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The Reeler Blog

"Be Uncomfortable"

By John Oursler

The Reeler dropped by IFC Center last night for the latest, most New York-centric installment yet of the ongoing Stranger Than Fiction season: Film as a Subversive Art, director Peter Cronin's hour-long documentary about legendary New York cineaste Amos Vogel, founder of the historic film society Cinema 16.

Having fled Nazi-occupied Austria for the United States in 1938, Vogel's insatiable appetite for all things obscure led him to New York and, in 1947, the creation of Cinema 16. For 17 years he hosted experimental films, documentaries, films on health and science and early work by up-and-comers including John Cassavetes, Kenneth Anger, Jacques Rivette and Roman Polanski -- basically, everything you couldn't see anywhere else.

"Cinema 16 took place because the conditions were right at that time," said Jack Goelman, Vogel's Cinema 16 partner who joined a discussion and Q&A after the screening. "No one was showing experimental films. There was no place to see smaller films."

In the film, Vogel identifies his favorite quote as one by German author Gunter Eich, who urged: "Be uncomfortable. Be sand, not oil, in the machinery of the world." As evidenced in the documentary, Vogel's mission was indeed to be the sand in New Yorker's machine of artistic complacency; at its height, Cinema 16 maintained 7,000 members and sold out 1,600 seat halls, a number which elicited even a little jealousy from STF programmer Thom Powers.

And even though Cronin took his film's title from that of Vogel's influential 1974 book, Goelman remained unconvinced that film could still be a subversive medium. "It's a different world," he said. "Television is everywhere. They're useful and competitive. Think about how you feel seeing a scary movie in the theater and how it would feel seeing that same movie in your house. It's just not the same. At home, your front door is locked and the window shades are down. It's a different world."

Goelman's view on film as an art form wasn't completely pessimistic, however; his advice to the audience remains as timely as ever: "You know a good film when you see it. Shop around and follow your instincts."

Posted at January 30, 2008 12:32 PM

Comments (1)

There's still no place to see smaller films.
Or experimental ones.

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