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The Reeler Blog

So -- Where Were We?

By S.T. VanAirsdale

Wow, September already? It seems like only, you know, 30 or 40 days ago I was anticipating a relatively promising summer's worth of films including some good R-rated comedy and an above-average Batman sequel. Indeed, we got them, and indeed, they consumed me -- elsewhere. It started in Los Angeles for a few weeks in June, continued in my Jersey hovel for a few weeks after that, and then back in the old Reeler HQ uptown since late July. The details are completely uninteresting, even if their chemistry yielded this desperately needed relapse. I promise not to overdose or throw up on your carpet.

Which reminds me: Did you read Simon Abrams's piece in the NY Press this week about the New York Film Festival? To borrow the story's headline parlance, "We didn't think so." So let me recap in brief: Simon Abrams is young. The Film Society of Lincoln Center's chief constituency is old. The NYFF is programmed with little sense of risk and/or adventure that would appeal to Abrams Youth. New Directors/New Films and Film Comment Selects programs other fest's retreads and shoddy, fringy dregs unwelcome elsewhere. The operation is borderline irrelevant. The new Bunin Film Center might restore hope, but until then, the kids are off to Film Forum. Did I miss anything?

I'm sure Simon will let me know, if so; a former contributor to this site, he reached out to me on Sept. 6 with an e-mail requesting comment for a piece he was writing about, in his words, "what draws you to a film venue, what kind of programming you're interested in seeing [...] whether you prefer MoMA to Lincoln Center or to Film Forum or fill-in-the-blank for certain kinds of programs and not others." It seemed like a straightforward-enough request, to which I promptly responded:

For sheer class, taste, intuition and range, nobody programs better than the Film Society of Lincoln Center. They're always pulling some diamond from the aesthetic rough that most institutions would fling aside like bottle caps. The example that most readily comes to mind is last year's Donald Cammell series, which not only unearthed but actively celebrated work I had all but forgotten as pulpy afterthoughts. Richard Peña and Kent Jones and company consistently make me happy to be wrong, or at least reward my gambles more often than not. The NYFF might lean too heavily on Cannes, but in the cases of Silent Light ('07), this year's The Headless Woman and other intriguing films without US distribution at the time, I can't always blame them.

If it wasn't succinct, it was sincere: I deeply, unambiguously love the Film Society of Lincoln Center, whose programs I've nevertheless second-guessed sometimes and with whose leadership I've quarreled on more than one occasion. It's like any relationship, and I think it's mutual. Which is kind of the point: This blog aside, the Film Society loves me back, same as any of its members, patrons or guests with any sense or appreciation of its character and institutional history. I don't always get that from other perfectly friendly, competent local venues, whose essential repertory missions can be clouded by inaccessibility (MoMA), inconsistency (BAM) and/or the worst fucking seats in New York (Film Forum). Which isn't to suggest each is inherently aloof or misdirected; for better or worse, they just don't have the touch you get at the Film Society.

While rejecting that touch this week, Simon did not include my quote. He knew what he wanted; I wish I had as well. That said, I think I understand what Simon was resisting when he went after the "blue-hairs" who've come to be recognized as the Film Society's core constituency. In an interview with me last year -- his 20th spearheading the NYFF -- Film Society programming chief Richard Peña acknowledged ambivalence about unearthing new work for its own sake, a sentiment most tellingly revealed in his antipathy toward programming new media at the NYFF. It was hardly a disavowal of the content or its audience, but rather an expression of taste that Pena preceded with the caveat, "This is exactly why someone new should probably take over."

But, Peña concluded, "I think we'll probably continue in this classical format for the foreseeable future. I think being in New York will give us the privilege of doing that." The new Eleanor Bunin Film Center opening next year, meanwhile, will boost the Film Society's mandate to diversify outside its flagship's more classical strictures. There's no denying that being in New York will also give it the obligation of doing that, no less rigorously, no less remarkably.

Alas, it will remain on its West 65th Street perch, perhaps a ZIP Code too far for the T-shirt brigades and Simon Abrams's hatchet. Its respective relationships to directors and studios and its self-professed distance from advancing technologies and industry turbulence may yet remain too tempting a target for complacency's critics. But in the last American city where sophistication remains the coin of the realm, even the most jaded filmgoers know that the New York Film Festival is a gem you cherish wearing once a year. Burnish it and appreciate it -- without fail, and however flawed, it wants the same for you.

