Last night, a sold-out crowd flooded the Brooklyn Academy of Music for a screening of Robert Bresson’s “Au Hasard Balthasar” in a glorious show of support for art-house moviegoing (when was the last time a Bresson film sold out?). To be fair, ticketholders weren’t just there to witness Bresson’s sublime tale of an innocent donkey doomed to suffer: Former Village Voice writers, contributors and worshippers attended the event to see the panel afterwards hosted by Dennis Lim, with critics Andrew Sarris, J. Hoberman and Jonas Mekas (who never showed up, unfortunately) for a bittersweet look back at the Voice’s own contribution to film culture — now, sadly, likewise doomed.
In an essay titled “A History of Film Criticism at the Village Voice,” published in The Village Voice Film Guide: 50 Years of Movies from Classics to Cult Hits, which was unveiled last night, J. Hoberman writes, “Not only did the Voice give Chantal Akerman’s Jeanne Dielman double coverage when the movie had its U.S. opening at Film Forum but it made that event its cover story—a tribute to the passionate advocacy of film editor Karen Durbin.” Ah, those were the days. When was the last time the Voice had a feature story about a film, let alone an experimental feminist one?
While the official BAM panel gave way to Sarris offering charming stories of Gilles Pontocorvo, Andre Bazin, the relative merits of Bresson, and his three favorite movies to this day (Ugetsu, The Rules of the Game, The Earrings of Madame De…), the after-panel reception — filled with Voice film contributors, past and present — had the air of a class reunion, or more to the point, a gathering of downsized employees. If the old Voice is now, indubitably, a relic of bygone days (even though Hoberman remains safely esconced there for as long as he wants to be), the “Voice Film Guide” offers a lasting purview of what it once was, with its impassioned reviews of everything from Hoberman’s informational, analytical exploration of “Andrei Rublev” to Mekas’s personal, poetic exaltation of “Zero for Conduit.”