Wednesday, August 09, 2017

Usually, the summer brings a lot of commercial releases, and the art houses are relatively quiet, but this year, New York City saw a burgeoning in the art house market, with the reopening of the Quad Cinema, and the continuing programs at Film Forum, the Film Society of Lincoln Center, the Museum of Modern Art, the Museum of the Moving Image, Anthology Film Archives, the Metrograph, and the IFC Center. Right now, the Brooklyn Academy of Music is undergoing one of its perennial upheavals: right after the conclusion of the BAM CinemaFest, there was an announcement that there would be changes in the programming staff; how this will affect the programming at BAM remains to be seen.

One very peculiar fact is that the 54th New York Film Festival has remained a vital source of the programming that has gone on throughout the year. Because of the incredible variety of programming at the NY Film Festival, with its many sections in addition to its Main Slate, the festival has proven to be a wellspring for alternative releases. The history of the NY Film Festival can be divided into three distinct periods: there was the initial 25 year span headed by Richard Roud, then there was the second 25 years led by Richard Pena, and now there is the festival under the direction of Kent Jones. What was important about Richard Roud was that he was very much an advocate for the modernist cinema which emerged in Europe during the 1950s, the cinema of Bresson, Antonioni, Resnais, Godard, and the Straubs. This was his passion, and he was going to make sure that this cinema had a showcase, even if it meant an increasingly diminished audience. 

But the problem was, as the cinema expanded worldwide, Roud was not willing to open his eyes to what was happening in places other than Europe. And so, when the new cinemas of Iran and Taiwan began to emerge, Roud became an adamant opponent. He refused to recognize what was happening, and as this became embarrassing artistically and politically, there was an acknowledgement that it was time for a change, and that was when Roud was removed (a move that was not easy). 

Richard Pena came in with a mandate: to keep the NY Film Festival competitive in terms of world cinema, and to make sure that the festival maintained its status as the premier film event in New York City. One thing that happened during Pena's tenure was that the relationship with the press changed. Initially, the New York press had been incredibly antagonistic to the idea of the festival. For one thing, in 1963, film distribution was at a peak, and many critics questioned whether or not a festival was needed to spotlight particular films. But by the time Pena arrived, at the end of the 1980s, film distribution was more dispersed, and it was increasingly difficult for films to find a showcase, because the commercial cinema of the period was overwhelming any attempt to develop an alternative cinema. Pena would prove to be incredibly open, and the festival would introduce directors from many parts of the world. And the NY press was ready to accept the idea of a curated festival which would provide a showcase for new films. Of course, there was the continued commitment to many of the directors who had proven to be central to the original aesthetic of modernism which prevaded the festival in its initial days. For that reason, many of the films of Resnais and Godard would find their US premieres at the NY Film Festival. And Pena made sure that the festival was alert to those directors from all over the globe. In that, he was highly successful, and he helped to keep the idea of "film culture" vital; for that reason, the press became quite complicit in its coverage of the festival, with the Village Voice and the New York Times devoting considerable space to the festival, and providing the festival with a positive profile.

And so, after 25 years, Richard Pena left the Film Society of Lincoln Center, and Kent Jones took over. Jones had already worked at the Film Society, programming the theaters which the Film Society runs year round. Initially, the transition seemed seamless; in fact, the 51st festival seemed very much a continuation of the past, but by the next year, it was apparent that Jones had a more ambitious approach, and there began the development of new sections to the festival, not just the Main Slate and the avantgarde sidebar, but sections devoted to documentaries, "new media" and works that were decidedly out of the mainstream.

And in the 54th festival, though the Main Slate provided innumerable examples of films which would figure prominently during award season ("Moonlight", "Elle", "20th Century Women", "Toni Erdmann", "Manchester By the Sea"), in the other sections, there were excellent and unusual films, many of which have been given limited releases this year.

I'm talking about such films as the documentaries "Karl Marx City" and "The Settlers", films which combined acute political analysis with intense formal qualities. Of course, two documentaries dominated the discussion: Ava DuVernay's "13th" (which provided the festival with its Opening Night) and Raoul Peck's "I Am Not Your Negro", which used the writings of James Baldwin as an investigation into recent American history.

