If someone had asked me what I thought about Anthology after my first ten minutes there, I would have said that it was unapologetically plain, kind of dusty, and clearly reserved for only hard-core film goers; the kind of people who watch avant-garde or experimental motion pictures in their leisure time. Although I initially found its austere appearance a bit unwelcoming, by the time I had left Anthology, I could only see the place through rose-colored lenses. This change can only be attributed to a quiet and kind older gentleman named Robert Haller who welcomed me into Anthology one recent Friday evening. Before I left, Mr. Haller would spend hours telling me about the history and operations of Anthology, fundamentally altering my image of the place.
Mr. Haller, nice enough to open the front door for a persistent little college punk, decided that an extensive tour was the only way for me to understand what Anthology is and does. He excitedly guided me through Anthology’s theaters and projection rooms, noting countless bits of history contained in the institution’s walls. He walked me through the idyllically long and dusty corridors of the library, where endless stacks of documents found their place on shelves that scaled the walls. Scores of stills, scripts, negatives, and letters were color-coded, sorted, and alphabetically arranged in to filing cabinets and drawers, legal binders and plastic portfolios. Mr. Haller is the man responsible for maintaining the Library. I quietly observed his messy desk, one that spoke of late nights and laborious weekends, and took note of those few stunning photographs that had his name credited beneath them.
Mr. Haller walked me through the rest of Anthology, pointing out things that many visitors no doubt overlook. He told me that when I came back, I had to come while there was still daylight and take a look at Michael Snow’s photograph of Houston Street in the eighties. It is printed on a window pane on the second floor, and he told me that someday, I should take a minute to watch the world pass by both on and behind the glass, to marvel at the piece, and try to discern if the ghost-like traffic belonged to the image or to reality.
A few weeks later, I now can see thatMr. Haller is inextricably linked to my image of Anthology. His quiet tenacity, sincerity, and sheer love for film is embedded into my understanding of the institution. While others have recounted extremely different experiences of Anthology, ones that bring to mind its plain linoleum floors, when I went back to Anthology to watch a screening of Two For The Road, I felt comfortable and at ease knowing that I was watching a film in a place that really cared about what graces its screens. Many say that ‘comfortable’ isn’t really the word to describe an Anthology viewing experience, but I do not have a better word to describe mine. Maybe my experience also has something to do with the fact that I watched a Hollywood film starring Audrey Hepburn with my friends. For me, however, Anthology will always represent more than a great way to spend a free night. It is the home for a group of film-lovers who work tirelessly to preserve largely inaccessible, avant-garde films that would possibly have no other home. To watch any film here is to not only acknowledge their efforts, but also to experience the mission of an earnest institution.