BAMcinématek celebrates the films of 1962 with the series 1962: New York Film Critics Circle, which kicks off tonight at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in New York City. The only year that the New York Film Critics Circle did not give out awards (due to a newspaper strike), 1962 “marked the highpoint of international, art-film exhibition as well as the beginning of the end of the old Hollywood system, all culminating in extraordinary but—up until now—overlooked riches,” according to the New York Press’ Armond White, chair of the New York Film Critics Circle and co-programmer of the series.
“In any given year, of course, the roster of movie openings is a matter of coincidence rather than cosmic design,” writes A.O. Scott in the New York Times. “But a large part of history is happenstance, and the ingenuity of the Academy retrospective is that it isolates precisely the kind of cultural change depicted in some of the movies themselves. In 1962 you encounter some giants of the old studio system in vigorous if melancholy twilight (a mood that resonates with the Brooklyn Academy’s brilliantly selected series, The Late Film, last spring). George Cukor tackles the sexual adventurism of suburbia in ‘The Chapman Report,’ while Howard Hawks hunts big game in ‘Hatari!’ And the decadence of Old Hollywood is both the subject and subtext of Robert Aldrich’s sublimely creepy ‘What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?'”
“The series runs the gamut from classics such as John Ford’s ‘The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance’ and François Truffaut’s overshown ‘Jules and Jim’ (introduced by my colleague Kyle Smith) to quirkier choices such as Robert Aldrich’s ‘What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?’ and Jerry Lewis’ ‘The Errand Boy,'” notes the New York Post’s Lou Lumenick. “An even less obvious pick is George Cukor’s infrequently revived and not-on-video ‘The Chapman Report,’ based on a pulpy best seller about a Kinsey-like sex survey.”
The New Yorker’s Richard Brody discusses one of the films screening as part of the series, John Ford’s “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.”
The L Magazine’s Benjamin Strong interviews Armond White about the series.
For more on the films of 1962, check out Stephen Farber’s 2002 essay in the New York Times.
Joe Baltake runs down his favorite films of 1962 at his blog, The Passionate Moviegoer.
Finally, indieWIRE interviewed Armond White to get his thoughts on the series and the role of the New York Film Critics Circle:
As Chairman of the New York Film Critics Circle you’ve reached out to a number of non-journalistic NYC film venues Lincoln Center, Museum of Modern Art and now Brooklyn Academy of Music for the group’s 75th Anniversary…
That’s because we in the Circle more or less comprise the city’s journalistic institutions. The Circle’s 31 members represent the established major daily, weekly, monthly and internet publications. The 75-year point seems like a good time to acknowledge our interdependence. It’s not like the Circle aligned with the studios and distributors. As critics, we are supposed to be separate and independent of them.
What’s the purpose of a retrospective as particularized as BAM’s focus on the year 1962?
To get people reacquainted with movie history, especially a year that is traditionally overlooked. 1962 saw the U.S. release of a great number of masterpieces. Because of a New York newspaper strike in ‘62, the Circle didn’t present any awards. Looking back, that wasn’t necessarily the wisest or necessary move. But now we’ve got this blank spot in the Circle’s history that I’ve always been interested to fill.
It’s common to talk about 1939 as a peak year for Hollywood but that conditions people to only think about movies in Hollywood terms. 1962 was special because it was an extraordinary year for international art films as well as then-independent film and Hollywood. It went from “Jules and Jim” and “Lawrence of Arabia” to Eli Landau’s independently produced Sidney Lumet film of Eugene O’Neill’s “Long Day’s Journey into Night” all the way to “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “The Manchurian Candidate” and “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance” and “Hatari.”
When did the significance of 1962 occur to you?
When I contributed to Sight and Sound magazine’s ten-year critics’ poll of all-time best films, I realized that three of my favorites came from 1962 (‘Jules,’ ‘Lawrence’ and Jacques Demy’s ‘Lola’). Doing scholarly research and nerdy research, I made a list all of all the good films I knew that belonged to that year and was amazed to discover a cascade of riches.
Where did the idea of having the series at BAM originate?
I think it’s part of BAM’s usual programming to offer inventive selections from all of film history. That’s also true of the city’s other film venues but BAM helps to spread the word about the Circle to the outer boroughs—it justifies Brooklyn’s claim on being savvy. And I have to say that curator Jake Perlin shares credit; his enthusiasm and film knowledge have helped make New York moviegoing worthwhile for dedicated fans and casual moviegoers. It’d be wonderful if programmers across the country recognized this 1962 treasure trove and followed BAM’s lead.
Why a retrospective and why now?
I fear our film cultural heritage is always in danger of being overlooked by the pressure to respond to new marketing and powerful, expensive hype. Not just Hollywood hype but the hype that also comes from the festival circuit. The films in this 1962 series have passed the test of time. Right now is always the right time to introduce people to great movies.
How does a critics group that usually just gives out awards impact on the state of film culture?
That points to the good thing about these collaborations with the city’s arts institutions. As a critics Circle we are always the first responders to new movies, but we also have a responsibility to film history—and to the Circle’s own history. We point out what matters in film culture. We are not gatekeepers. We are keepers of the flame.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Andy Lauer is also a part-time employee at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.