In paying tribute to producer and transatlantic experimental-film impresario David C. Stone, Anthology Film Archives honors the lifetime of new cinema that Stone, who died this past spring, championed. A cabbie’s son and Brooklyn native, Stone had been managing songwriters when, moonlighting as a proofreader at organ-of-the-avant-garde Film Culture magazine, he became involved with filmmakers Adolfas and Jonas Mekas, the latter a seminal Voice critic and one of Anthology’s founders.
Barbara Stone, partner in all of her husband’s endeavors since their 1957 marriage, recalls from London how issues of Film Culture would gradually swallow their 86th Street apartment as well as Stone’s entrée into playing producer. “He asked his uncle who was a dentist who put in $300, and I asked my dentist,” Barbara says.
That orthodontia-underwritten film was Adolfas Mekas’s Hallelujah the Hills (1963), a string of lunatic improvisations—a “zany romantic comedy,” per David—filmed rather beautifully in a snowbound Vermont, co-starring Peggy Steffans, later the wife of Long Island libertine Joe Sarno, three of whose films Stone also produced. (Anthology’s 13-feature Stone retrospective dovetails with its week-long wake for Adolfas, who also died this year.)
The Stones soon became involved in Newsreel, a leftist filmmaking collective, through which David tried his hand at directing, making a documentary of the Cuban revolution (Compañeras and Compañeros). The family relocated to London in 1971, with the idea of opening a Jewish delicatessen. Three years later, they were instead owners of a “quite run-down” cinema in Notting Hill, which became the Gate—and also became successful, as David brought a measure of showmanship to art-house distribution. (Barbara recalls bringing a then-unknown Arnold Schwarzenegger to London to pump Pumping Iron.)
The rest of Anthology’s program is made up of first-run hits from the Gate. There is Nagisa Oshima’s 1976 In the Realm of the Senses, which the Stones rallied to protect when it was denied a certificate by the Film Censor Board. (“It wasn’t a matter of cutting this or that,” says Barbara of Oshima’s death-driven piece of art-house hardcore. “You’d end up with a three-minute short.”) Advocacy was nothing new for the Stones: They organized “fundraising coffee and cake sessions” in New York to pay for the defense of Jack Smith’s 1963 Flaming Creatures.
Also here is Kenji Mizoguchi’s nonpareil The Life of Oharu, a two-and-a-half-hour black-and-white Japanese film made in 1951, which Barbara recalls running for weeks on end. “We really only bought films that we loved. . . . In those days, you could put on a tiny little film and nurture it and really build it. Today the whole distribution pattern is different,” she says. “Here they’ll open a small foreign film in 10 cinemas, and it’s gone in a week, whereas when we had a film of our own we could just play it and play it.”
Which brings us to the Stone-produced Film Portrait (1971), by Jerome Hill, in which the filmmaker, philanthropist, and Anthology funder uses family-album footage to reproduce his privileged boyhood in a turn-of-the-century St. Paul redolent of F. Scott Fitzgerald and Louis Tiffany—a world that seems just as distant as the film culture here being celebrated and mourned.