Some films which were shown in the Explorations section included Joao Pedro Rodrigues's "The Ornithologist", Oliver Axe's "Mimosas", and Alberto Serra's "The Death of Louis XIV"; these films are among the best of the year, containing some of the most exquisite visuals to be seen.

"The Ornithologist" is another in Rodrigues's explorations of gay mythopoeia, a vibrant fantasia of incredibly verdant imagery. The odyssey of a man exploring the jungle, looking to find rare birds but finding even rarer species of humanity, is quizzical, often humorous, and sometimes shattering.

"Mimosas" is a fable of a journey through the desert. In a way, it's like a Samuel Beckett story in a relocation. The symbiotic relationship of men traversing the harsh terrain suggests a continual shifting of dependency and independence. And Laxe frames his story with some truly astonishing images.

"The Death of Louis XIV" is, quite simply, one of the formal masterpieces of recent cinema. For most of the film, there is an intense concentration on the medical procedures used to alleviate the pain of Louis XIV, played by Jean-Pierre Leaud with mesmerizing intensity. Albert Serra has been a director of sometimes fanciful works, mixing wildly disparate elements to create dissonant films, but here, his approach is one of minute concentration, with a seamless continuity. And the result is a work of astonishing purity and beauty.

The ability to see works like these in a period of a few weeks, and to see them with an appreciative audience of like-minded cineastes, is the reason attending the New York Film Festival has become one of the essential experiences in the filmgoing year. In the past, when the festival was more concentrated on the Main Slate, the press screenings were always a chance to see people you knew had the same devotion to cinema. But times have changed, and many of those people, who had been central to the cinema in the 1960s on, are no longer with us. And the press screenings go through extremes: there are crowds attendant upon many of the Main Slate selections (what i always term "the big ticket items") but for many of the works screened which are in the other sections, the press audience can number in the handful. Yet these are often the most exciting works, and yet the feeling is often one of melancholy, as there seems to be little way for these films to reach a wider audience.

In 1968, Pauline Kael wrote: "In recent years, the movie audience has split into the audience for popular films - the mass audience - and the art-house audience, and movies, once heralded as the great new democratic art, have followed the route of the other arts. The advances are now made by 'difficult' artists who reach a minority audience, and soon afterward, the difficult artists, or their bowdlerizers, are consumed by the mass audience.... During the last New York Film Festival, I, for example, was impressed by a film called 'Signs of Life,' written and directed by a young German, Werner Herzog, even though the film was maddeningly dull and lacked flair and facility, because Herzog was clearly highly intelligent and was struggling toward a distinctive new approach. As a casual moviegoer, I might have thought: What a bore! As a constant one, I thought: This young man, I hope, will invent the techniques he needs, and the movie itself is a sign of life." After being pummeled by so many tentpole movies throughout the year, the New York Film Festival is always a sign of life.

Celebrity deaths are often perceived in a variety of ways; in most cases, we don't know those people, but somehow, they symbolize something which we consider important to our lives. Recent examples would include the singer Barbara Cook (August 8), the actress Jeanne Moreau (July 31), and the playwright-actor Sam Shepard (July 31).

I'll begin with Jeanne Moreau. To anyone who grew up with the movies in the 1950s and 1960s, she was, quite simply, the art house love goddess. She seemed more direct, more elemental, more honest than actresses before her: she seemed to have a frightening access to her emotions and her sensuality. That was the meaning of those close-ups of her face in the throes of sex which filled Louis Malle's "Les Amants" (1958), just as the close-ups of her face as she sulked through the Parisian night in Malle's "Elevator to the Gallows" (1957) revealed so many shades of emotion, from irritation to anxiety to fear to dread to despair. She seemed to be able to register the most quicksilver shifts in emotion. And through it all, she had a commanding presence which made her every move compulsively watchable.

In her heyday, she had an adamant belief in her directors; once committed to a project, she would go to any lengths to ensure the project's completion. In one of the most notorious examples, she and Joseph Losey tried to wrest "Eva" from the producers, Robert and Raymond Hakim, to establish Losey's right to final cut; unfortunately, Moreau and Losey were defeated, and the "Eva" which we now have remains the truncated version foisted by the Hakims. However, in more congenial situations, when Moreau found out that Francois Truffaut could not raise all the money for the budget of "Jules et Jim", she simply signed on to several international co-productions (such as "The Yellow Rolls-Royce") and used her salary to make up the shortfall. She also did that for Orson Welles, and in that way helped to produce "The Trial" and "Chimes at Midnight". When Jacques Demy came to her with "La Baie des Anges", the movie, which came together very quickly, had such a small budget that there was no money for costumes, so since she was intimate with Pierre Cardin at the time, she simply went to him and asked for clothes from his recent collections, thus becoming the most elegantly dressed lady gambler in movie history.

