David Bowie and Iggy Pop: The Next Day and Ready To Die

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There’s always a question of whether or not icons can sustain their status and relevance as they age. Tied to histories that have cultivated their own mythology over time, we’ve been presented with comeback albums grasping onto some semblance of the youth they thrived in. In the chorus of the opening song off an album that came as a welcome shock to fans and loyal followers, David Bowie simply responds to the curious and the skeptical: “Here I am, not quite dying.”

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Matt & Kim – Terminal 5 – 11/15/12

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Another review done for Village Voice’s music blog, Sound of the City. 

*****

Better Than: Seeing Matt & Kim in any other city.

A fine line separates a regular live show from a searing explosion of fiery red sparks that emancipate themselves from every beat, chord, or sound a musician produces, making an entire room feel like it’s about to cave in on itself at any given moment.

Matt & Kim not only cross that line, but they fist bump the flames in the process.

When drummer Kim Schifino shouts from atop her drum set “go big or go home, and we’re fucking home” with the same vicious ear-to-ear grin she seemed incapable of wiping off for the entirety of the show, you understand why an explosion had to occur. For Schifino and her partner Matt Johnson (vocals and keyboards), this was more than just a sold-out Terminal 5 show; it was a triumphant return to their hometown.

After a fun set from fellow Brooklynites Oberhofer, Matt & Kim stormed onto the stage with a rambunctious version of “Block After Block,” the short inhale of an opener from their third album Sidewalks. In the background, a looping gif-like video of fireworks felt like a premature celebration to a show that had just begun, but as the night progressed, the undeniable truth behind the duo just being happy to be home felt like a very real and justified cause for early commemoration of this particular Thursday night.

Every song felt sped up, but maybe that was just the atmosphere of the show. Matt’s brutally fast keyboard playing and Kim’s rapid, animalistic drum beats were delivered and received with signature back-and-forth-back-and-forth intensity. Their uptempo electropop gave the illusion of a race, with slowed-down songs appearing to let the audience take a breath.

What makes Matt & Kim such a refreshing live show, of course, is more than just the energy the duo bring. Beyond the adrenaline rush is a sense of humor and a series of relevant, cleverly timed pop culture jokes and references that sneak their way into the set at unexpected moments. Between a brief mention of eating bath salts, mash-ups of their singles with past Top 40 gems (“Cameras” with Ludacris’ “Move Bitch” and “Good Ol’ Fashion Nightmare” with Kriss Kross’ “Jump”), and a post-encore good-bye twerk featuring Kanye West’s “Mercy,” it felt like a massive playdate at Matt & Kim’s house that we were all invited to just so they can share their favorite toys.

When they beg the audience to sing along to “Lessons Learned,” the final song before the encore, lyrics like “thinking about tomorrow won’t change how I feel today” followed up by an earnest thank you speech from Matt, wrapped up the show like a warm farewell at the end of a reunion with a friend who has been away from home for far too long.

Critical Bias: Weirdo pop culture references always win me over.

Overheard: “They’re playing with Passion Pit? Is that who’s opening?” – someone who clearly misunderstood the premature advertisement for the February Madison Square Garden date where Matt & Kim will be opening for Passion Pit.

Random Notebook Dump: Guy who crowdsurfed a Budweiser across the entirety of the main floor to Kim, per her request: #hero

Freelance Whales – Webster Hall- 11/7/12

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After being reminded by a friend after working on a project for her fashion blog, I realized how long it’s been since I’ve posted the content I’ve created on here. Over the course of the holiday weekend, I’ll be updating this blog with my writing, mostly published, that I’ve done this semester.

The following is my first review for the Village Voice’s music blog, Sound of the City. 

*****

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Photo Cred: Kelly Schott

Better Than: Being outside in all that snow.

Ironic is the only way to describe a situation where a band whose most recent album is named Diluvia has a show postponed while the city began its own post-diluvia recovery efforts. Freelance Whales, however, more than made up for the canceled date from last Thursday by playing a gorgeous show to a receptive, enthusiastic crowd at Webster Hall last night — in the middle of a Nor’easter.

But the seasons are something the band embraces, with weather themes making appearances in album titles (their first album is aptly called Weathervanes) and dripping throughout the lyrics, like the icy and haunting “Winter Seeds.” It seems only fitting that this particular band would have to conquer nature in its physical form, and Freelance Whales came prepared to fight.

