Staten Island is home to a new Alamo Drafthouse. Of course it’s got everything you’ve come to expect and love from other Drafthouses — Sony 4K Digital Laser Projection, dine-in seating, a beer list as long as your arm — but with a local twist: Wu-Tang Clan’s RZA helped design the theater’s bar and museum, The Flying Guillotine. The Guillotine’s cocktail list has two unique sections: Shaolin, which features nine classic cocktails, and Wu-Tang, which highlights nine original craft cocktails. The entire theater is lovingly decked out kung-fu style, with an archive of memorabilia and posters that cover the vast span of kung-fu film history.
RZA has not only lent his expertise to the design of the Flying Guillotine. There’s also RZA’s Saturday Shaolin Theater, a weekly series inspired by the Black Belt Theater classics that aired locally in New York on WNEW Channel 5 in New York on Saturdays in the ‘80s.
Observer sat down with RZA and Alamo Drafthouse’s founder and Executive Chairman Tim League to discuss the new venture, what it means for Staten Island, and some programming sneak peeks.
RZA, you’ve had a hand in creating this theater. What plans do you have for bringing a sense of real Staten Island to it? Staten Island often doesn’t get the respect it deserves.
RZA: I would say Staten Island has not in the past—especially in the ‘70s, ‘80s, and even the early ‘90s—gotten the respect it deserves. But Wu-Tang Clan put a kick on that. We kicked down that door and we brought world recognition to Staten Island. And then you look at guys like Pete Davidson doing his thing and representing. You find Staten Islanders everywhere even though it’s a small borough. I think it was only 300,000 people here when I was a kid. And now it’s about a half a million. It’s a special borough.
You grew up loving Kung Fu movies and took inspiration from them. Are you hoping to inspire more RZAs and more creative people like you?
RZA: The idea of movies and cinema is to inspire. I would just say if one kid comes and get inspired, whether musically, thematically, or even to go back to class, whatever happens, becomes a stuntman, then we’ve done our job. We’re doing a series called Shaolin Saturday Kung-Fu where every Saturday a Kung Fu movie will play on the big screen. There’s something amazing about looking at 70 feet of light and sound surrounding you. You’re being taken into another world. For a moment, you don’t know where you’re at. If a kid could come here one Saturday — whether his father bought him, whether he paid the 10 dollars or snuck his way in, whatever happens — if he’s able to come here and walk out with a piece of inspiration, then my involvement is paid a thousand times over.
How did you first get involved with the Drafthouse?
RZA: My first visit at an Alamo draft house was in Austin, Texas, and I was inspired. I sat there in the movie theater and I was blown away. I ended up going to every night of the festival. I went back to LA. This is before I even was a composer. I was just a hip-hop guy hanging with my buddy Quentin and coming down to Austin to a film festival and finding a theater that I was like, “They need these around the world!” And I couldn’t find no other theater like that. They’re movies that are educational.
Can you give me a sneak preview of movies that are going to be shown at Shaolin Saturdays?
Tim League: The plans are ongoing. We’re gonna roll deep into the Shaw Brothers. We’re gonna roll deep into Wu-Tang references.
RZA: Some will be a little more obscure, and some will be filmmakers who went on to pioneer the films we see today—somebody like Tusi Hark, who produced John Woo and John Woo went on to Hollywood, and gave Hollywood a whole new way of making films. Lots of Jimmy Wang. He inspired a lot of my lyrics: “Fatal Flying Guillotine chops off your fuckin’ head!” We’re doing Mystery of Chess Boxing. Most people know that as the title of a Wu-Tang song, but it’s a movie. The villain’s name is Ghost Face Killer—that’s where his name comes from!
Do you guys know when you’re doing Police Story?
RZA: No, but we’re airing it.
You can buy tickets for RZA’s Shaolin Saturdays here. The Staten Island Alamo Drafthouse is located at 2636 Hylan Blvd and is accessible via car or off the Staten Island Railroad New Dorp stop. Be like us and take the ferry there one Saturday!