Year in Film: Culture High

Young guns of the local rep scene

Year in Film: Culture High

There’s no stubbornness quite like New York City’s. Eulogize a scene only to watch another one rise. Expect old institutions to die and instead they thrive. You’d count on Anthology Film Archives, with its ’60s radicalist roots and creaky old schoolhouse situated on prime Second Avenue and 2nd Street real estate, to go the way of Mars Bar, its recently shuttered spiritual sister a block south. But instead, like resilient film repertory houses throughout the city, it still stands. In fact, attendance at Anthology has gone up by 35 percent in the past two years—years in which other media have effectively collapsed. “It’s really a down time in New York, and has been for a number of years, but cinema culture is at a high,” says Andrew Lampert, Anthology’s archivist. “People are doing things with nothing. There’s more going on than ever before.”

Anthology is not the only arthouse to defy the economy, Netflix, and a plague of pocket video machines. There are seemingly as many rep screens and series as ever before, and more are on the way, with the Film Society at Lincoln Center and the Museum of the Moving Image opening ambitious theaters in 2011. Not only do New Yorkers continue to venture out of their apartments to see everything from Bernardo Bertolucci retros to Labyrinth sing-alongs and vintage gay porn, but they trek farther and farther afield to do so; from venerable institutions like Film Forum to more recently established fixtures like the IFC Center, from Midtown museums to small screens in Harlem (Maysles Cinema), Williamsburg (UnionDocs), Dumbo (reRun Gastropub Theater), and beyond. Nothing embodied New York’s rippling cinephilia better than Light Industry, an eclectic, three-year-old weekly film series that spent the tail end of 2010 “couch-surfing” at kindred establishments all over town while scouting for a new space. Unlike rep heydays in the 1960s and ’70s, today’s arthouses aren’t clustered in the Village or Upper West Side. “The cultural geography of the city has evolved,” says Thomas Beard, Light Industry’s co-founder and director. “There’s no center of gravity.”

There might not be a center, but there’s always a median, and at some venues the core audience is getting younger. Brooklyn Academy of Music’s BAMcinématek says that 50 percent of its audience is under 35, while a whopping 75 percent is under 45. Not every venue is so well-positioned for today’s post-collegiate, outer borough manifest destiny (“If you show an old Italian or French movie on a weekend afternoon you can almost sell out the theater, but everybody there is over 50, practically,” says Lincoln Center’s Scott Foundas), but it’s safe to say this is no longer your uptown uncle’s picture show.

Clockwise from left: Christina Cacioppo, Ed Halter, Jed Rapfogel, Florence Almozini, Jake Perlin, Thomas Beard, Harris Dew, Scott Foundas, Livia Bloom
Clockwise from left: Christina Cacioppo, Ed Halter, Jed Rapfogel, Florence Almozini, Jake Perlin, Thomas Beard, Harris Dew, Scott Foundas, Livia Bloom

The over/under is even more drastic for another crucial demographic: rep cinema programmers. As the influential and iconoclastic Bruce Goldstein continues to hit cinema-lovers’ sweet spots at Film Forum, where he’s been for nearly 25 years, a next wave of curators is trying out new tricks at most every other institution. Younger programmers are helping to re-energize New York’s cinemania with inventive programs like BAM’s mini-retros for fledgling filmmakers (Brad & So, the Safdie brothers), or Anthology’s playful and pointed “Anti-Biopic” series. But today’s programming challenges are as eternal as they are contemporary. What to screen and how? How to make screenings into a special event? Is film projection what defines rep cinema, or is it the gathering of kindred spirits in a dark room, be they illuminated by 35mm or Blu-ray? Addressing these questions and more, the Voice met with a selection of the city’s programmers to take stock of this dynamic moment in the local repertory scene.

SELECTION COMMITTEE

Andrew Lampert, archivist, Anthology Film Archives: Film programming has always been, a total act of passion, because it’s a guaranteed money loser, a guaranteed time loser. It’s borne of a compulsion.

Jake Perlin, associate curator, BAMcinématek: We want to be able to point people in the direction of the films that we think are significant, that they may not know about. But we also don’t want to say that a certain film [by a director] isn’t worth showing because we happen to not like it. We’re not going to cut down a career in that way.

Bruce Goldstein, director of repertory programming, Film Forum: At first, I felt I had to show everything in a director retro—like Billy Wilder’s films. But they’re not all good. And it doesn’t do his reputation any good to show them all. That’s curating. If you’re just showing everything, it’s not curating.

Florence Almozini, program director, BAMcinématek: I don’t want to wait 10, 20 films to make a big career retrospective. I think it’s more encouraging to focus on someone who’s younger in his career, to develop a relationship with the filmmaker and take a chance on someone who hasn’t done so much yet.

Perlin: There’s a new canon. There are films that, since BAMcinématek opened in 1999, have come out in first run that are now canonical works. By Olivier Assayas, Wong Kar-wai, Claire Denis. Every time we show [Jim Jarmusch’s] Dead Man—which was DOA when it was released—we get a huge audience. Many of these people were maybe nine years old when it came out, and now it’s an accepted masterpiece of ’90s cinema. We can also get a full house for Tango and Cash.

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