Lecture Hop: An Evening in Honor of Dan Talbot

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With legendary cineaste Dan Talbot contributing New Yorker Films’s paper archives to Columbia, Butler Library hosted a panel on Talbot and film culture. Bwog Silver Screen Correspondent Kate Hughes reports:

In honor of New Yorker Films’s written archive coming to Columbia, where it will now be housed, a group of cinephiles gathered in Butler 523 to discuss the importance of Dan Talbot to cinema in America and ruminate on film culture. The New Yorker Archive (no relation to the magazine) has been built up by Dan Talbot since 1965, when he began acquiring foreign films and distributing them in the United States. With Talbot often screening films at his New Yorker Theater first, his efforts helped many foreign films achieve recognition in the United States. 

The panel consisted of Hikari Hori, an associate research scholar in the East Asian Studies Department, Tom Kalin, Film School associate professor and director of Savage Grace and Swoon, and film professor/famous critic Andrew Sarris. The moderator was also a Film School professor: Richard Pena, who is also director of the New York Film Festival and the Film Society of Lincoln Center. Dan Talbot and his wife Toby Talbot were also present. All contributed to an wide-ranging discussion of the nature of film culture and provided personal stories of their own cinematic experiences.

The first to speak was Andrew Sarris, who has been a part of Columbia since he began his undergraduate career here in 1946 and got his masters around five years ago (“I haven’t been an ideal student here,” he joked, though perhaps the tuition counters would beg to differ).  And part of the reason that that master’s took so long, he said, was his obsession with going to the movies. He described his walks through the city stopping in at theaters and revival houses and seeing as many films as he could, and then becoming a film critic through a series of “accidents,” eventually writing film reviews for the Village Voice. 

Of course, no reminiscing about the good old days would be complete without bemoaning the current state of affairs. The discussion moved more starkly in this direction when speaking about the nature of film culture, with Tom Kalin’s comments about the way going to a movie used to be, when everyone waited for the Friday night movie, when theater going was a collective experience, that was bigger than ourselves. The kind of suspension of disbelief this entails is not something he thinks still exists today.

Some of the points were particularly well-taken, especially Kalin’s complaint about “complete-ism”: that there is an emphasis in today’s culture on seeing a movie or reading a book to check it off a list as opposed to experiencing it for its own sake. Another problem mentioned was the loss of the communal act of seeing a movie, with the rise of Netflix and the ability to watch movies almost anywhere. However, as the panelists ended up noting, there is still something to be said for these technologies, when so most old movies and foreign films are hard to find in theaters. To this end, films from the collection are going to be available on the Internet, a sort of compromise. Not many details were provided on this but the ability to witness the “trajectory of film culture” was brought up, which sounds enticing. As Hori pointed out, watching a foreign film is an easy way to begin learning about a new culture.

Perhaps most ironically, as one panelist joked, “if you haven’t seen a foreign film in New York in the past 40 years, maybe you should be watching the Yankee game.” In other words, communal viewing (and of course important associated acts like popcorn eating) is now strongest in sports, and maybe that’s where most of the younger generation were. Either way, your correspondent’s taking another look at those movie listings next weekend.

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1 Comment

  1. yo!  

    there's some environmental event going on on Low Plaza right now with music and free food.

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