Thursday, May 24, 2012

One moment of "the sublime": "Smash" had been stumbling along all season, when there was a moment when Anjelica Huston was sitting in the hotel lobby (the musical-in-the-show is having its out-of-town try-outs) when the lounge pianist (played by Marc Shaiman, the composer for the series) starts to play the Kurt Weill "September Song". Huston goes up to him and says she loves that song, and he asks her if she knows it, and she says, of course... and then she proceeds to sing it! And that moment brought tears to my eyes, because when i was growing up, we had the original recording of "September Song", which (of course) came from "Knickerbocker Holiday" (book and lyrics by Maxwell Anderson, music by Kurt Weill), and sung by the star of that show... Walter Huston! Anjelica Huston paying tribute to her grandfather: show business doesn't get better than that!

My gosh, it's been two months since my last post, during which time i've been taking things slowly. Haven't really seen as much as i would like, but one curiosity has been watching some movies on TV at odd hours, when HBO or Showtime dumps a lot of the movies that haven't been released (or, if released, on such a limited basis no one noticed). Suddenly, you realize that someone like Mena Suvari or William Hurt has been working in the last two or three years, just not always on projects that have made an impression.

There were a lot of odd events, as well as sad events. This year, the Film Society of Lincoln Center has been preparing to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the New York Film Festival; last month, Amos Vogel, who co-founded the festival with Richard Roud, died. Vogel was an indispensable part of the film culture of New York City, starting with his founding of Cinema 16, the invaluable film society which helped to introduce so many filmmakers to American audiences. Amos and Marcia Vogel really were the dominant film programmers in the 1950s, creating eclectic programs which included documentaries, avant-garde films, foreign films. It would be hard to imagine the development of film in this country without Amos Vogel, because one thing he did was to provide distribution for many of the films he programmed at Cinema 16, and so short films by Stan Brakhage, Shirley Clarke, Georges Franju, and many, many others were able to be seen across the country.

I have to say that i didn't know him well, but i knew Amos and Marcia Vogel enough to say hello and talk to them at various film events (especially at the press screenings for the New York Film Festival). But two years ago, Marcia Vogel died, and now Amos Vogel has died, and with them goes an important chapter in the history of film. A few years ago, i noticed that i wasn't seeing Amos and Marcia Vogel as much, i suspected that ill health was affecting them; now they're both gone, and i must say i miss them, because they always had something to say about films and the culture surrounding cinema. What i especially enjoyed were those moments when they would have a (mild) disagreement, Marcia would always try to find some merit in something Amos would be adamantly dismissing.

The case of Etan Patz was reopened. That was very distressing; we had moved to Soho a few months after the disappearance, and during the next two years, the police would make periodic visits to the buildings in the area, sometimes bringing dogs to try to find some traces. I remember taking the police to the basement of our building, as the dogs sniffed the floor and the walls. I also walked them through the stairwell. But we'd gone through that; the confusion now was what possible new evidence could there be to reopen the case at this time?

There have been a few movies i've seen in the last two months. I wish i had been able to see more from the New Directors/New Films series; i'm looking forward to seeing some of the films from this year's Human Rights Film Festival, as well as this year's BAM CinemaFest. Some of the interesting films now making their way around the country are the restorations of Lionel Rogosin's "Come Back Africa" and Shirley Clarke's "The Connection" (which are being distributed by Milestone). It's so important that these films have returned to be part of the discourse on film and history.

But the most exciting cultural event of the last two months has been... Lena Dunham's HBO series, "Girls". So we're back to TV, and we're also back to that "downtown" mentality which was highlighted in the 1970s and 1980s, only now that mentality has gone through generational permutations.

More later.