When Movies Mattered at MOMI

The official publication date is still a few weeks off, but copies of “When Movies Mattered,” a collection of pieces mainly from my tenure as the film critic of the Chicago Reader, is already shipping from Amazon. (You’ll find a handy link — nudge, nudge — on my homepage.) David Schwartz, the stunningly brilliant, rakishly handsome Chief Curator of the Museum of the Moving Image in Queens, has, for his own inscrutable reasons, kindly decided to mark this momentous event in the publishing world by scheduling two days of screenings this coming weekend at his fine institution.

On Saturday, March 26 at 2 pm, I’ll be introducing (briefly, I promise) a new 35-millimeter print of that pre-codiest of pre-code movies, Raoul Walsh’s overflowing 1932 romantic comedy “Sailor’s Luck,” after which I’ll appear with David for a discussion. At 5 pm, we’ll have a 35 of Walter Hill’s rarely seen 1978 “The Driver,” a superbly terse, controlled and witty existential thriller, which will be followed at 7 pm by Luis Bunuel’s 1977 “That Obscure Object of Desire,” in the recent restoration distributed by Rialto Pictures.

On Sunday, March, 27, we’ll have Jonathan Demme’s wonderfully congenial 1980 “Melvin and Howard” at 4:30 pm, followed at 7:30 by Jean-Luc Godard’s distinctly more aggressive from that same year, “Every Man for Himself, in a handsome print from The Film Desk. More details here, on MOMI’s site.

There will be copies of the book available in MOMI’s shop, and me available to sign them. If you’re in the area, please do stop by. I look forward to renewing old acquaintances and, I hope, making some new ones.

In the meantime, movies continue to matter in the New York Times, where my column this week is on the interesting collection of silent films by Mikio Naruse that Criterion is releasing on its Eclipse label.

113 comments to When Movies Mattered at MOMI

  • Kehr here, with, indeed, belated thanks to you, Robert, for those generous words and your long, indulgent memory. The MOMI event came off nicely and it was a particular thrill to meet some regulars from this space in person. And man, did “Sailor’s Luck” look nice on that big, beautiful screen in MOMI’s new auditorium — a cozy, enveloping space that now suggests a big, blue birth canal with a movie screen, poetically enough, at the end of it.

  • Robert Garrick

    Another notable contribution of America’s midwest to the film discussion back in the ’70s was “The Velvet Light Trap,” which came out of the University of Wisconsin. I first became aware of TVLT c/o Peter Wollen (“Signs and Meaning in the Cinema”), who mentioned it as a magazine he “always read” in an interview in “Film Heritage.” (“Film Heritage” was another interesting ’70s magazine, mostly because of its interviews with critics, like Robin Wood and Wollen.)

    The ’70s were a great penumbral period for film criticism, a golden age. People like Andrew Sarris and Robin Wood had scared up a lot of interest on college campuses, but we hadn’t yet been inundated with turgid work from students at and graduates of film schools. So there was a great deal of passionate, informed film criticism, and it was written out of a love of film, not because of a senior or Ph.D. thesis requirement.

    Young critics like Joseph McBride, John Belton, Michael Wilmington, Jonathan Rosenbaum, Todd McCarthy, and Dave Kehr were doing exciting work, and elder statesmen like Andrew Sarris were still productive. Roger Ebert, an “establishment” critic, seemed so much better than former MSM people like Bosley Crowther. I looked forward to every issue of Film Comment. The old Oxbridge “Movie” magazine, back in the late ’60s and ’70s, was a phenomenal resource. And even the “establishment” people, like Stanley Kauffmann and Pauline Kael, were interesting and helped to drive the discussion.

    There are still plenty of good critics around, but it’s more boring now, in part, of course, because the films are not as interesting.