After energetic performances from openers Conveyor and Geographer, “Aeolus,” the first track off of Diluvia, began a strong set list well-versed in balancing old, familiar tracks with the new while breathing life into a venue that wasn’t much warmer inside than it had been outside. Similar to the skill displayed on their albums, Freelance Whales is tactful in seamlessly connecting one song into the next to create a fluid, ethereal sound. When “Land Features” began, it was difficult to tell when “Aeolus” had discretely ended.

Jumping between tracks from the first and second album, the band proved how well all of their music meshes together. While the newest album shows musical growth, it stays rooted in the ambient dreaminess of their debut. The musicians mesh in a similar way. In between songs, the bandmates would switch spots and instruments like the well-oiled machine they are as a whole. Yet there is nothing mechanical about their performance; there’s a sense of friendliness and warmth that the band seems to exude when they’re on stage, and the audience’s energy proved that the feelings are mutual.

While tracks like “Spitting Image,” “Hannah,” and “Locked Out” were frantic bursts of dance-y air-pop, the most memorable moments throughout the concert came through during the more haunting pieces. Eery, almost stripped down songs that make full use of intermingling vocals by the band members while lead singer Judah Dadone lights the way were the backbone of their set. “Broken Horse” and “DNA Bank,” both during the encore and separated by the very fun “Starring,” are slowed down, whimsical gems that prove just how fantastic these musicians are.

As they request to be told in the song “Generator (Second Floor),” Freelance Whales are equal parts “stunning and cadaverous.” Their music, while filled to the brim by a unique selection of instruments and layered vocals, create a singular thread as fluid as the transitions between tracks and their movements on stage give an almost skeletal feel. In the end, the airiness of their sound never feels empty, and that’s what makes Freelance Whales absolutely stunning.

Critical Bias: The band’s name may or may not have been the inspiration for my Halloween costume…

Overheard: “Are you on iTunes?!” – inquired by a most likely inebriated audience member during the set for openers Geographer

Random Notebook Dump: Doris Cellar should sing lead on more songs and be my personal stylist.

Set List:
Aeolus
Land Features
Generator (Second Floor)
Ghosting
Follow Through
Spitting Image
Generator (First Floor)
Red Star
Locked Out
Winter Seeds
Hannah
Location
Dig Into Waves
Emergence Exit
——
Broken Horse
Starring
DNA Bank

Add your thoughts here… (optional)

The Highlighter

by Brittany Spanos

turning, 2012, film, documentary, antony and the johnsons

via forma.org.uk

“Just step into your moment. That’s what we’re trying to do, I guess.”

Uttered just prior to a final performance of Antony and the Johnsons’ “Turning” concert/performance, this sound advice is what Antony Hegarty gives the thirteen women who model on his stage. The counsel seems trite, however, after an hour of these artists baring souls, bodies and whatever else they have to offer in desire for liberation. Stepping into their moments seems to be what they’re all best at.

But maybe what these women need is reassurance. Throughout the documentary “Turning,” a collaboration between the band and filmmaker Charles Atlas, the models are without names and are defined solely by the intimate, personal stories they each emotionally reveal on camera. A poignancy is made evident as specific tales are paired with defining songs; performance shots of Antony along with the women displaying proudly the…

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My recent interview with the creators of Bushwick Film Festival for WSN!

The Highlighter

by Brittany Spanos

bushwick film festival, bff, 2012, interview

It’s been five years since NYU graduates Kweighbaye Kotee and Laree Ross, both 29, took up residency in Bushwick, Brooklyn with their artsy and unique film festival. Since then, the pair have seen some of the works they have championed gain momentum (like the documentary “Beijung Punk,” which gained a distribution deal). With their grassroots ideals and devotion to making the experience as welcoming to both the artists and the audience, Bushwick Film Festival has truly created a unique festival experience.

Five years may not be an incredibly long time, but hopefully these passionate film aficionados will be haunting that ‘hood for years to come with BFF, a celebration of independent film, music, and art that will be breathing life into Brooklyn all weekend long. I had the opportunity to interview these ladies about their current festival and their five-year journey to this very event.