That belief in her directors was the reason she was revered as a cinematic icon, especially in the 1960s, when the politique des auteurs was such a prevalent critical attitude. She put that belief in the director's vision into direct action. She did everything to support those filmmakers she believed in. When she saw "L'Avventura", she was so impressed that she sent Michelangelo Antonioni a note, saying she was prepared to do anything he asked. The result, of course, was "La Notte" (1961), and, once again, she proved her loyalty, because the producers, worried about cost overruns, threatened to shut down production; Moreau simply returned the fee she had received from the producers, and that money was used to cover the cost of the rest of the production. (She never did get her money back.)

Though there were occasions when i met Jeanne Moreau, i cannot say that i ever spent time with her; they were always social occasions with a crowd around. But one thing i noticed: when she was talking to a small group, she would say something, and if she realized you had reacted, she would look in your direction to acknowledge you. It was as if she wanted to draw you in, to make sure that she had made a connection with everyone in her audience. And she carried that ability into the cinema, she made us all complicit with her.

In The Hollywood Reporter, Richard Gere wrote about his relationship to Sam Shepard: Gere had been in two productions of Sam Shepard's plays off-off-Broadway at the beginning of his career, and then the two of them were cast in Terence Malick's "Days of Heaven" (1978). And then i realized, of course, one of those off-off-Broadway productions had been "Back Bog Beast Bait" in 1973, and i had worked on the set! Sam Shepard had a dual career: on the one hand, he was a man of the theater, one of the most renowned playwrights of his generation, with a reputation which was established pretty early in his career; on the other hand, he was an actor, appearing in any number of popular movies, including "Steel Magnolias", "Baby Boom", and "The Right Stuff".

As a movie actor, he was almost a prototype of the tall, silent American, along the lines of Gary Cooper, James Stewart, and Henry Fonda. He never did much, and that riveted attention. In "The Right Stuff" (1983), Philip Kaufman uses Shepard very cleverly, by having him at the beginning, and Shepard's stoic calm as the test pilot Chuck Yeager becomes a contrast to the frenetic preparations which attended the training of the early days of NASA's space program.

It was as a playwright that his legacy will be based. When he first appeared on the scene, i think it should be said that his presence preceded him. He used his presence to create the idea of an American archetype, the American cowboy (and his constant dressing in jeans and boots and cowboy hats helped with the image). His plays were full of outrageous imagery, a surreal American West filled with sex, violence, and florid language.

His career as a writer came into contact with Performing Arts Journal in the 1980s, because he had written occasional prose pieces, and Bonnie Marranca and Gautam Dasgupta decided to publish them in book form. And some of his pieces were quite unusual, because he often allowed direct emotion to be on display, a very tricky proposition because in his plays, there's a lot of obfuscation. Shepard hated direct address: his plays could be torturous in their circumlocation of emotional affect.

One thing that hasn't been much remarked upon was how his career began in the off-off-Broadway scene of the 1960s, in particular, with the more experimental approach of Joseph Chaikin with his Open Theater. Chaikin's approach stressed two things: one was the physicality of the performer; the other was the theater as a medium of archetypes. The intense psychological approach of Method acting, where the nature of the theater becomes the interior workings of the actor, was something that Chaikin was trying to get around, because he wanted to find the essence of theater, which he defined in terms of an archetypal theater of physicality.

And Shepard, along with Jean-Claude Van Itallie and Susan Yankowitz, would be one of the playwrights on whom Chaikin relied. I think it's become lost that Shepard's approach to character and narrative comes from this approach to acting defined by Chaikin in his work with the Open Theater. Remembering some of the early productions of Shepard's plays, such as The Performance Group's production of "The Tooth of Crime", it was easy to see how the productions stressed the surface of the plays, almost as if the plays were live-action cartoons, though trafficking in themes far more extreme and grotesque. But that whole off-off-Broadway scene has long since been dispersed.

