The Lens: Requiem for New Yorker Films
This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Feb. 24, 2009 - Amid all the weekend award pageantry came the sad news that New Yorker Films , perhaps the most prestigious distributor of arthouse films for the past 40 years, was no longer in business. According to reports in IndieWire , the company recently sent an e-mail to filmmakers stating that its assets were being seized due to the foreclosure of a loan taken by their parent company, Madstone Films, a New York-based production company.
New Yorker Films was created in 1965 when Dan Talbot, owner of a Manhattan revival house, decided to pick up the rights to Bertolucci's "Before the Revolution" and never looked back. Throughout the '70s and '80s, the New Yorker catalog was a virtual almanac of contemporary film from around the world, stalwartly supporting innovative filmmakers like Rivette, Straub, Akerman and Bresson and almost single-handedly introducing U.S. audiences to the New German Cinema. Though they only had a few break-out hits (Fassbinder's "The Marriage of Maria Braun," Malle's "My Dinner With Andre" and the eight-hour long documentary "Shoah"), New Yorker remained an active presence in distribution even as the arthouse audience dwindled and the non-theatrical markets disappeared.
Talbot, who sold the company to Madstone in 2002, continues to run the Lincoln Plaza Cinemas in New York.
Other distributors have come and gone, and others, like Milestone and Kino, continue to explore the international terrain that Talbot opened for them. But for someone who dabbled in non-theatrical exhibition in the late '70s and whose cinematic education owed a lot to college film screenings and long hours skimming through the New Yorker catalog, the sad news of New Yorker's passing seems like the end of an era, the last picture show for the pre-video era of courageous, exploratory film promotion.
The Lens is the blog of Cinema St. Louis, hosted by the Beacon.