What attracted…

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The Flavor of Mexico

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Note: This is one of my assignments for my Travel Writing course in Prague, where I had been studying for 4 months. We were prompted to write about a food experience we had had in Europe, and I chose to focus on an incredible Mexican restaurant in Prague called Las Adelitas.

Americká has great Mexican food. This particular street in Prague 2 is littered with residential complexes and several small restaurants, but the true standout among these buildings is Las Adelitas, which serves authentic and traditional Mexican dishes. Finding a place like Las Adelitas had been a godsend. For me, afternoons in high school had been spent eating full plates of freshly made tacos con papas and horchata courtesy of my friend Melissa’s Mexican mother, Cuca. Cuca’s kitchen had become a favorite spot for our group, who would constantly request to meet at Melissa’s home before anywhere else because being served a homemade meal was a consistent offer whenever we showed up with our growling stomachs and pleading eyes.

For American travelers, who may or may not have the same emotional connection to the cuisine as I have, missing the luxury of having quick, delicious, and affordable Mexican food available at home is not necessarily a thought that passes one’s mind before preparing to leave the country. “Mexican food is something I didn’t realize I’d miss until it was gone,” remarks Kaitlyn McGraw, an American graduate student from Missouri who has spent her semester teaching in Vilseck, Germany. Before traveling to Prague, McGraw had heard “horror stories” about the quality of Mexican food available in Europe. “[Las Adelitas] was a pleasant surprise. It offered a comfortable, familiar environment alongside excellent cuisine.”

Creating a comfortable and home-like environment had been the original intention of David Zamorano and his co-owners when they began this restaurant three years ago. Zamorano had moved to Prague from Mexico City in 2005 to continue his education as a film student. Inspired by homesickness and a desire for familiarity, the same emotions that pull tourists like McGraw and myself into the restaurant, Zamorano and his friends began a delivery service that became wildly popular, leading them to establish the actual restaurant. “Since I came here, there was that empty spot to fill for authentic Mexican [cuisine],” states the restauranteur.

The interior of Las Adelitas is reminiscent of a dining room in a close friend’s home with it’s soft lighting and convivial vibe. Upon descending the staircase at the entryway, this hole-in-the-wall destination appears quite small with only a few tables and a small bar in the back. A tiny hallway leads to another room with even more seating available for the establishment which can be packed with reservations on any given night of the week. The dark wood of the tables, which features multi-colored mosaic patterns on the surface, as well as the black-and-white pictures that cover the walls give the restaurant an old-fashioned and lived-in look. Just as one would do when visiting a close friend, patrons help elevate the atmosphere to a raucous level as the day grows to a close as they sit for hours enjoying the food and company.

The decor, however, only serves as proper accompaniment to the flavorful dishes that are served in a decorative manner yet retain the heartiness and authenticity of a home-cooked meal. The recipes come directly from the traditions of the owners’ families, and this fact comes across with every bite. The quesadillas, which resemble a pocket-like empanada rather than the common appearance of the flat and often circular dish, are particularly popular and delicious. The home-made horchata and lemonade rival Cuca’s recipes. Everything tastes fresh and is extremely filling, which makes the usual price range of 150-200 korun for a meal more than worth it.

Zamorano sees very little competition in Prague surfacing in terms of serving truly authentic Mexican cuisine. Ex-staff members have opened their own restaurants trying to copy the structure but have very little luck imitating the familiar and home-like vibe of Las Adelitas. Even some Mexican fast food chains have popped up around the city, including the 24-hour eatery Burrito Loco, which is adjacent to Bohemia Bagel near Old Town Square. The existence of other popular Mexican restaurants, like Cantina, does not persuade the owner from having any other opinion; Zamorano is adamant that his restaurant is the only genuinely traditional establishment in town. Certainly there are very few customers of his who would disagree with this sentiment.

The existence of this particular eatery and the quality of the food is truly an anomaly for Central Europe since quesadillas and burritos are as far from fried cheese and schnitzel as one can get. While succeeding in providing authenticity, Zamorano and his co-owners have also succeeded in bringing a piece of their original home to their new one. Much like the large amount of tourists and expats who make their way to this popular restaurant, Zamorano had been searching for something that he could relate to on a personal level. “When we first came [to Prague], we would dream of finding a place that served food like this,” he muses. “Instead, we made a place ourselves.” While it will be another month before I can enjoy tasty treats from Cuca’s kitchen, there’s a reassuring comfort in knowing that something so close to my heart can be found so far away from the source.