Off-off-Broadway really began in the 1950s, when Broadway was becoming rather calcified. During that period, there were a number of musical ingenues who were becoming prominent, among them were Shirley Jones, Florence Henderson, and Barbara Cook. In terms of show business, the movie musical was on its way out, and so there was little interest in these performers from Hollywood. Rodgers and Hammerstein had put their imprimatur on Shirley Jones for the movie versions of "Oklahoma!" and "Carousel" and she was the only one to flourish in Hollywood; Florence Henderson and Barbara Cook never did have movie careers.

What happened in terms of Barbara Cook's career was that, when her heyday as a musical comedy ingenue was over, she spent time trying to redefine her career. By the 1980s, the burgeoning cabaret scene in New York City became the site for her career reinvention. Instead of trying to fit into the new musicals developed for Broadway, she decided on a career as a concert artist.

During the 1950s, there were cabaret/nightclub singers who were called "chanteuses", singers who used the songs they sang to tell stories. And Barbara Cook turned herself into a chanteuse, using the Broadway songbook as her vehicle. By making Broadway songs into "art songs", Cook was elevating the Broadway musical as something more than entertainment.

And that's why there has been such an outpouring of emotion over Cook's passing. Instead of the ingenue of "Candide" and "The Music Man", here was an artist who used her voice to tell a story, to explore the subtexts of the American songbook. She acted the lyrics, not by acting out, but by concentrating on the musical form, imbuing the lyrics with as much emotion as possible. She was also a survivor, in show business terms, and her forthrightness was part of her appeal. (In this, her career was similar to Rosemary Clooney's, though Clooney came to her career through the route of the big band singer, rather than the Broadway musical ingenue.)

Saturday, July 29, 2017

The sudden vote called by Mitch McConnell on Thursday night (almost midnight) was one of those calculated ploys; it was nervewracking, as it was meant to be, and the prospect of healthcare repeal was overwhelming. So, instead of watching the televised session, i watched "Random Harvest" and "The Talk of the Town" as part of TCM's Ronald Colman series. The climax of "Talk of the Town" comes at the courtroom, where Colman (a judge) rushes in to stop the vigilante mob from lynching Cary Grant (as a political dissident); Colman delivers one of those patented Sidney Buchman speeches (which were rift in "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington") about democracy, and about how we must not give in to mob rule, we must live by the rule of law, which is the bedrock of our democracy. Listening to this oration, it was particularly poignant at this time, because there was a time when Hollywood stood up for principle. But, then, civics were part of the general curriculum of every school, and the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Emancipation Proclamation, etc. were part of what every school child knew. How the education system in the United States has been decimated was proven this Fourth of July. NPR did what it always did on the Fourth of July: there was a recitation of the Declaration of Independence. And the switchboards were flooded with calls from the backwoods of this country, because these uneducated morons felt that NPR should be defunded for broadcasting what they felt was some unpatriotic garbage! The Declaration of Independence! These people had never heard the Declaration of Independence! And these are the people who voted for Trump.

Of course, the upshot was that, at the last minute, the vote was 51 to 49, opposed to the repeal of the Affordable Care Act. A very Hollywood ending!

But we are living with mob rule, with the ascension of fascism in this country. What's been horrifying about this development has been the utter squalidness of the whole Trump fiasco. The federal government is being dismantled daily, yet with such vulgarity and viciousness that the audacity is staggering.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

The entire spectrum of political action here in the US has been bewildering; the Resistance has been continuing but the constant barrage of laws, bills, and executive orders unleashed by the current administration and its allies has been unrelenting.

In this atmosphere, trying to maintain some semblance of continued activity, cultural and otherwise, seems chimerical. Nevertheless, we go on. And so there have been various festivals and film events. There's so much going on in New York, it is hard to keep track of everything.

Some of the film events which have happened in the last five months include Rendez-vous With French Cinema, New Directors/New Films, and Son of Universal (restorations of more films from Universal Studios from the '20s and '30s, at The Museum of Modern Art). The Human Rights Watch Film Festival is coming up, and it has had some of its press screenings. And soon, there will be the BAM CinemaFest, which is always one of my favorite festivals of the year.

