Film Scouts Diaries

1996 New York Film Festival Diaries
Week 2: Desperately Seeking Wim III: Wim, Vigor, and Vitality

by Karen Jaehne

At the end of the second week of the New York Film Festival, I'm still looking for Wim Wenders. At the party for the press to meet the directors, somebody spread the rumor that he's on a train or boat or plan with Lars von Trier (the director of "Breaking the Waves," whose fear of travelling is legendary).

So I instead of star-gazing, I took a good look at the program - this year's smorgasbord. The New York Film Society will always hear carping about the selection of films, and this year is no different: too much Hollywood, not enough indies, where's the third world, why don't we have more French, Italian, Russian, Slovakian, Balkan, Asian, blah-blah-blah?

I myself once took issue with "New Directors/New Films" for "pork-barrel programming," to wit: there was an overt lack of consistency to that festival. You could easily guess which committee member had insisted on which film. The deals and swaps were all too apparent. That's not a problem with The New York Film Festival, although it too is programmed by a committee.

The Festival only has some 30 slots to fill, and it has to satisfy all its constituents, Francophiles and indie-freaks alike. And it's doing a rather good job, to be fair.

This year's program reminds me of what I call "zoo theory" - each kind in its own proper cage. There's are sufficient Asian films to reflect the quality of film in that part of the world. There are few enough Canadian films. There's the pro-forma French junk. Even an Austrian film that is, typically, too long (why must German-language films remind us of the length of the war?) There's the aging auteur Antonioni, and the unripe Nick Gomez. There's ballet and homosexuality. And sufficient independent films to reflect the range of talent from Richard Linklater's ultra-hip "Suburbia," with its lifestyle commentary, to Billy Bob Thornton's compellingly tragic "Sling Blade."

A small complaint - and not too many people will share this - is that I was at Cannes and much of the New York program is skimmed off the competition list there.

My main kvetch is about "Vertigo." Does anybody recall that only a decade ago a Universal Studios executive named Jim Katz pulled Hitchcock films out of the vault, spiffed them up and released them? I remember seeing "Vertigo" in the mid-80s at the Toronto Film Festival and sitting next to Rex Reed, who, when the last vertiginous shot had carried us into a psychological stratosphere, stood, brushed his hands and said of Kim Novak, "She always was a little too ripe." (Have a heart!)

Anyway, showing "Vertigo" as part of the New York Festival is pure sentimental slop. Instead, they could have made room for a nifty little movie like "Naked Acts". Or that other....oh, well, there I go being the noodge festival freak nobody likes.

Pace, Lincoln Center - you may have lost Wim, but you've got your vitality.

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