The Blues in Black-and-White

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Note: This is one of my assignments for my Travel Writing course here in Prague, where I am currently studying abroad. We were prompted to write about a profile about a Czech citizen, and I chose to write about the photographer Karel Cudlin.

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This photo does not belong to me. It is the property of Karel Cudlin. All Rights Reserved.

Music streams through the air as an elderly woman sings in the distance about life. “It’s some kind of blues,” reminisces an aged man wearing a charcoal gray suit jacket as he toys with a small Samsung digital camera that sits on the table.  His warm, tan face is inviting and brightly lit as he looks into the distance as if the scene he paints is occurring in front of him as he speaks. This is not the lower half of Žižkov travelers are warned about and locals avoid. This is the lower half of Žižkov that Karel Cudlín remembers.

Perched in a cafe located near Prague’s Old Town Square, the Prague-based photographer flashed nostalgic smirks whenever he brought up his time taking pictures of and befriending members of the Žižkov Roma community. Like Harlem in New York City, the lower half of Žižkov is a pointedly avoided area by tourists and locals alike. For locals especially, disdain for this economically downtrodden and isolated area stems from a history of racist and untrusting attitudes towards the Roma community.

Cudlín, who has won countless awards for his craft including 17 prizes from Czech Press Photo, has built a career for himself that has been heavily highlighted by a passion to explore the overlooked and sometimes shamed communities of the world. He has travelled to Poland, Israel, and the Ukraine and has photographed everyone from veterans to actors. These projects come from a place of passion and curiosity. Covering the Roma people accidentally became the photographer’s first project, but it built the framework for a shining career to come.

Cudlín’s experience with members of this specific gypsy community had been positive and genuine. “People [do not] have two faces there,” he remarks. “Some people have their private face and their public face. [The gypsies] didn’t play the social too much.”

Born in 1960 to a doctor (his father) and a typist (his mother) in the upper half of Žižkov, a distinct class barrier separated Cudlín from the Roma community for most of his early life. While in gymnasium, a younger Karel became attached to more artistic interests. He explored painting and poetry but became enamored with photography when given his father’s old Exakta camera at the age of 14. Exploration of the medium ensued as he began to exchange old photography magazines with friends and his uncle, who had been an amateur in the field. Inspired by American photographers like Roy DeCarava, Cudlín realized his specialty — social documentary photography.

In 1977, at the age of 17, Cudlín had been able to practice his new interest. Walking through Žižkov, the open, inviting nature of the gypsies influenced the photographer in a time where Communism had forced the Czech population to become “more closed,” as he explains it. His interests were piqued not only from the warm welcome he had received but also from the wildly different family dynamic he observed there. “It is a different kind of family life,” he states with a spec of awe. “You see these homes with as many as 15 people [whereas] Czech families are very small.” An interest in roots and family has inspired later work by Cudlín, including a current exploration of the revived Jewish community in Prague.

For Cudlín, sharing any situation he sees, whether nice or depressing, plays an important role in his work. His focus is on the aesthetic yet he captures situations that border the territory of photojournalistic. With some careful internal deliberation, Cudlín concluded that “[the] most important [aspect] is what happens in your mind, like music. The most important [part] is what happens with you.” Describing his profession evoked the same careful choice of words; “intermediator” is his final choice and appears to be an accurate portrayal of a career spent giving the majority a chance to see the way the minority lives.

Capturing the gypsies in particular served as an active protest by Cudlín to the negative and often sensationalized press they regularly receive. “People feel that people in worse social conditions have no dignity,” he muses sadly. “I wanted to show more positive aspects.”

The positive attributes of the Roma community were, in fact, difficult to ignore. Inherently joyful, the gypsies appear playful and unaffected by popular misconceptions in the black-and-white portraits shot by Cudlín during the late 1970’s. A musical vibrance that each image captures is rooted in the photographer’s own early inspiration by American rock ‘n’ roll music from the 1950’s, beatnik literature, and films from the French New Wave genre, as well as American classics like Citizen Kane. Each of these artistic movements represented rebellion in their respective fields, and even Cudlín’s career choice had been a small act of protest against his parents’ wishes for him to become a doctor. Thirsting for difference and desiring to challenge what was expected of him, it is no wonder that the photographer was attracted to focusing on society’s outcasts.