BAM CinemaFest started as a round-up of films from other festivals. In its first year, the attempt was to find films which festivals such as the New York Film Festival on down were passing on, and the scope was international. But by the second year, the focus was specifically on American independents, and this has given BAM CinemaFest a very defined place in the New York film scene. This is the festival where directors such as Sophie Takal and Alex Ross Perry have found a welcome showcase, and there are always discoveries, directors working in other parts of the country whose work deserves to be more widely known. It's always one of the highlights of the year, and a source of real discovery.

Friday, December 09, 2016

In the last few days, have had a cold and spent the time trying to fill out my ballot for Indiewire's Best of 2016 poll (which was due by Thursday, December 8); actually finished my ballot by December 7. This was a diversion, as part of the rituals of "award season" that consume so much of the attention of those of us who write about film.

The national election has been a shock; a few days before the election, i was saying to a friend that, in my lifetime, each time there was the election of a Republican (each more repugnant than the last), i felt that fascism was coming to America. That was certainly my feeling with Ronald Reagan, and it was my feeling with George W. Bush. But Trump was such an obvious fascist. The fact is that, now that the dust has cleared, it's obvious Trump did not win the popular vote. There can be no denying that Hillary Clinton won the popular vote. But Trump won the Electoral College, because he appealed to the racism of the middle of the country. And that brought fascism to the United States. I don't want to hear anything about the aggrieved white working class in the middle of America: they're not aggrieved, they're racists who wanted to feel superior to the West Coast and the Northeast, which were places which have become (by necessity) the places where the economies are in flux as information technologies have become dominant and everything (including the media) is now in development. And that anger became the motor for them to ignore everything except Trump's appeal to their white superiority.

So there are petitions and marches and any actions which can stem the tide of fascism in our country. But make no mistake: it is here, and every day brings new revelations as to the extent to which Trump despises the American democratic system, preferring to think that his election means he is a dictator who can impose anything at his will.

If i think about it too long, i'll just get more depressed.

So i take out my frustrations by thinking about something like the films of the year (which, by the way, happened to be a particularly strong year).

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

On August 29, 2016, the Film Society of Lincoln Center sent out a press release, announcing a new section of the New York Film Festival. This section was going to be called "Explorations," and the release stated, "Explorations is devoted to work from around the world, from filmmakers across the spectrum of experience and artistic sensibility. Some films are delicate, others more forceful; some are contemplative and some dive directly into the heart of their material. The one quality that they share is that they are adventurous and exploratory, in the very best sense of the word." There were six films announced for the section, Albert Serra's "La Mort de Louis XIV," Natalia Almada's "Todo lo demas," Douglas Gordon's "I Had Nowhere to Go," Gaston Solnicki's "Kekszakallu," Oliver Laxe's "Mimosas," and Joao Pedro Rodrigues' "The Ornithologist."

Douglas Gordon, of course, is an artist whose media works have often commented on film history, as in his "24 Hour Psycho" in which Alfred Hitchcock's film is scrutinized in super-slow-motion and blown up as an immersive environment; in "I Had Nowhere to Go," Gordon creates a portrait of Jonas Mekas, the singular spokesman for avantgarde cinema in the US, but focusing on his diaries from 1943 to 1949, in the period when he began his displacement from his Lithuanian home to his adjustment to living in Brooklyn. The soundtrack has Mekas reading from his diaries; for much of the film, the screen is dark, though there are flashes of images at certain moments, such as the beginning with a brief glimpse of Mekas in close-up. But the power of Mekas's words, and the vivid descriptions of his ordeals are compelling enough; the continuity of hearing this testimonial creates a theatrical experience which animates the darkness of the theatrical setting. And the poignancy of hearing a first-hand account of the refugee experience is particularly appropriate at this historical moment.

