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Genre. You want genre? Karen Cooper’s dearly beloved genre is The Documentary Film. She books them like gangbusters.
Bruce Goldstein’s is everything else.
Karen Cooper’s line of work is running a movie theater with a difference, an intelligence, a soul. It is called Film Forum, and she’s been doing it since 1972 — 40 years now — first on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, then down on Vandam Street, then farther down, to two screens on Watts Street, and finally — 1990 to the present — on three screens at 209 West Houston Street, between Sixth Avenue and Varick Street (Seventh Avenue South).
Karen was going crazy, trying every day to fill with work of some merit just those two screens down on Watts Street, when Bruce Goldstein came aboard — was recruited by her — as a publicity man, not a programmer, in 1986.
“Watts Street,” said a bemused Bruce. “Like an Abbott and Costello routine. ‘Watts Street.’ ‘What Street?’ ‘Not What Street.Watts Street.’ Nobody could ever find Watts Street.”
But everybody did, driven by hunger for the quality movies Karen and Bruce were projecting onto those screens.
“I was very good at publicity,” said the Bruce Goldstein of all these years later. “Had a little P.R. firm named Falco & Goldstein after Sidney Falco, the sleazy young P.R. man played by Tony Curtis in ‘Sweet Smell of Success.’ ”
Tony Curtis, as it happens, is whispering into the ear of Burt Lancaster cum Walter Winchell on the cover of a sparkling booklet Film Forum has just printed up to mark Bruce Goldstein’s 25th year as programmer there.
“In the late fall of 1986,” said Cooper, “we were looking [on Watts Street] for someone to program that other screen. I didn’t know Bruce from a hole in the wall, but he had a wonderful reputation as a publicist.
“We tried out the relationship — and it turned out to be a great meeting of the minds. What Bruce does is laborious and costly, but he’s so savvy about the public interest in separate genres, it would be foolhardy to second-guess him.”
“To me,” said Bruce, “a lot of programming is publicity. It’s the name of the game, isn’t it? The old ballyhoo… .”
For all that, he had done some very respectable programming around town — at the Thalia (Broadway and 95th Street), the New Yorker (Broadway and 88th Street), the Carnegie Hall Cinema, the Bleecker Street Cinema, and other; such now-long-defunct revival houses in which suburb-spawned Bruce of Hicksville, Long Island, had spent his teens — when in early 1987 he set up his very first Film Forum series, or block of screenings, or programs, or whatever you want to call it — culled from the peculiar onetime phenomenon called Cinemascope.
“Cinemascope — Bigger Than Life!” said P.R. man and film historian Bruce. “In those days, when they couldn’t fit it all on one video screen, they’d move it to one side or the other, so on television you only saw like one-third of the scene at any one moment. ‘Panning and scanning,’ they called it. To me, a worse crime than colorizing.”
In those earliest days, Bruce “decided to do what you can’t do at home” — dig up large-screen-plus-special-eyeglasses 3D movies (a curiosity revisited in present time by Martin Scorsese with “Hugo”), or bring back William Castle and Vincent Price’s “Tingler’ movies with shock effects (as this reviewer well remembers) wired to the spectator’s seat.
“All sorts of gimmicks that were bringing lots of people into the theater,” Goldstein recalled.
Well, all that was a quarter-century ago, a 25th-year anniversary now being celebrated at Film Forum in conjunction with the 75th anniversary of Jean Renoir’s 1937 World War I masterpiece “Grand Illusion” (Jean Gabin, Erich von Stroheim, Marcel Dalio, Pierre Fresnay). Film Forum marks the double occasion with a two-week run (May 11 – 24) of “Grand Illusion” in a brand-new, restored, 35-mm print, thanks to Bruce Goldstein’s motion-picture salvage and rehab wing, Rialto Films.
Want to see a wide-ranging (you know, home on the range-ing) selection of best horse operas of the past? Film Forum will get around to it. And again. And again.
Fifty best private-eye films? Film Forum. And again.
Hard-boiled newspaper flicks? “Hello, Sugar, give me rewrite!” Film Forum of course.
Before the Code — the flaming era of bad girls and horny guys before the Legion of Decency emasculated Hollywood? Where else? Film Forum.
A lot of the “Before the Code” prints were lent to Bruce and Film Forum by William K. Everson (1929-1996), the British-born film historian, author, critic, archivist and teacher whose lectures at The New School were regularly attended by Bruce.
“He had a huge apartment on the West Side,” Bruce remembered. “After he died his wife opened the door to a secret bathroom. It was filled top to bottom with film prints.”
Want to catch up with all the films of — well, almost all — Preston Sturges?
Carol Reed, and everything you ever wanted to know about “The Third Man”?
Vittorio De Sica?
Francis Ford Coppola?
Dorothy and Lillian Gish?
“Keaton,” said Bruce in a low outraged growl. “Greatest filmmaker ever born.” His other top-of-the-lists: “Chaplin. Harold Lloyd. Leo McCarey. Lubitsch. Anything by Lubitsch.”
With what might be described as a shamefaced smile: “I always try not to toe the line, but I’ll tell you a film I love: Ernst Lubitsch’s  ‘The Shop Around the Corner’ ” — in which store clerks Margaret Sullavan and James Stewart despise one another until they fall in love with one another.
It’s a movie that I too, the writer you’re reading, have always loved, not to mention being in love with Margaret Sullavan, then and ever since. Nora Ephron loved that film so much, she made it all over again (“You’ve Got Mail,” 1998), though not quite as well.
Bruce Goldstein, born July 5, 1952, has a not-to-be-believed 60th birthday coming up, but he still speaks awesomely of walking “the scary wonderland” of Broadway from 88th Street to 95th Street — New Yorker to Thalia, or vice versa — every Saturday when he was a kid.
His eyes still light up when he talks about his friends the Nicholas brothers, Fayard and Harold, who were athletic dancers or dancing athletes like nobody before them or since, not even Fred Astaire, in or out of films, in or out of Harlem. Bruce wrote a 1991 documentary about them — ah, there, Karen Cooper! — and cites a Vitaphone / Warner Bros. short, “Pie Pie Blackbird,” made in 1932, when Harold Nicholas was 10 years old.
All of what programmer Goldstein does costs money, and now, he said, “with the industry going digital and film prints ever harder to get,” even more so.
“Shipping is terribly expensive. Subtitling, particularly of Japanese films, is very expensive. To get stuff to and from Europe costs thousands of dollars. But Karen is very good about that. She never puts me on a budget.”
Coming up on Bruce Goldstein’s screen at Film Forum this summer: “The French Old Wave” of directors and their works, before the young bulls — Godard, Truffaut, et al — built their filmic reputations by killing off their role models in the pages of Cahiers de Cinema.
“As if Coppola and Spielberg dissed Howard Hawks and John Ford,” said Bruce Goldstein, programmer.
Who has “moved back to the shtetl,” i.e. the Lower East Side, with wife Keiko and daughter Mimi.
“Irving Berlin grew up two blocks away, on Cherry Street,” he said. “Ira Gershwin was born on Forsyth Street, in the other direction, unless it was Eldridge Street.”
Karen Cooper, maybe you should give that guy a documentary camera.