New York Film Festival offers a tantalizing slate of revivals and special screenings
With its unusually strong Main Slate selections, the 56th edition of the New York Film Festival promises to be the best in years. But don't overlook the festival's revivals, retrospectives and special events. This year's choices are especially wide-ranging and rewarding.
One restoration—The Memphis Belle: A Story of a Flying Fortress (Sept. 29 & 30)—is being featured in the festival's "Spotlight on Documentaries," where it is paired with a new title by Erik Nelson, The Cold Blue. Memphis Belle is a spectacular World War II documentary directed and largely shot by William Wyler, and released to theatres in 1944. Working with B-17 crews on the ground and during bombing missions had an enormous impact, both physically and emotionally, on Wyler. In The Cold Blue, Nelson took Wyler's 15 hours of original footage to fashion a new story, narrated through voiceovers from nine World War II veterans.
One of the most eagerly awaited revivals is Edgar G. Ulmer's Detour (Oct. 9), perhaps the archetypal film noir. Kent Jones, director of the festival, remembers seeing a copy when he worked in a video store in the 1980s "that looked like a grimy floor in a gas station bathroom. There was a restoration in the 1990s from a much better copy, but still not optimal as it was done in the days when restorations were completely photochemical. Because today labs can mix and match sources, correct scratches, etc., they were able to produce something vastly superior to what we saw before. Martin Scorsese said, 'You can see the eyes of the actors,' which makes all the difference in the world."
Jones also singles out The Red House and None Shall Escape (both Sept. 29). "I've always been partial to The Red House, directed by Delmer Daves, whose work I began to appreciate back in the 1990s. It's a rural Gothic film made in the late 1940s. There are isolated rural Gothic examples like Moonrise by Frank Borzage and The Night of the Hunter by Charles Laughton, but they are very few and far between. Plus Edward G. Robinson, the star and one of the producers, was responsible for bringing this to life as well."
Released in 1944, None Shall Escape was the American debut of Hungarian émigré André de Toth, perhaps best known for his dark westerns in the 1950s. "None Shall Escape is a Sony restoration," Jones says. "It was one of the first Hollywood films that directly addressed the Holocaust. This was a time when studios were still deleting Jewish names from credits for fear of losing the European market. There were films like Confessions of a Nazi Spy in 1939 and The Mortal Storm in 1940, but they were drawing attention to Nazism. The fact that None Shall Escape is about actual genocide makes it especially significant."
Enamorada (Sept. 30), one of the most popular Mexican films of its time, has received an astonishing restoration in part through George Harrison's widow Olivia Harrison and the Material World Charitable Foundation. Directed by Emilio Fernández, shot by Gabriel Figueroa and starring María Félix and Pedro Armendáriz, it may be the most beautiful film about an armed revolution ever made.
The revivals include Mikhail Kalatozov's groundbreaking I Am Cuba (Oct. 7), Alexei Guerman's study of Stalinist disorientation Khrustalyov, My Car! (Oct. 8), and Ettore Giannini's glamorous color musical Neapolitan Carousel (Sept. 29).
The Special Events program pairs The Other Side of the Wind (Sept, 29 and Oct. 10) by Orson Welles with They'll Love Me When I'm Dead (Sept. 29), a documentary by Morgan Neville. Welles spent years shooting and editing The Other Side of the Wind, leaving a few completed scenes and hours of workprint assemblies when he died. This Netflix release is not entirely the film Welles planned, but you can see what he was trying to do. Neville's documentary explains the obstacles and complications that weren't resolved until almost 50 years later.
On October 9, the Film Society is presenting the North American premiere of a live score for The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, Rex Ingram's 1921 epic, and the film that turned Rudolph Valentino into an international icon. The score was commissioned by the St. Patrick's Festival in Dublin.
This year's Retrospective program includes tributes to Dan Talbot and Pierre Rissient, two crucial but underappreciated film figures.
"The people who make the movies available to us are very important," Jones notes. "People like Richard Roud, Amos Vogel, Richard Peña and those from Janus Films, who really began ushering foreign film into the country. There were foreign films shown here before, of course, but there was a cinematic outburst in the sixties that was happening all over the world that these people helped bring to the U.S."
Born in the Bronx in 1926, Talbot was an exhibitor and programmer who opened his first revival movie theatre in 1960. He was a producer on Emile de Antonio's essential Joseph McCarthy documentary Point of Order! (1964), but it was as an exhibitor and later distributor that he had his greatest impact.
"He started a distribution company because there was a film that he loved, and nobody else was going to buy it," Jones says. "He said that if nobody else is going to buy it, I will, because I want to share it with people. That's what distribution should be."
That film, Bernardo Bertolucci's Before the Revolution (Oct. 11), was the initial release from New Yorker Films. Through his company, Talbot would help introduce R.W. Fassbinder to North America. The festival's tribute includes films directed by Jean-Luc Godard, Wim Wenders and Louis Malle.
"We're showing The Marriage of Maria Braun [Oct. 12] and My Dinner with André [Oct. 9] because they were his runaway hits," Jones says. "We're also showing a selection of films by Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet [Oct. 11] because he was so devoted to them even though he knew he was never going to make any money from them."
Pierre Rissient fell in love with movies as a teenager in Paris, when he began programming for the Mac Mahon, a local theatre. He was assistant director on Godard's Breathless, then worked as a publicist with future director Bertrand Tavernier.
"Pierre was someone who just fought passionately for movies," Jones says. "If nobody else wanted to show an Anthony Mann film he thought was worthy, he would make sure that as many people as possible saw it. Godard referred to him as someone who was practicing film criticism without being a critic. He was an advocate.
"Pierre recognized Clint Eastwood as a directorial talent right away. And when Play Misty for Me [Oct. 3] came out, that was not a widespread sentiment. For Pierre, all that mattered was that he was somebody who could make movies. He was devoted to Clint and Clint was devoted to him."
Jones points out that as an unofficial advisor at the Cannes Film Festival, Rissient was instrumental in bringing a generation of Asian filmmakers to worldwide attention. The tribute includes King Hu's A Touch of Zen (Oct. 2) and Mother India (Oct. 4) by Mehboob Khan.
Rissient was also passionate about Raoul Walsh, whose The Man I Love is screening October 4. Fritz Lang's The House by the River (Oct. 1) and Time Without Pity (Oct. 2), directed by Joseph Losey during his political exile in Great Britain, round out the tribute.
Festival titles like If Beale Street Could Talk or Roma may get more attention in the media, but the revivals, special events, tributes and retrospectives screened this year are every bit as deserving.