When the Explorations section was announced, and Douglas Gordon's cinematic portrait of Jonas Mekas was included, i was reminded of the very early days of the New York Film Festival. By chance, when i received the press release, i happened to find a book, "The New American Cinema: A Critical Anthology edited by Gregory Battcock," published by Dutton in 1967. Actually, what happened was that my nephew called, to tell me that he and his wife were cleaning out their apartment, and he was getting rid of some of the books which i had given him starting in high school, when he expressed an interest in movies. And "The New American Cinema" was one of those books. (My own copy of that book is hidden away somewhere.) So i went and picked up some of the books. In "The New American Cinema," i found that several essays address the situation of the avantgarde cinema in relation to the New York Film Festival. The reason for this goes back to the founding of the festival: Amos and Marcia Vogel had been the directors of Cinema 16, which had been a film-club in New York City which showed "independent" films, avantgarde films as well as documentaries, and foreign films which had not found commercial distribution in the United States. Additionally, Cinema 16 served as a distributor for these films to film clubs and university film societies across the country. So when Amos Vogel decided to close Cinema 16, there was a hole left in the exhibition and distribution possibilities for avantgarde films; what Vogel did (in collaboration with Richard Roud) was to start the New York Film Festival, and so many of the filmmakers who had previously been served by Cinema 16 felt abandoned. Was there a place for avantgarde film within the structure of the New York Film Festival, with its screenings held in the grand precepts of  Lincoln Center's Philharmonic Hall? This is a question which has remained unanswered, though there was the inclusion of the section "Views From the Avant-Garde" (now retitled "Projections"), and now, there is "Explorations" as another section to further the presentation of more experimental approaches to cinema.

But this year, i made the effort to see as many films as possible; attending the press screenings, i was able to see 45 films in all, with at least three films seen in every section. (The sections of the New York Film Festival are: Main Slate; Special Events; Film Comment Presents; Revivals; Spotlight on Documentary; Retrospective; Explorations; Projections; Convergence.) This was, in fact, one of the best festivals in a long time. And i'll be writing more in the next few days.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Though it's been more than six months since my last posting, it isn't as if i hadn't been busy. There were various festivals, including New Directors/New Films, BAM CinemaFest, NYCDocs, the Human Rights Watch Film Festival, the Art of the Real. Plus i've tried to keep up with films at places like Film Forum, the Film Society of Lincoln Center, Anthology Film Archives, the Museum of Modern Art, and the new Metrograph.

But right now, all focus has been on the political arena. Last week, it was the Republican Convention, where (as expected) Donald Trump became the Republican nominee for President. Right now, the delegate count at the Democratic Convention is making Hillary Clinton the Democratic nominee for President. This has been one of the most contentious presidential primary seasons in memory. Each time a regressive Republican was nominated (Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, George Bush the second), i kept saying this is what American fascism will look like. But i was wrong, i had no idea that it would come in the form of a reality show host whose brand is garish and deficient luxury real estate.

The process of the Democratic nomination was actually quite exciting. Hillary Clinton was the presumptive nominee, but she faced a challenger in Bernie Sanders, who has been an independent politician. What was amazing was the amount of support Sanders was able to engender: his campaign made no concession to fundraising from corporate donors; instead, he was able to mobilize millions of people to contribute, mostly in small amounts. The passion he was able to generate was astounding.

Of course, there was no way that Sanders was going to go all the way to the nomination: he simply didn't have the apparatus of the Democratic establishment behind him. (By contrast, though Barack Obama started out as a similar outlier, he was a Democratic politician, and had roots in the party. Sanders doesn't have such roots, so that his challenge, though impressive, couldn't be sustained within the Democratic Party establishment. Quite frankly: he had the numbers in terms of the sheer amount of registered Democrats and independents who voted for him in various primaries, but there was no way he could get the superdelegates which were needed.) And now with the revelations of the ways that the Democratic Party establishment actively undermined and purposely tried to negate and ignore Sanders and his constituents, there's no wonder that emotions are running high at the convention.

People are making an analogy to 1968, but that's erroneous. In 1968, there were political protests everywhere: against the escalating Vietnam War, for black power, for women's rights. But these protests happened outside the conventions: at the Republican Convention, there was an active suppression, with the police making sure that the protests were kept away. At the Democratic Convention, the protests erupted into confrontations which, however, were still kept out of the convention proper.

What has happened in the five decades since is that, this time, the parties have hardened. For the Republicans, the coded interests (against blacks, against women, and a flagrant disregard for veterans) have simply become absolutely overt. For Democrats, the possibility of genuine reform has taken hold of the party, and cannot be ignored.

Yet the political situation is the United States remains volatile, and nothing in these two conventions has done anything to alleviate the problems.

