“Dan Talbot’s sale of the New Yorker Theatre and the demise of the Anthology Cinema at the Public Theatre are reflective of the changes and uncertainties in the New York independent film scene. And as New York goes, so goes the rest of the country. More productive than ever in terms of interesting work (both here and abroad), the independent film field still struggles in vain with problems of insufficient distribution, sporadic exhibition, and an almost complete absence of international circulation.”
Sound familiar? Well, even if the above passage comes from one of Amos Vogel’s first “independent film” columns in the May-June 1974 issue of Film Comment, the 32-year-old sentiment still rings true. I stumbled upon the magazine — which featured stories on Robert Altman, “The Exorcist,” Howard Hawks and Jules Feiffer, among others — while rummaging through a stack of old film magazines in my apartment. And it immediately caught my eye because of its contemporary relevance.
Sure, since 1974, “independent film” has now completely changed, evolved into a full-fledged industry and a key element of the Globowood movie system. But the “independent film” that Vogel wrote about — the fillms programmed at the Film Forum, the Millennium, the Quad, the Pacific Film Archives and his own programming at Cinema 16, the Annenberg Cinematheque and the fledgling New York Film Festival — continues to suffer from the same “insufficient distribution” and “sporadic exhibition” that it did in 1974 — the year that Vogel published his seminal book, “Film as a Subversive Art.”
While the corporate-side of indie film grows, the more genuine and subversive side of cinema faces a new era — pushed into the Internet margins, perhaps. The more things change, the more they stay the same.