The Roma community encapsulates the image of the outcast in every way. The warnings about them are written everywhere. Travel guides and forums for foreign visitors share the same note of advice: beware of the gypsies in Žižkov. They have been shamed and segregated in a horrendously undignified way.

People thought Cudlín had been temporarily crazed for stepping over these boundaries. “They are afraid [of the Roma community],” he reinforces. “They don’t have experience. People who have a problem have never met them.” This blatant ignorance and the public’s desire for drama and negative news has pushed the stereotypes of the thieving, lying gypsy community. Cudlín relates this trend to how “a million airplanes fly perfectly every day, [yet] when one crashes, it makes the headlines.”

Over the years, the photographer has watched the situation of the community worsen. Huge social problems have caused the area to deteriorate even further and close itself off from the majority of Prague almost entirely. A large number of the area’s inhabitants are unemployed, which makes money an obvious issue. Education has become a growing problem with many of the families exclusively speaking the community’s own language at home and not having access to proper schooling. The government has assisted families financially, but it is still not enough.

Cudlín’s concern comes not only from his close ties with the area but also his background in social work, which he had studied for several years after secondary school. He believes a push towards affirmative action, like in the United States, should be instated in order to better their current situation. Seemingly unlike the majority of Prague, he had very little preconceived notions about the community. While his father had treated many gypsy patients as a doctor in the area, his family never carried any particular opinions about the people who lived just a few tram stops away.

The colors of the Roma community are what pulled Cudlín in and kept him invested. The pictures may be in black-and-white, but the scenes are incredibly alive and vivacious. It was a nice alternative for the photographer who felt that Prague had lacked color until Communism fell. Over the past 20 years, however, the city has begun to develop its own atmosphere.

Juxtaposed next to the rest of the city’s growing vibrance, the gypsies of Žižkov have begun to lose the personal flare that had been forcibly stifled by the rest of the locals. Cudlín has made countless visits over the years since his chance encounter with this unique area. The children have grown up, and the families still greet him warmly. While the colors begin to fade, Cudlín offers portraits of a lively collective spirit that has maintained the ability to never be crushed.

Extraordinary Machines

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Note: This is one of my assignments for my Reporting the Arts course here in Prague, where I am currently studying abroad. 

Complex and overwhelmingly stark, Bernd and Hilla Becher’s Coal Mines. Steel Mills. exhibit that is currently being displayed at Galerie Rudolfinum’s large hall brings beauty to industrial life. The series of black and white photos share glimpses at coal mines and steel mills, as the title aptly suggests, throughout Europe and America over the last few decades of the twentieth century. Each area has a unique quality and shape to their metal structures that the photographers very carefully document. British mines have an almost carnival-esque appeal; mines in America are terrifyingly animalistic; Belgium and France prove to have strangely beautiful symmetry and Germany’s “post-apocalyptic,” as one visitor commented, vibe is chilling and hard to ignore.

Unlike other black and white photos, there is no underlying vivacity that helps carry the weight of the picture. Nothing is “alive” about the cold metal that occupies the frame, which helps reinforce the dismal nature of the subject. While the beautiful lines are set against sprawling landscapes, the massive structures steal focus from the scenery and display the harsh reality of what industrialization can do to an area. The houses surrounding the mills and mines appear minuscule comparatively and are sometimes seen less than the rubble that peppers the towns.

The composition of the pictures is incredible and the fact that the Becher duo can create a wonderfully interesting and well-developed collection from a typically ignored and boring subject is remarkable. Each photograph draws you in; the shapes and hints of smog in the distance draw you in. The homes provide a human quality that leaves the viewer with remnants of curiosity as to how these structures affected the lives of the inhabitants of said homes. For some, they may provide nostalgia if they had been employed by or knew someone who had been employed by these steel mills and coal mines. The humanism of some photographs juxtaposed next to the animalistic nature of others allows patrons to enter a much more complex visual journey.

