News and Commentary – Coming: The New York Film Festival

It’s time to mark up the calendar with plans to attend screenings at the Fifty-Fourth New York Film Festival, which will be held this year from September 30 to October 16.  The big tent, of course, dazzles with the glittering jewels of carefully selected new films, not yet in general release.  Always full of promise and anticipation, this year we’re most looking forward to Olivier Assayas’ Personal Shopper, which was lustily booed at the Cannes film festival (a few days later Assayas bagged that festival’s best director prize). The French director has had his share of misfires, but looking back over the last two decades, the time has come to recognize Assayas as the Neil Young of filmmakers—and that’s meant as high praise. 

But there’s much more to the festival than the main slate; it’s also programmed with revivals, retrospectives, events, and other most welcome hidden treasures and obscure curiosities.  This year’s revivals include The Battle of Algiers—the film that opened the 1967 festival.  (That festival closed with Far From Vietnam—the programmers then were a prescient few months ahead of the social, political and cultural conflicts that would erupt in 1968).  Other revivals this year include L’Argent (Robert Bresson’s final film), the still-essential and urgently relevant Harlan County USA, as well as the only film directed by Marlon Brando, One Eyed Jacks (Stanley Kubrick was originally set to direct a script that had its origins in a draft by Sam Peckinpah, but it can be hard for two control freaks to collaborate on a film; Brando owned the property, cut a big check, and sent Kubrick packing).  All that and three early short films from Jacques Rivette, one of which features a nineteen year old Jean-Luc Godard!  

The Festival’s retrospective is something of an homage to Mid Century Cinema favorite Bertrand Tavernier.  A screening of his latest, My Journey though French Cinema, is followed by a slate of films inspired by that documentary, including some of the lesser known films of celebrated directors such as Jacques Becker, Jean-Pierre Melville, Jean Renoir, Bresson (his first film, a nice touch of symmetry), and Tavernier himself—with the selection of his relatively unknown masterpiece Safe Conduct, another movie steeped in historical sensitivity.  The retrospective also highlights the career of one of Tavernier’s favorite American directors, Henry Hathaway, screening twelve of his films.  It is fair to say that Hathaway is a bit of an idiosyncratic choice (and we note with raised eyebrow that Hathaway did not place a film in Tavernier’s own Top Fifty.)  But we have a soft spot for The Dark Corner, a terrific noir film that brings together many of the principals from Laura, stars Lucille Ball in a dramatic role, and with location shooting that features 500 Fifth Avenue—hallowed ground here at Mid Century Cinema.