No Popcorn

The Second New York Film Festival at Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts

There is a scene in Luis Bunuel’s early surrealist movie, L’Age d’Or—a violent spoof of society and religion that was recently shown at the Second New York Film Festival as a breather between the art films—that seems to me to capture admirably the tone of the Festival itself. It shows a group of officials gathering together along a desolate beach for the purpose of laying the foundations of a great city. The ceremony is interrupted for a few moments by a man intent on raping a woman in the mud—but when the culprit is apprehended and led away, the solemnities continue. A Mayor makes a longwinded commemorative speech. A cornerstone is laid. And upon it is placed a substance which could be mortar, but which, on closer inspection, turns out to be manure.

The implications of this scene seem to have been lost on the Festival officials who, after having prepared their own foundations with solemn speeches and cultural fanfare, laid on a bit of manure themselves. Out of twenty-six full-length films that were shown in the course of two weeks, perhaps eight were worth a second thought, and only two or three of these commanded any serious attention. Now this is a pretty depressing average, but it is probably unfair to conclude that the Festival was solely responsible for the low quality of the fare—that is, if you accept its principle of selection. Given the type of “important” film considered, I suppose these were the best obtainable: and I am even willing to admit that, under other circumstances, I might have enjoyed the bad ones more than I actually did. What I am really complaining about, I suppose, is the whole concept of Festival high seriousness, which turns moviegoing into an official reflex, and raises expectations that can only very rarely be satisfied. Whatever these affairs may be like in Europe, the Lincoln Center Film Festival in New York is just another brand of our instant culture. And it threatens to make the movies as boring, as pretentious, and as uncomfortable as the New York theater.

Let me admit my prejudices at the outset. I am a passionate moviegoer, and I am willing to concede that films can be the “high art” that the Festival directors claim. But I have to confess that one of the great attractions that the movies offer me is the opportunity for pure relaxation. Think how pleasing it is to be able to stretch your length over three or four seats without putting a shoe in someone’s back, how satisfying to talk back to a movie without arousing the spleen of some pious spectator and without insulting the actors. At Philharmonic Hall, on the other hand, hundreds of fantical patrons of the art of film, some of them in evening dress, huddle together in a hushed silence, holding a program heavier than the Playbill, and turning in rage on anyone who dares to cough before the picture ends. With nothing to contemplate but the…

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