Posted at September 18, 2008 8:03 AM

Comments (13)

Simon Abrams: "He and many others are reluctant to risk their money on an unfamiliar film associated with Lincoln Center and are more likely to attend events at MoMA and Film Forum"

Film Forum? MOMA? Both are hardly free from retirees! The difference is the older audiences at the Film Society seem ecstatic, while movies at the other venues have an enhanced soundtrack: snoring (MOMA) and ironic tittering at anything "old" or odd (Film Forum.)

Welcome back to the arena, Stu!

The NYPress site seems to be down. Crashed by NYFF controversy, I'm sure.

Sigh. I cleared this up over at the House Next Door as well, but just to cover myself additionally: Simon never told me he was writing an attack-dog piece, and if I'd known, I wouldn't have said what I said. Especially having come back from an especially exhilarating day of NYFF programming.

Welcome back sir.

How dare NYC host a film festival that isn't specifically geared towards 20-nothings! The audacity! What an affront!

Also: "The Class Yawn." Had Simon already seen the film when he passed judgment? Just checking..

I especially love the flat-out lie in the first paragraph (one of about seven I was able to get through before becoming too annoyed to keep reading):

Um, I was most definitely in my '20s and sitting amongst young bloggers at the "Marie Antoinette" screening. And I'm sorry, but this year's amazing NYFF pick "Tony Manero" is far too demented/perverse for the blue-hairs -- which could also be said about "Serbis." Maybe when Abrams grows up a little, he'll learn that research and journalistic integrity aren't just for geysers. Shame on him for quoting Vadim out of context, too.

But beyond that, what's the fucking point in beating up on the only venue I'll ever see "Eli, Eli, Lema Sabachtani?" or "Ex-Drummer" (more films to scare away the Long Island dentists) on the big screen?!

I'm not going to lie: it wasn't until I was a senior in college did I realize that New York extended above 14th St.

My mind remains blown to this day.

But if NYFF ever had dancing girls and an open bar, I'd be in favor of it. Or an Oshima sidebar. I mean, either/or really. (and yes, welcome back stu.)

John, it doesn't. Anything over 14th Street is Canada. And I say this as a spewing hot spring; I mean a geezer.

As a 20-something cinephile, and rabid fan of the WRT's extensive, generous programming, this article is just embarrassing.

Make that, "...I find this article..." Also embarrassing: posting without proofing.

As per usual, Stu Vanairsdale would have you believe he's got the goods on Harvey, and as per usual, he proves to be as "inside" as the guy who reviewed movies for the high school paper that publishes bi-monthly.
The foundation of the MGM/Weinstein distrib deal was never about any money MGM would put into marketing (it was a negligible sum at best); it was always SOLELY about the pre-negotiated Showtime cable sale numbers. Cable sales for films ain't what they used to be, since HBO and Showtime started earning more subscriptions off original programming. And under Disney (as Miramax), those pre-sale numbers were always in place. But the Weinstein Co. didn't have a pre-negotiated cable deal when they opened shop, so they needed to get in bed with a company that did, or end up selling their films to HBO and Showtime for comparative peanuts. Enter MGM - with pre-negotiated slots for movies they'd never make. Deal was cooked up by Rick Sands when he was running MGM - the same Rick Sands who handled foreign sales for Harvey for years at Miramax. WC pays a small handling fee to MGM for theatrical, and in turn, WC gets a pre-negotiated cable sale that's worth much, much more than they could've gotten independently. Everyone wins. Assuming that MGM put in substantial marketing dollars into any Weinstein Company release is akin to assuming VanAssDale wrote an accurate article.
Then, this happened…
WC made their own pre-negotiated cable sale Showtime deal, negating the buffer that was MGM. Long story short, MGM didn't dump anything. Weinstein Co. started taking stuff back. How does one arrive at this (easily verifiable) conclusion? Do you really think that MGM wouldn't want to be involved with Zach and Miri Make a Porno? It stars the hottest comedy star on the planet, was produced for well under 30 mil, and is getting great reviews, most of which predict its box office success. Yeah - if I was running a down-and-out studio, I'd wanna get as far away from THAT one as I could. Defamer?
Can I have VanCluelessDale's job covering Weinstein Company? This guy stinks at it.
All of the information included in this article was easily found through Google searches - as recently as this morning, even…
Does VanDownByTheRiverDale not even have so much as a dial-up modem? And why won't you publish MY comment, Defamer? You publish woefully pithy, unfunny comments regularly; how about publishing a comment that actually has insight into VanHacksDale's fictionalized story instead of armchair industry analysis from this desperate, Nikki Finke wannabe.

@TU VanWannabe: Hi, Nikki! I'm sorry you weren't able to comment on Defamer; e-mail me for a commenter invite and I'd be happy to provide one. xo!

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