  • Steve Elworth

    Robert, I do not remember you by name. I was also at NYU at that time. I also remember cine-club at several different locations, air conditioned and not. Let us take a moment to remember the late Roger McNiven who co-ran it for its entire run. He was also at NYU a little bit later. Towards the end of Cine-Club, 1977 to 1978, they also had 35mm. I saw so many rare films there. Roger was an Australian and died way too young from that horrible disease that killed so many worthy people.

  • Barry Putterman

    Steve, watching the gorgeous 35 print of PEARL OF THE SOUTH PACIFIC in the stifling New York summer heat sans air conditioning was an experience I will never forget. Whether or not one knew the gracious, generous Roger McNiven personally or not, homage can be paid and enlightenment can be received through reading his excellent appreciation of Gregory La Cava in Jean-Pierre’s “American Directors.”

  • Robert Garrick

    Barry Putterman has a piece on Peter Bogdanovich in “American Directors” that is the best thing you’ll ever read on that subject.

    Barry and Steve: I was only at NYU for a year, and I knew I was going to law school so I kept a low profile, though I made some very good friends there. I also sat in on a lot of classes at Columbia–I went to all of Andrew Sarris’s classes, and I remember seeing “Gun Crazy” for the first time in Steve Handzo’s class. I was there when Chuck Jones drew all over the wall in Columbia’s main film-viewing classroom. And I was–like you–constantly running around watching films all over town. Barry, we had a mutual good friend named Scott–that’s how I came to know you.

    I visited the CineClub at two locations. I remember seeing an Anthony Mann double-bill of “Dr. Broadway” and “Moonlight in Havana” there, anong other things. I also remember someone telling me, upon my first visit, that the guy sitting next to me was Kenneth Anger.

  • Barry Putterman

    Robert, yes Scott Langley also went from Cinema Studies on to law school and is established in the legal world here in New York. I haven’t seen him in quite a while though.

    Wasn’t it Kenneth Anger that night who was explaining to one and all that Eduardo Cianelli was billed as “Edward” in DR. BROADWAY due to war time pressures?

    Frankly, I must admit that you aren’t the first person who has, in my view, been wildly over enthusiastic about that Bogdanovich thing. Maybe one of these days I’ll understand why that is.

  • Steve Elworth

    Robert, I also knew Scott Langley and Barry at NYU. I was not at that particular screening of Cine-club. I do remember seeing Anger at various screenings including some at MOMA. My first viewing of CABIRIA had Anger and his old pal Stan Brakhage sitting not too far away. Besides those excellent pieces by Roger that Batty mentioned, I want to add a great piece on Walsh’s Westerns in THE VELVET LIGHT TRAP and a fine piece on middles class architecture in ALL THAT HEAVEN ALLOWS and BIGGER THAN LIFE. Barry, I will add my more positive voice to your Bogdanovich piece. Why do I like it? It is the piece that would begin any serious discussion of this neglected film maker. In other words, it is very good.

  • Barry Putterman

    Robert, I certainly hope that I did not offend you with my remarks regarding the Bogdanovich piece. I certainly appreciate yours and Steve’s kind words and am glad that you seem to have taken something from it. However, while I haven’t actually looked at it again for MANY years, it seemed a workmanlike overview at the time I was writing it and I can’t imagine that it has morphed into something else since.

    But then again, what do I know? I like George Roy Hill.

  • Brian Dauth

    Barry: everyone should like George Roy Hill — THE STING is one of the great movies of the 1970’s. There I posted it!

  • Robert Garrick

    Barry: Your short essay on Bogdanovich sized him up in its first few sentences. It’s the only thing I’ve read that provides him with weight and context, and that gives him a coherent theme. I still consider Bogdanovich a minor director, and certainly a disappointment given his fast start. I recently saw “Targets” for the first time and thought it was excellent. (It was also filmed at the long-gone Reseda Drive-In, in the San Fernando Valley, where I saw dozens of films as a child.)

