouted “Tina, bring me the axe!” or “no wire hangers, ever!!”, the revival of the Chelsea Classics beloved movie series — now hitting Hell’s Kitchen’s big screen with the quintessential cult-favorite, Mommie Dearest — might just be your ticket!

Cult Camp Movies Screen in Hell’s Kitchen as Chelsea Classics Series Relaunches (1)

The celebratory return of Chelsea Classics — showing at the LOOK dine-in cinemas on W57th Street May 8 with planned screenings of Grease, Showgirls and To Wong Foo… to follow — will feature not only an interactive rerun of 1981’s infamous Faye Dunaway star vehicle but also a pre-show chat with Rutanya Alda, who appeared in the film as Crawford’s ever-faithful housekeeper (Rutanya, the author of a memoir entitled The Mommie Dearest Diary: Carol Ann Tells All, should have plenty of on-set stories to tell). The series, which was previously held at the now-shuttered Cinépolis cinema (and before that, its predecessors the Bowtie and Chelsea-Clearview Cinemas) and hosted by drag performer Hedda Lettuce, will now be helmed by Hell’s Kitchen mainstay Ben Cameron, known widely for his work as the host of the popular Broadway Sessions cabaret series at Green Room 42.

Bringing Ben on board to revive the series at LOOK, business development lead Craig O’Connor told W42ST, was the final fortuitous step in his long-held hope to bring back the program he had worked on at Bowtie. “This series began in 2002 as a way to do something special for [the LGBTQ+] community that no one was doing,” said Craig. “We started by implementing a month-long series of movies beloved by the LGBTQ+ community, with a pre-show hosted by a popular drag queen, Hedda Lettuce, to raffle off prizes and interact with the audience. It became an instant success — we immediately had regulars, and it snowballed into this great series that lasted 15 years.”

When Craig joined the team at LOOK, he saw an opportunity to bring the same level of community, camaraderie and cinematic camp to Hell’s Kitchen. Re-launching in Hell’s Kitchen made for a natural transition, he added, as “a lot of Chelsea’s LGBTQ+ population has moved to Hell’s Kitchen” or still remember the series fondly.

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While Hedda may make occasional guest appearances should the series continue, he said, her current commitments led the team to look for a new permanent host.Hopping aboard an Atlantis Events LGBTQ+ cruise, he crossed paths with the ship’s bonafide entertainment director, Ben, on the flight home. “After a week of listening to my shenanigans with nowhere to go but overboard, he decided to loop me into [the series], which I couldn’t be more thrilled about!” said Ben, as we caught up in LOOK’s sun-drenched lobby ahead of the inaugural screening.

While he had always wanted to check out Chelsea Classics, Ben said that he had never had the chance to attend a screening prior to the West Side cinema’s closing. The team at LOOK is giving the seasoned host the freedom to make his own mark on the program, and Ben added that his background as a “trivia nerd” would likely inform some of the pre-show fun and games. “I do think people will be used to Hedda Lettuce coming out in full drag,” Ben said while pondering his attire for future shows. “I also cannot tell you that I won’t be wearing a poodle skirt for the Grease sing-a-long!”

He added, “For me, it’s really about amping up the audience through interactive experiences. I want to be able to create moments that we can share —because these movies are so iconic. In each of these films there are moments that we’re waiting for. [In Mommie Dearest], we’re waiting for Joan Crawford to say, ‘no wire hangers, ever!’, so I’ve already put in an order for 300 wire hangers so everyone can have one in-hand for the moment.”

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Asked whether screenings will be structured in the raucous style of Rocky Horror Picture Show watch-a-longs, Ben wagered that they’d encourage interactive viewings “as much as is tasteful” — even if the movies being shown aren’t. Both Craig and Ben acknowledged that while some of Chelsea Classic’s current and potential lineups take their campy content to a John Waters-style extreme, the intention of the series is to commemorate the lasting cultural impact many of the films have made on the queer community. “When we were in Chelsea, we’d ask people with a show of hands to tell us how many times they’d seen the movie — and we’d have [audience members] who’d seen it 5, 10, 20 times!” said Craig. “A lot of these movies are older, dated movies, but they’re meant to be a cultural artifact,” he added. “For folks who have never seen them, it’s kind of a [camp] education.”

Ben agrees. “I’m of the age where I’m really toeing the line between the people who are really in-the-pocket of these movies, coming out and appreciating them from a camp perspective and being able to connect —enough! — with younger people: ‘These are the reasons you need Serial Mom in your life; you will be changed forever after watching Showgirls,’” he said. “These are films that are passed down and unite generations. They’re hand-me-downs — like your older brother’s sweaters and shoes that get handed over and maybe don’t fit the times right now, but are so classic. In the same way that I was gifted these films by people, it’s going to give me so much pleasure to gift to others.”

He believes that “in a world where you can stream just about anything, to come watch a movie as absurd as what we’re going to be watching, with other people who appreciate the absurdity — if nothing else, itmakes me feel less alone.”

One new community-creating addition to the series is LOOK’s ability to serve themed food and co*cktails during screenings, added Craig. “One of the things we would love to do is encourage people to meet up at the bar and discuss the film,” he said.

“What brings people together more than coming out of the lobby and having a conversation with somebody about this film that you just experienced together that we all have very stupid opinions about,” added Ben. “That’s the icebreaker of all icebreakers —and you’llget your fingers off Grindr for three seconds,” he laughed. “Come see the movie and talk about it with someone else while you both have Cosmopolitans in hand!”

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Should the series find new and returning regulars, it’s hoped that LOOK will be able to keep Chelsea Classics on as a permanent weekly program — and Craig and Ben rattled off a wish-list of potential picks like The Best Little whor*house in Texas, Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? (starring the real-life Crawford!), and of course, Serial Mom.

For now, Ben is excited about connecting with the Hell’s Kitchen and New York queer community at large over some of its most treasured films. Camp films “are nothing if not an escape from the bizarro world” we live in, he added. “I’m looking forward to the energy of everyone showing up to have that same heightened, shared experience… and to watch people walk out feeling like they’ve been part of something living and breathing —rather than just having gone to the movies. I want them to be on the thrill ride!”

LOOK Dine-in Cinemas is located at 657 W57th Street (bw 11/12th Ave) and will host the Chelsea Classic series May 8 (Mommie Dearest), May 22 (Grease), June 12 (Showgirls) and June 26 (To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar). Tickets are $15.

Cult Camp Movies Screen in Hell’s Kitchen as Chelsea Classics Series Relaunches (2024)
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