Did you hear about the smash art-house hit, showing just two middle-aged men sitting around and talking continously about the nature of life, art and reality for 110 minutes straight? With box-office sales of more than $5 million, it’s the biggest success of… 1981-1982. Man, those were the days, when a film like “My Dinner with Andre” along with such other improbabe hits as Wayne Wang’s “Chan is Missing,” Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s “The Marriage of Maria Braun” and Claude Lanzmann’s “Shoah” could actually draw significant audiences. Have you seen these movies? The fact that they were successful shows just how astonishingly different our current cultural and indie-film-industry landscape is today.
For Variety (“Talbot paved way for indie industry“), I recently met with Dan Talbot, the venerable film maven responsible for such releases, in the wake of the demise of his company New Yorker Films. Reflecting back, Talbot seemed a bit surprised about some of his breakout accomplishments. As he told me, “Who would have ever thought a 9 and ¾ hour documentary about the Holocaust would be successful?” But it was–perhaps as a result of Talbot’s sharp taste and uncanny ability to tap into the interests of sophisticated audiences, or simply the case that there weren’t a whole lot of other people doing it.
Today, Talbot remains modest: “I’ve always maintained that the real distributor of a film is the film itself. There is something inside successful films that’s not definable that makes them work. The role of a distributor, seems to me, is to get behind the film and not get in front of it and fuck it up.”
Now that New Yorker is no more, Talbot doesn’t seem particularly fazed; he still runs the flagship Gotham art-house, Lincoln Plaza Cinemas, a job he seems more comfortable with, anyway. And his kids, he told me, weren’t particularly interested in carrying on the family business. He does have a couple regrets, one that he wasn’t able to acquire and release Dominique Benicheti’s 1972 film “My Cousin Jules,” about an elderly farming couple shot on 35mm in stereophonic sound, which made it impossible at the time to release in art-house venues–“one of the greatest films I’ve ever seen,” he says.
As for the fate of the prestigious New Yorker Films video library, which is under the temporary stewardship of Technicolor Labs, the last I heard is that the films up for grabs didn’t actually include the much-coveted Herzog, Godard and Sembene films that buyers were hoping for, hence everything is still in limbo as interested parties parse out which films are available and which films aren’t. If anyone knows more, perhaps they can leave a comment.