While the photographs are obviously gorgeous creations and wonderfully put together by curator Petr Nedoma, one complaint would lie in the execution of the exhibition. The organization is simplistic and does very little to elevate the pictures. To viewers who may not be immediately drawn in by the subject, and honestly, there is not a huge demand today for photographs of coal mines and steel mills nowadays, the colorless photographs may be difficult to connect with and off-putting. Once the initial wall between the art and the viewer is knocked down, the beauty is very easy to take in. In one room of the gallery, however, there is a video accompaniment to the exhibit that explores the original gallery showing of the photos by the Becher duo. This video will be probably be unappealing to foreign visitors since it is in Czech, but to locals, it might offer great insight into the motivation behind the project.

Overall, the exhibit is a wonderful exploration of the “industrial landscapes” across Europe and America. Once the viewer of these simple and gorgeous photos opens himself or herself to the intricacy of the smooth, sleek lines and curves of the structures among ruined hills and natural backgrounds, the result is more than worth it. Through their art, Bernd and Hilla Becher have provided interesting insight into a mundane aspect of society that has become so integrated into our culture that the population has looked over the implications and sad beauty of this modern architecture.

Bernd & Hill Becher: Coal Mines. Steel Mills. will be running in the large hall of Galerie Rudolfinum from March 22 to June 3. The gallery’s entrance is around the corner from the Rudolfinum concert hall and is right off the Staromestska metro stop. It offers discounts for students. 

Somewhere Only They Know

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Note: This is one of my assignments for my Travel Writing course here in Prague, where I am currently studying abroad. We were prompted to write about a historical monument, and I chose the gorgeous Kino Lucerna. 

I look like I am lost. In a sea of rushing patrons eagerly running from the ticket booth to their seats, I am patiently waiting to find at least one person who speaks English. Even the woman selling the tickets appears confused by my disappointed look as I awkwardly ease away from the booth.

In the midst of trying to find just one person who can comment on the antiquated beauty of Prague’s 104 year old Kino Lucerna, Europe’s longest-running movie theatre, I realize that I am the only tourist among them. Loud, fleeting words of English come only from admirers of David Cerny’s equestrian sculpture that nefariously hangs just above the line of unfazed movie-goers.

For being placed in such a heavily-trafficked area, Kino Lucerna is able to maintain some semblance of exclusivity in who attends movies at this particular cinema. The Lucerna complex is a bustling and popular attraction for tourists with its string of stores and the famous concert hall. Around the corner from the complex is Wenceslas Square, which is peppered with fast food chains, clothing stores, and wide-eyed visitors who slowly traverse through the square with cameras and fried cheese in hand.

Entrances to the cinema itself are tucked into the sides of the complex, making the journey from the ticket booth to the theatre possible only through a series of staircases and thick curtains. After purchasing my golden ticket to view the current film showing at the cinema, I found my way to the magnificent theatre. Mixing Art Nouveau and Renaissance art, Kino Lucerna appears much more grandiose than the small theatre actually is. The intricate, golden details that surround the balcony as well as the green curtain that hangs in front of the screen are truly stunning and reminiscent of elegant European opera houses.

The seats are made of a dark wood and are upholstered with plush, peach cushions, which is a refreshing change from the grotesque burgundy cushions of the soda-soaked recliners in my hometown’s cinema. Above the screen is a lamp that is comparable to to the way a lighthouse beacons in the dark as the patrons enter the cinema with smiling faces. Along the balcony is a series of golden lamps and miniature crystal chandeliers. The cinema is devastatingly gorgeous, and it seems like a shame that so many visitors to the city are missing out on seeing the space.

“Most people are going for [more] public cinemas. This one is kind of small,” remarks Sabina Kamenska, an employee of Kino Lucerna who works in the cafe portion. Kamenska notes that the majority of visitors are actually people who are from the Czech Republic, primarily because most movies screened in the cinema are in Czech.

Since 1908, Kino Lucerna has shown movies every day, and somehow, it has maintained its loyalty to the Prague citizens by not becoming yet another tourist attraction. This hidden gem seems to attract a much older audience as well; the majority of younger visitors to the complex spend their time checking the schedule for the concert hall and glancing into the windows of the stores along the entrance-way. Maybe this is for the best. While the chaotic clutter of foreign invaders make their treks to this historical city as the weather warms up, the city is being woken up from its peaceful winter sleep. The crowds will begin to make Wenceslas Square almost unbearable to walk through, yet Kino Lucerna will remain — as it has for over 100 years — and the Czech citizens will have a bit of historical beauty to hold onto for themselves.