    Bogdanovich’s critical work looks pretty good today, though. He’s argumentative, not academic in tone, but he gets almost everything right. Maybe he should have been a lawyer too. (And by the way, that’s the first I’ve heard of Scott Langley being a lawyer–a tax lawyer no less.)

  • Alex Hicks

    George Roy Hill, the lighter the better.

    Little Drummer Girl, Slaughterhouse-Five, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
    and Hawaii are poor to lower middling; but The Great Waldo Pepper and The Sting are OK;
    and A Little Romance and The World of Henry Orient delightful, if tiny, classics.

  • Alex Hicks

    THE VELVET LIGHT TRAP was good, but its contributors contributions to Wisconsin film life (e.g., via festivals of the Wisconsin Film Society and half dozen other providers) was phenomenal. UW-Mad in the 1970s was as cinematicallly rich as Berkeley/San Francisco or Chicago. There were four or five great films a night Wednesday through Saturday at typically a dollar a film.

    (Can’t speak of LA, and wouldn’t quite dare extend the comparison to NYC.)

  • mark gross

    Hello. It was really gratifying to see the Cine-Club & Roger’s name mentioned here. It’s been such a long time I was beginning to think all those memories were simply hallucinations. But no, here were detailed descriptions by Barry Putterman, Robert Garrick & Steve Ellsworth.

    Barry, Robert & Steve, I’m sorry, but I don’t remember you, although we probably spoke back then, both at the cine-club & at NYU, which I attended off & on for more than a decade, beginning in 1971. I do, however, remember Scott Langley, although I haven’t seen him in at least 35 years.

    I think I was present at all the incarnations of the Cine-Club, so for the record I thought I would share some of my memories.
    I first attended a double bill of THE COBWEB & TEA AND SYMPATHY in the dead of winter in either ’69 or ’70 at a basement apartment on 3rd Street near First Avenue. The print of TEA AND SYMPATHY was so faded that at the conclusion when John Kerr comments on the beautiful colors in Deborah Kerr’s flower garden, everyone laughed as the flowers (and most everything else in the shot) had turned a pale blue.

    The Cine-Club next moved to a loft on 13th Street & University Place, I believe in 1971. At first the screenings were only on Saturday night, but then they were expanded to the weekends and finally a seven day schedule. I remember Kenneth Anger to my left and Peter Bogdanovich to my right while watching Ulmer’s CLUB HAVANA, which was my own private cinematic epiphany, as I had never before seen such profound longing and deep meaning expressed in a series of simple close-ups of mostly blank-faced actors against a bare studio wall.

    The Cine-Club next moved to a small off-Broadway theatre on 43rd Street near 9th Avenue & began by scheduling a long series on the Western, including 35mm prints of Ray’s THE TRUE STORY OF JESSE JAMES & Tourneur’s STARS IN MY CROWN.

    I remember having a long discussion with a group of people after the Nicholas Ray film on 43rd Street that lasted until after midnight. I recall saying you had to see THE TRUE STORY OF JESSE JAMES as a series of brush-strokes, similar to the pourings of black and silver paint in a late Pollock canvas that trace the movements of the artist, from which you could reconstruct in your mind the totality of Nicholas Ray’s original vision for the film. I’m afraid most people were not convinced. THE TRUE STORY OF JESSE JAMES remains the most sublime disaster I’ve ever seen.

    Alas, the Cine-Club was not able to generate enough income to remain on a seven day schedule, so they moved again after about a year. However, I was out of town in 1975 & ’76, so my chronology may be a little off.

    The last time I attended the Cine-Club regularly, it was in a loft in the Flower district on 6th Avenue around 28th Street. Recently, I went to a show at Lincoln Center of W. Eugene Smith’s photos from the 1950’s of a jazz rehearsal loft in the same area, and looking at his pictures of the views of 6th Avenue from the windows, I could swear it was the same space that the Cine-Club had moved into decades later.

    In any case, thanks to all of you for jogging my memory and compelling me to finally contribute to this blog which I’ve been reading for some time.