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Ray Pride

By Ray Pride

New Yorker Films, 1963-2008

In college, a friend made a 16mm faux trailer for an apocryphal Straub-Huillet film starring Dean Martin, Jerry Lewis and Marlon Brando, entitled “The Patriarch, the Plebian and the Penis.” Their austere camera style was part of the send-up, as well as a critic’s quote: “A one-of-a-kind film… may be the best of its kind ever made.” (Which I used years later in film review.) The best joke, if the title didn’t have you rolling in the aisles right off, was the credit up top, with a logo familiar from all the scritch-scratchy 16mm prints of movies we’d rented for the university film societies, with one addendum: “Coming for Christmas from New Yorker Films.” I think we’d just watched Werner Herzog’s Even newyorkerlogo_5678.jpgDwarves Started Small when the notion came up. We were readily amused in those days and I think it was also around the time we’d witnessed a double feature of Ingmar Bergman’s Persona and Jerry Lewis’ Nutty Professor. The idea of a Christmas promo from the company still makes me smile, but not the news that its library had been used as collateral on a loan that went into default and the company was shut down today. And, among the modest honorifics that have ever come my way was the pleasure of being quoted on New Yorker DVDs from Tim Roth, Emir Kusturica and Claire Denis, even if the quotes are goofy. For Underground, it’s something about beer and women; for Beau Travail, it’s the ellipsis-heavy “A MASTERPIECE! Exquisite… Mysterious… Magical.” Missing only a second exclamation point! Presentation treatments and the seven-to-fifteen second fanfares that accompany them have always given me a little rush, on films old or new. But the silent white-on-blue New Yorker logo that accompanied movies like Wim Wenders’ American Friend is forever married in my memory to the low hiss and crackle of a well-distressed 16mm optical soundtrack. Here’s hoping some part of their legacy is salvaged from the bank’s vaults. In his new blog at the New Yorker, Richard Brody considers implications of the closure, including the fact that “unlike book publishers, whose wares are widely distributed to libraries (it’s bitterly sad when a publisher goes out of business, but the back catalogue is already out there), film distributors hold the prints of the movies they own rights to; those which are out on home video have a second life, but the 35mm prints are, as of now, locked up, and revival houses wanting to screen them are simply out of luck.” [More at the link.]

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