Curator, Ann Temkin: I'm Ann Temkin, Chief Curator of Painting and Sculpture here at MoMA.
Curator, Dave Kerr: And I'm Dave Kerr. I'm a curator in the Department of Film at MoMA.
Ann Temkin: And we're looking at Edward Hopper's painting called New York Movie from 1939.
Dave Kerr: Movies were a very different proposition in 1939 than they are today. In those days, theaters would have upwards of 2–3,000 seats. Many theaters in that period were designed as theatrical experiences in themselves. Very dramatic spaces. Just entering the theater is going to transport you into this other realm of existence.
One of the odd things about this image is how few people are actually in the movie theater. This probably would not have happened much in a Times Square theater in 1939.
Ann Temkin: Let's talk about the usherette.
Dave Kerr: The young woman we see here was part of an army of ushers. And she is carrying her tool, which is her flashlight, to conduct people to their seats. She is not participating in the spectacle. It wouldn't be surprising to see her holding her cell phone if this were a contemporary picture.
Ann Temkin: Right. It's so very Edward Hopper to take a place that would be associated in people's minds with bustling crowded, happy throngs of people, and instead show it to you virtually depopulated, and people having absolutely no interaction with each other.
Dave Kerr: Oh, definitely.
Ann Temkin: With these quite amazing backs of the red velvet seats, you have two figures watching the movie but not being with each other.
Dave Kerr: It hardly seems like a place of entertainment. If he wanted to depict the experience of seeing a movie, I think he would have moved his perspective considerably to the left here and gotten more of that screen in. But it's almost marginal to the experience, which is one of loneliness and isolation and melancholy.