Movie Journal
J. Hoberman on movies and movie-related things

MOVIE JOURNAL: J. Hoberman on movies and movie-related things

Catching the “New Yawk, New Wave”

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The Climate of New York (Rudy Burckhardt)

Sometimes it’s better to show than tell—that is, to place movies in a context where they can explain themselves.

In the “New Yawk New Wave,” the three-week survey of independent movies made in NYC, that opened this weekend at Film Forum (and on which I brainstormed, gratis btw), the strategy  seems to have worked. The movies are in dialogue. These cine texts, any of which could have been titled either after Helen Levitt’s groundbreaking poetic verité, “In the Street” (showing January 21) or Rudy Burkhardt’s observational city symphony “The Climate of New York (January 22),  have inspired more texts. Thoughtful critical attention—from Melissa Andersen in the Village Voice, Richard Brody in the New Yorker, David Fear in Time Out New York, and Nic Rapold in the New York Times exceeded my expectations. One can only hope that there is an audience with time and patience to follow the show’s logic.

Little Fugitive

As noted by the critics, “New Yawk New Wave” has a thesis—namely that America’s equivalent of the nouvelle vague developed apart from, but also in dialogue with, what was going on in France. Both tendencies derive from Italian neo-realism (the original new wave) but Morris Engel’s 1953, Coney Island set indie “Little Fugitive” (which postscripts NYNW with a one week run, February 1-7) inspired François Truffaut as well as local filmmakers. Martin Scorsese’s 1973 “Mean Streets” which ends the show (screening January 30, 31) is the summarizing work (or “woik”). “Mean Streets” drew on nouvelle vague technique—and cinephilia—but, even more, on the key “New Yawk” feature, John Cassavetes’s “Shadows” (January 12) as well as assimilating underground outliers like Kenneth Anger’s stylized documentary “Scorpio Rising” (January 25).

Shadows

Like the Manhattan BMT, the line running from “Little Fugitive”’s Coney through “Shadows”’s Times Square to the Little Italy of the tendency’s most widely seen and commercial iteration has many branches. With its minimal narrative and maximal local color, Lionel Rogosin’s 1957 “On the Bowery” (January 11, 12) is a descendent of Engel film. So is “Shadows,” but Cassavetes’s concern with improvisation, spontaneity, and post Method theatricality prepared the world for Shirley Clarke’s 1960 “The Connection” (January 11, 12), Jack Garfein’s 1961 “Something Wild” (January 18, 19), the 1966 adaptation of then LeRoi Jones’s subway-set “Dutchman” (January 16, 17), and even Robert Kramer’s 1970 New Left psychodrama “Ice” (January 24, 25).

Tendencies merged. While the “New Yawk New Wave” was largely and even ostentatiously indifferent to studio movies, New York set noirs like “The Thief” (January 20-21) anticipated Stanley Kubrick’s 1955 “Killer’s Kiss” (January 18, 19), Alan Baron’s 1960 “Blast of Silence” (January 20, 21) and, in another way, Michael Roehmer’s 1968 gangster comedy “The Plot Against Harry” (January 27,28). Robert Frank and Alfred Leslie’s 1959 Ginsberg-Kerouac-Corso jam “Pull My Daisy” (January 12) inspired beat features like “The Connection,” Jonas Mekas’s 1962 “Guns of the Trees” (January 31), Peter Emmanuel Goldman’s 1965 “Echoes of Silence” (January 24) as well as subculture movies “Scorpio Rising,” Andy Warhol’s 1965 “My Hustler,” and the mode’s comic travesty, Paul Morrissey’s 1970 “Trash” (January 26). Although only a few of the filmmakers are black, many of the movies feature African American protagonists as varied as those of Clarke’s 1962 “The Cool World,” Herbert Danska’s 1966  “Sweet Love, Bitter” (January 13 and 14), and Robert Downey’s 1969 “Putney Swope” (January 23)

Nouvelle vague stylistics or aspirations inform Adolfas Mekas’s 1963 comedy “Hallelujah the Hills” (January 24), Downey’s 1966 “Chafed Elbows” (January 23), and Brian DePalma’s late ‘60s counterculture burlesques “Greetings” and “Hi Mom” (January 15) and, in a more somber key, Kramer’s “Ice.” While only the quasi underground Kuchar Brothers (selected work showing January 16) directed engaged Hollywood, cinematic self-reflexivity peaked around 1970 with Jim McBride’s “David Holtzman’s Diary” and Milton Moses Ginsberg’s Rip Torn vehicle “Coming Apart” (both showing January 29), William Greaves’s brilliant Central Park acting exercise “Symbiopsychotaxiplasm Take 1” (January 27, 28) and Norman Mailer’s 1970 “Maidstone.”

The mysterious 1971 verité “1 PM” (both featuring secret star Rip and showing on January 22). The latter, an abandoned film finished and released by Ricky Leacock and D.A. Pennebaker made even Jean-Luc Godard an honorary member of the New Yawk New Wave.

On the Bowery

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