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Program director (and then just director) of the New York Film Festival from 1963 through 1987, Richard Roud was one of the most influential cine-tastemakers to ever give New York the benefit of his sensibility—an early, loyal champion of such once-outré artists as Robert Bresson, Jean-Luc Godard, Jacques Rivette, Agnès Varda, Sergei Paradjanov, Duan Makavejev, and R.W. Fassbinder, to name but a few.
Roud died 20 years ago next month; the Walter Reade marks the anniversary this Friday, January 23, with a double feature pairing two disparate Roud favorites: Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet’s voluptuously minimalist Chronicle of Anna Magdalena Bach (first shown as part of the same mind-blowing 1968 NYFF that brought Bresson’s Mouchette, Rivette’s The Nun, Godard’s Two or Three Things I Know About Her and Week End, John Cassavetes’s Faces, Milos Forman’s The Firemen’s Ball, Max Ophüls’s Lola Montès, and Signs of Life, the first feature by a young German filmmaker named Werner Herzog), and Ophüls’s sophisticated whirligig La Ronde, a 1951 film which had its uncut U.S. premiere as part of the ’69 NYFF. I first saw both at NYFF press screenings (as an undergraduate film enthusiast brashly representing a nonexistent film magazine) and was knocked out by the rigorous purity of the Straub-Huillet film (was this Bresson with music?) and the suavely self-conscious artifice (now a just bit creaky) of Ophüls’s bittersweet sex carousel.
It was all cinema to Roud. Back then, his frequent partner in audience education was Dan Talbot, whose New Yorker Films seemed to distribute half the movies that the New York Film Festival premiered. Coincidentally, this month, New Yorker Video is releasing Straub and Huillet’s Moses and Aaron on DVD—this uncompromisingly austere adaptation of the Schoenberg opera was one of the toughest inclusions of the 1975 NYFF. (Its only rival: Marguerite Duras’s sublime India Song.) In a further coincidence, the Walter Reade is showing the movie Sunday, January 25, as part of the series “Cinematic Opera/Operatic Cinema.”
Never shown by the New York Film Festival, Chantal Akerman’s 1975 Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles is, with the possible exception of Andrei Tarkovsky’s Mirror, the most significant European film missed by the NYFF during the Roud era—additionally amazing in that it is, among other things, a remarkable vehicle for the art-house goddess Delphine Seyrig. A structuralist-materialist-feminist monument in transfigured time that spends three and a half hours contemplating three days in the life of a widowed housewife with astonishingly regular habits, this epochal movie would not get a sustained New York showing until Film Forum opened it in early 1983. Akerman’s precocious masterpiece, made when she was all of 25, returns there in a new print, January 23 to 29, its first local 35mm showing since the original run. J. Hoberman