Not Feeling It

I’m not the first one to say this, but scan the lineup for the 47th New York Film Festival and tell me where the big-jolt films are. Because all I see are a lot of Cannes and Toronto re-runs along with a few marginals and oddities.


The old Alice Tully Hall (i.e., before the big renovation).

I’m sorry but I’ve been visiting this festival off and on for a bit more than 30 years now — I remember what a charge it was in the Richard Roud days of late ’70s and early ’80s — and it’s hard to look at what’s happening today and go, “What happened?” Because the NYFF really used to matter.

I wasn’t around in the glory days of the ’60s and early ’70s, but even in my early New York days (i.e., mid-to-late Jimmy Carter era) it used to be a routine thing for at least four or five must-see major-director films to have their big debut there. You pretty much had to see the whole NYFF lineup back then. Anything that showed acquired a certain associative pedigree.

I can almost reach back and taste the excitement I got from catching first-anywhere screenings of Benardo Bertoclucci‘s 1900, Phillip Noyce‘s Newsfront, Robert Altman‘s A Wedding, Wim WendersThe American Friend, Jerzy Skolimowski‘s Moonlighting, Peter Weir‘s Picnic at Hanging Rock, Werner Herzog‘s Fitzcarraldo and Nosferatu, Pier Paolo Pasolini‘s Salo and Francois Truffaut‘s The Woman Next Door.

Nobody could afford to miss the NYFF in those days. It was vital and mesmerizing. I used to sit in the old Alice Tully Hall and get high from the wonderful projection and sound, and the stimulating q & a’s. By accident I met Truffaut at an early ’80s NYFF, and spoke to him for a few minutes — I’ll never forget that. I used to tell myself “this is it, the center of the cool-movie universe, the time of your life, doesn’t get any better,” etc. The black-tie parties were amazing. The non-black-tie parties were amazing. I met the greatest women at these parties and even got lucky once or twice. I remember how fascinating it seemed to watch Roud smoke those unfiltered cigarettes, one after another.

I guess I’m paying closer attention to the NYFF because I’m living here now and feeling closer to the action as it were. I know what’s been happening at the Film Society of Lincoln Center and I’m not trying to throw any stones at anyone. I’m just sorry that the NYFF current isn’t the same as it once was. I miss that special air. I would breathe that air again.

  • Uncle Larry

    The NYFF hasn’t mattered for at least 10 years, perhaps 15 or 20 – or however long it’s been since Richard Pena took over. It has nothing to do with the recent shake-up and downsizing of the staff. The festival is guided by Pena’s effete aesthetic, which seems to hold that a movie isn’t worth showing unless it bores you to tears. Oh sure, every year there are 4-5 movies that truly matter – but as you noted, Jeff, they invariably have premiered at Cannes or Toronto. The rest is chaff that only plays to the ultrahip – or the critics at the Village Voice (approx the same thing, yes?).

  • boltbucket

    What happened to the NYFF? Toronto. It’s that simple. Toronto grew and grew and eventually came to dwarf NYFF, simply because it happens a couple of weeks earlier and exhibits all the hot fall films. (As do Telluride and Venice.)

    Only the opening and closing night films at NYFF are required to be North American premieres. Which means by the time the bulk of the festival’s films are shown, most critics have already written about them extensively — if not at Cannes, then at Toronto.

  • btwnproductions

    I’ve attended faithfully (if sometimes skeptically) since 1994, and it’s pretty much a festival for cinephiles whose bible is Lincoln Center’s own Film Comment. That’s not necessarily a bad thing but it is insular, with the same anointed auteurs appearing year after year, whether or not their new film is of much interest. It’s content to be what it is, a no-market, no-awards, minimum-hoopla event pitched at an audience that I doubt changes much from year to year.

  • bill weber

    Is Claire Denis marginal or odd?

  • http://lipranzer.blogspot.com lipranzer

    My co-worker was asking if there were any films I’d be interested in seeing at the festival this year, and there was nothing. I mean, sure, I’ll see BROKEN EMBRACES, but that’s opening later this year, so I’m not missing anything. Admittedly, it’s mostly economics in my case – if I had a better paying job that didn’t require me to work weekends, I’d try to see a few more maybe.

  • Bob Violence

    I can’t believe people are so cavalierly overlooking “Trash Humpers”

  • Glenn Kenny

    Let’s not forget that the NYFF also fulfills the valuable function of giving fellows like Uncle Larry a stone to hone their resentments on.

  • Floyd Thursby

    As a longtime member of the Film Society of Lincoln Center, I’m entitled to FSLC’s monthly guide to the films shown at Water Reade, six copies of Film Comment, and early notice of events like NYFF. I have received nothing about the latter and regularly do not receive Film Comment or the Walter Reade info. I once attended 15-20 films a year at Walter Reade and 3-4 at NYFF. Haven’t been to the latter in three years and have been to Walter Reade once in the past year.

  • p.Vice

    I don’t think having idiots like Lisa Schwarzpussy on the selection committee is doing the festival any favors, either.

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    I thought “Schwartzpussy” was the working title for Austin Powers 4?

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