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December 14, 1961, Vol. VII, No. 8
Amos Vogel of Cinema 16
By J.R. Goddard
Feelings about Cinema 16 are wide in range. Ask any of the film society’s thousands of past or present members and opinions will vary from “Man, what a drag!” to “My best Sunday hangover cure” to “The only hope of the serious American film-maker.”
Amos Vogel, Cinema 16’s creator, manager, and guiding projection light, likes it that way. “The more I stir audiences up, the happier I am,” he says.
Vogel, whose society started its 15th year this fall, works in a dingy old office on Lexington Avenue surrounded by nostalgic, hand-colored Ben Turpin and Joan Crawford movie posters. Speaking in a precise, moderated voice which barely hints of his Austrian youth, he continued in an interview last week” “I don’t like the bland, soporific, dehumanized kind of movie we get in this country today. I want to see controversial, exciting stuff – avant-garde, psychological, political films, eve the proud ornateness of the old classics. That’s what I try to provide in the Cinema 16 programs.”
Vogel, who lives with his family in Greenwich Village just east of Washington Square, went on to explain when and why his organization was formed. “I was one of the few lucky ones to escape the Nazis in Vienna in 1939. But I did not find in America the world I had expected. In Vienna they had signs reading ‘No Dogs or Jews.’ Down in Georgia where I went to school the signs read ‘No Dogs or Negroes.’ This was deeply shocking to me.”
But American life fascinated Vogel. He continued his studies in the fields of politics, sociology, and world affairs. At the same time he began seeing a flock of fine psychological, religious, and documentary films shown in schools or by private organizations which were not available to the “non-organized public.” He decided it was vitally important that Americans be exposed to their challenging, often unorthodox content.
“I took over the Provincetown Playhouse over for one showing, in 1947,” he recalled. “So many people came, we had to repeat it 16 times.” Thus Cinema 16 — named for its 16-millimeter films — was born…
Vogel can quickly list the most popular or controversial films he’s shown: “Eva Wants to Sleep,” a Polish satire; Jean Renoir’s “Rules of the Game” (he spoke at the screening); “Love in the City,” an omnibus by famed Italian directors; Allan Resnais’ concentration camp film “Night and the Fog”; or the recent, highly publicized “Shadows” and “Pull My Daisy.”
[Each weekday morning, we post an excerpt from another issue of the Voice, going in order from our oldest archives. Visit our Clip Job archive page to see excerpts back to 1956.]