Jesse James may be dead, but his legend lives on, and thanks to a devoted fan, the 2007 film about his life and death is getting a theatrical resurrection as well. New York’s Museum of the Moving Image announced today that director Andrew Dominik will attend a special screening of The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford on Dec. 7. (Tickets go on sale to the public at noon Oct. 20; museum members will be able to buy earlier.) With its gorgeous widescreen photography, Assassination is a natural fit for the museum’s ongoing “See It Big!” series. But the screening also marks the maiden effort of No Eulogies, a formal effort to establish the film as “as a classic and a staple of repertory cinema.”
No Eulogies began with Jamieson McGonigle, a 28-year-old film editor from Sunnyside, Queens who saw Assassination on opening night at Manhattan’s Angelika Theater. “I was completely entranced,” he recalls. “It was just one of those films where I knew the minute I walked out that it was a classic, an all-timer, or whatever you’d want to call it. It was so clearly heads above everything else that was out, or had been out in recent memory.”
Although Assassination got relatively strong reviews, it was clear that Warner Brothers didn’t know what to do with a two hour and forty minute art Western, even if it did star Brad Pitt, so it limped into theaters with little fanfare and ended up taking in less than $4 million at the U.S. box office (as against its $30 million budget). But for McGonigle, and a group of like-minded fans including HitFix’s Kristopher Tapley, The Film Stage’s Jordan Raup, and McGonigle’s friend, Anders Nelson, that wasn’t nearly good enough.
It’s an especially personal crusade for McGonigle, who reached out to Dominik through friends and initially offered to bundle an Assassination screening in with his wedding, which McGonigle is renting the museum out for in January. The timing didn’t match up, but by then, McGonigle had gotten the museum’s chief curator, David Schwartz, interested as well. “David was immediately receptive to the idea of doing this screening on our very first phone call,” McGonigle recalls. “I had a 20 minute pitch ready and he said yes in five.”
“I knew right away it was a winner of an idea,” Schwartz said via email. “With its great photography by Roger Deakins, its contemplative style and pacing, and its atmospheric quality, it is clearly one of those movies that truly can’t be appreciated unless it’s seen in a movie theater. It’s also a movie that is steeped in movie history; it’s more of a reflection on the Western than an actual Western.” Although 35mm diehards may balk at the fact that the museum is showing Assassination via DCP, Schwartz says that Dominik actually prefers the digital version’s color timing to that of the original film prints.
For the moment, No Eulogies, whose name comes from a line in the film, is focused on the New York screening, but McGonigle hopes to turn the effort into a bonafide movement, and says the initial response has been overwhelming.
“Today’s reaction has been amazing. People have already reached out from all over the country asking me to help bring a screening to their city. People have been very interactive with us so far on social media which is exactly what I hoped for. I couldn’t be happier with the response.”