NEW YORK FILM FESTIVAL at the Film Society of Lincoln Center (through Oct. 14). N.Y.F.F.’s second week brings Projections, a sidebar of experimental film — but experimental doesn’t always mean inaccessible. A joyous, painstakingly crafted symphony of colors and textures, “The Grand Bizarre” (showing on Saturday and Sunday) finds the filmmaker Jodie Mack animating textiles and patterns from around the globe. Elsewhere in the festival, a retrospective honors Dan Talbot, the founder of New Yorker Films, who died in December, shortly before the closure of his Lincoln Plaza Cinemas. The program consists of films he was instrumental in bringing to American audiences, from the early Bernardo Bertolucci effort “Before the Revolution” (on Thursday) to “My Dinner With André” (on Tuesday), which Mr. Talbot’s company released and which enjoyed a long run at Lincoln Plaza. A highlight of the Spotlight on Documentary program is “Carmine Street Guitars” (on Saturday and Monday), a portrait of the Greenwich Village guitar shop that represents a vanishing New York in more ways than one: Not only has the store resisted gentrification, its owner builds guitars out of wood salvaged from city buildings.
NEW YORK FILM FESTIVAL – RETROSPECTIVE – Tribute to Dan Talbot
Before the Revolution
Dir. Bernardo Bertolucci, Italy, 1964, 105m
Dan Talbot began as an exhibitor, and he started his distribution company, New Yorker Films, for the best possible reason: he saw a film that he loved and he wanted to share it with as many people as possible. The film was Bernardo Bertolucci’s masterful second feature, a deeply personal portrait of a generation gripped by political uncertainty. Set in the director’s hometown of Parma, it follows the travails of a young student struggling to reconcile his militant views with his bourgeois lifestyle (and his fiancée), who drifts into a passionate affair with his radical aunt. One of the key films of the ’60s, Before the Revolution set many aspiring filmmakers on their own autobiographical courses. 35mm print from Istituto Luce Cinecittà.
Dir. Jean-Marie Straub, Danièle Huillet; West Germany; 1963; 18m
The Bridegroom, the Comedienne and the Pimp
Dir. Jean-Marie Straub, Danièle Huillet; West Germany; 1968; 23m
Dir. Jean-Marie Straub, Danièle Huillet; West Germany; 1965; 55m
In 1966, Dan and Toby Talbot went to a party thrown by Bertolucci and his friend and co-writer Gianni Amico in Rome. Suddenly, the bell rang. “Shh-sh,” said Bertolucci. “Get rid of the pot! Put the drinks away. The Straubs are here!” That someone would pick up any single film directed by Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet is utterly unthinkable in the context of the present moment, but for decades New Yorker Films handled all of them. These three films, often shown together, are among their very best: an idiosyncratic adaptation of Heinrich Böll’s short story “Bonn Diary,” about a former Nazi colonel cynically reflecting on the sheer stupidity of the bourgeoisie; a three-part short comprised of a nocturnal tour of Munich, a high-speed stage production of Bruckner’s Sickness of Youth, and the marriage of James and Lilith, who guns down her pimp (played by Rainer Werner Fassbinder); and their stunning, thrillingly compressed adaptation of Böll’s novel Billiards at Half-Past. A Grasshopper Film release.
Dir. Nagisa Oshima, Japan, 1971, 123m
New Yorker developed a close relationship with the filmmaker once known as “the Japanese Godard,” Nagisa Oshima, and they programmed a groundbreaking retrospective of his early films during their brief tenure at the Metro on 100th Street. This disarmingly atmospheric portrait of a family’s collective psychopathology recounts the saga of the Sakurada clan, whose decline plays out over the course of 25 years and multiple funerals and weddings. Operating at the height of his iconoclastic powers, Oshima renders the family’s unraveling with an arresting sense of foreboding and an air of gothic fatalism, enriched by Tôru Takemitsu’s quintessentially modernist score.
Every Man for Himself / Sauve qui peut (la vie)
Dir. Jean-Luc Godard, France/Austria/West Germany/Switzerland, 1980, 87m
“Dan jumped straight to the point,” wrote Toby in her book The New Yorker Theater and Other Scenes from a Life at the Movies. “‘I love your work and would like to distribute anything you make.’” Over the years, New Yorker handled many of Godard’s films, including his return to 35mm character-based storytelling after a decade of experimentation in video. What Godard called his “second first film” is a moving portrait of restless, intertwining lives, and the myriad forms of self-debasement and survival in a capitalist state, with Jacques Dutronc (as “Paul Godard”), Nathalie Baye, Isabelle Huppert, and, in an unforgettable anti-cameo, the voice of Marguerite Duras. An NYFF18 selection.
The American Friend
Dir. Wim Wenders, West Germany/France, 1977, 125m
Dan Talbot and New Yorker Films put the New German Cinema of the 1970s on the map in this country, and one of their key titles was Wim Wenders’s spellbinding adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s Ripley’s Game (and a little bit of Ripley Underground). Dennis Hopper is the sociopathic charmer Tom Ripley, transformed by Wenders into an urban cowboy peddler of forged paintings who ensnares Bruno Ganz’s gravely ill Swiss-born art framer into a plot to assassinate a Mafioso. Shot in multiple New York and European locations in low-lit, cool blue and gold tones by the great Robby Müller, this brooding, dreamlike thriller conjures a world ruled by chaos and indiscriminate American dominance. It also features a stunning array of performances and guest appearances by filmmakers, including Nick Ray, Gérard Blain, Sam Fuller, Jean Eustache, Daniel Schmid, and Peter Lilienthal. An NYFF15 selection.
The Marriage of Maria Braun
Dir. Rainer Werner Fassbinder, West Germany, 1979, 120m
“I bought 11 Fassbinders in one shot, like rugs,” Dan told Anthony Kaufman in a 2009 interview. As was the case with every New Yorker acquisition, the motive was not financial. So one can imagine the surprise at their offices when this 1979 film about a poor German soldier’s wife (Hanna Schygulla) who uses her wiles and savvy to rise as a businesswoman and take part in the “wirtschaftwunder” or postwar economic miracle, became an arthouse hit—per François Truffaut, this was the movie that broke Fassbinder “out of the ivory tower of the cinephiles” and earned him the acclaim he had always sought. The Marriage of Maria Braun was also the Closing Night selection of the 17th New York Film Festival.
My Dinner with André
Dir. Louis Malle, USA, 1981, 110m
When Dan read Wallace Shawn and André Gregory’s script for My Dinner with André, he was so excited that he helped Louis Malle procure production funding from Gaumont. The film, an encounter between the two writers playing themselves discussing mortality, money, despair, and love over a meal at an upper west side restaurant (according to Gregory, Malle’s one direction was “Talk faster”), becoming a sensation at the art house, playing to packed houses for a solid year, and a favorite on the brand-new home video circuit. My Dinner with André is entertaining, confessional, funny, moving, and suffused with melancholy and joy…like life.