Friday, February 19, 2016

It turns out that DCP (Digital Cinema Package) is not such a stable medium, after all. Today, one of the three movies press screened as part of this year's "Rendez-vous With French Cinema" turned out to be defective - it came without subtitles. So it was screened with a warning about the lack of subtitles. The film was "Bang Gang" directed by Eva Husson (which i really liked; i know there are similarities with Larry Clark's work, but it had a softer edge, the fact that it was written and directed by a woman made a big difference - it wasn't trying to shock you and drag you down). Turned out it wasn't too difficult to understand: my rusty French was just enough to keep me informed as to what was being said, and the film was pretty straightforward in terms of its narrative development. In fact, there's one scene where the kids are taking a Spanish class... and i understood that scene even better than i did the French, and i don't even know Spanish!

"Rendez-vous With French Cinema" is always one of the most popular series for the Film Society of Lincoln Center; when the Walter Reade Theater opened, and there was the first year's worth of screenings, it turned out that any French movie seemed guaranteed to garner an audience (especially an audience in the Upper West Side in the 1980s - it was the holdover of the movie audiences that had been used to seeing French films at the New Yorker Theater). But this year, there's also a sadness: one of the regulars that i would always talk to was Ronnie Scheib, the critic for Variety who died in October, 2015.

But that reminds me that in September, Ruth Emerson Wortis died. And when news of her death came, it turned out that, though her name is legendary in terms of the history of the Judson Dance Theater (Robert Ellis Dunn always credited Ruth for bringing up the idea of consensus as a means to discuss work, rather than immediate critique; Ruth was also the third person who went to the Judson Church, to meet with Howard Moody, the minister of the Church at the time - the other two were Steve Paxton and Yvonne Rainer), very few of the people who have researched the Judson Dance Theater ever met her. (She got married and moved to Canada by the end of the 1960s.) But it turned out, i knew Ruth Emerson: i met her in 1974! That was the summer when i graduated from Columbia University, and i was looking for a job; while i was sending out resumes, one thing i did that summer was volunteer at Elaine Summers' Experimental Intermedia Foundation. And during that summer, Ruth Emerson (who had hurt her back) came to Elaine's studio, for Kinetic Awareness work, to help her keep her back limber. One thing i remember was that she had been very close friends with Trisha Brown, which dated back to the time they spent with Anna Halprin. (I recently learned that she had been a close friend of Elizabeth Keen - they had gone to college together.)

When Wendy Perron, Cynthia Hedstrom and i did the Judson Dance Theater Reconstructions in 1982, i know i contacted Ruth Emerson, but she was hesitant about trying to recreate her work. Mostly it was because a lot of her own work had been solos (though she performed in a lot of people's work - Carolee Schneemann, Elaine Summers, Trisha Brown's group pieces, etc.) and there was a lot of improvisation in those pieces, and she had a hard time thinking of how she would teach someone else to do those dances.

There were so many people that i would meet then, but i'm glad i got to know her, even if it was only in passing.

The recent "Picasso Sculpture" exhibition at The Museum of Modern Art reminded me of the huge, museum-wide Picasso retrospective MoMA had in 1980 (when i was working there). One thing that happened during the exhibition was that the Department of Film got requests from film people to attend the exhibition. Quite frankly: what would happen was that the people would call to ask if they could get in, and we would make arrangements: they would be directed to come up to the Film Department offices, and one of the staff would then escort the visitor (with a visitor pass) through the exhibition. Usually it was to take them to the beginning of the exhibition, and then they could go off on their own. I remember that we all took turns, though there were exceptions: Steve Harvey made sure that he was the one to meet Audrey Hepburn. I remember that Steve Soba had to come in on a Saturday for Barbra Streisand. I got a lot of the younger actresses who had recently been nominated for Oscars, such as Jill Clayburgh and Talia Shire. Margareta Akermark, who was retired from the Film Department, somehow liked me, and so she had a number of people get in touch with me in order to see the exhibit. Those people turned out to be the women who were known for starring in Ingmar Bergman's movies. So that was how i met Ingrid Thulin, Bibi Andersson, Harriet Andersoon, Liv Ullmann, and Gunnel Lindblom. I remember, after i met them, i was puzzled by the gloom in Bergman's movies. If i'd slept with "all those women" (as Bergman titled his bizarre attempt at a farce), i would have been one of the happiest men on earth!