Monday, July 27, 2009

Film Forum

Susan Ray, the widow of the late Nicholas Ray, the film director who died some years ago and is best known for making the film “A Rebel Without a Cause,” spoke at Film Forum the other night to introduce a new 35mm print of Ray’s semi-classic 1950 Humphrey Bogart film, “A Lonely Place.” I say semi-classic, because I really don’t think it’s all that good, but what fascinated me is the power Ms. Ray granted to Film Forum as an institution. You see, Film Forum is by far the premier site in New York City for classic motion pictures. No theatre offers more variety or a finer, more satisfying collection of repertory films to choose from, pretty much all year round. I have a number of memberships to New York museums and theatres, but there are only two that I can’t imagine ever giving up. One is an annual membership to the Museum of Modern Art, which entitles you, without an entrance fee, to view their amazing art collection, and to feast on the second best program of classic films in New York. The other is, of course, Film Forum’s annual membership, which admits you to all their films (and they show some really good contemporary ones, too) for half price.

So how did Susan Ray acknowledge the power of Film Forum? Simply by thanking Bruce Goldstein so profusely, Film Forum’s famous retrospective programmer, for deciding to single out “In a Lonely Place.” All by itself, Film Forum’s decision to run this and other Ray films was regarded by Ms. Ray as an artistic approbation of such importance that it automatically gave her husband’s work an upward nudge in the annals of film history. While, I, myself, didn’t agree with awarding Nicholas Ray with such acclaim, I was still excited to be witnessing a shift in critical opinion coaxed along by one of my favorite New York cultural institutions. I couldn’t help wondering if this was how it felt to be present in New York in the early 1960s when the city’s countless repertory film houses, now mostly gone, experienced a critical reawakening, provoked by the French New Wave, and fueling a new appreciation of movies as an art form that led to the public certification of such auteurs as Welles, Hawks, Keaton, and Hitchcock. Being there in the presence of such shifts lent the lovely illusion that somehow I was a part of it all, even partially responsible. Just one of many tiny thrills, even when hollow and artificial, that New York can provide.

1 comment:

  1. The power to bestow legitimacy....this is a gift analogous to the Midas touch. To wield it requires great wisdom and is still fraught with risk. Those who would endorse this power in others should get more than 'a hollow, empty and artificial' thrill in return.