A Biggie Bites the Dust

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

A Biggie Bites the Dust

Not a lot of people noticed, but an era just ended... New Yorker Films has ceased operations.

Half-a-century ago, Dan Talbot was a personal hero of mine... he operated, on Broadway between 88th and 89th, the New Yorker Theater1, a revival house with programming almost as eclectic as the Thalia, seven blocks uptown and around the corner on 95th Street.

The latter, a mildly claustrophobia-inducing 292-seat movie house, would, from May through October, have a different double-feature each day of foreign and inde­pendent domestic films... remember, this was decades before the ubiquity of content-hungry cable channels, DVDs or even VHS/BetaMax casettes... this type of cel­luloid fare was only available "at the movies!"

Talbot's New Yorker, on the other hand, was spacious, and while it didn't have a fresh twin-bill of off-beat movies every day, some of its programming was esoteria ex­tremis, with Monday Midnight 16mm screenings of works (often in progress) by Stan Brakhage, Jack Smith, Hollis Frampton and Andy Warhol... before he discovered there was big bucks in soup cans!

During the "camp craze" in the mid-'60s, Talbot would book some of the memorable chapter-plays of the '30s and '40s, Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers, Batman and Superman.

Around the corner on a second floor, was the affiliated bookstore which had the best collection of movie books anywhere! I could spend hours browsing in there.

(The only one I ever found which ever surpassed it was in the reconstructed "city" beneath Seattle! I spent two full days in it back in October '88.)

In '65, necessity required that Talbot start his inde­pendent distribution enterprise as an outgrowth of the movie house.

Quite simply, he needed "product," so he began import­ing movies on his own. New Yorker Films was soon acknowl­edged to be "the preeminent distributor of foreign art films in the United States from the mid-1960s really into the '80s.2"

The provider of much of the "on-season" film fare at The Hampton Arts from the mid-'60s 'til the unlikely "miracle of Murder on the Orient Express" over Christmas 1974, was Talbot's New Yorker Films.

And in the '80s when the New Yorker closed its doors... the wrecking ball was waiting in the wings... Talbot moved his exhibition venue 25 blocks south to Lincoln Plaza Cinemas where the multiple-screens allow for the eclectic as well as the more mainstream.

And now the distribution company is closed, and a rela­tively short but supremely influential era is ended.

  1. The Marshall McLuhan-meeting scene in Woody Allen's Annie Hall was film in the lobby of the New Yorker.
  2. Village Voice film critic Jim Hoberman in The New York Times' own paean to Talbot and that era.


1. Frank Wheeler said...

I remember that one very well. Saw some good flicks there when I was in college in the mid-'70s.

Didn't know the owner imported Foreign films as well.

If there's any justice Dan Talbot should receive some Presidential Medal or citation for his contribution to the arts. But then so too should Mark Laffe and the late Ralph Donnelly for their counter-culture programming at the Mini-Cinema in Uniondale, about which I could write for weeks! (The short-term memory may be shot, but the long-term's still there!)

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