Volume 76, Number 44 | March 28 - April 3, 2007


“B Musicals”
Friday March 30-Thursday April 19
Film Forum
209 West Houston Street
(212-727-8110; filmforum.org)

Film Forum/Photofest

Ann Miller in 1943’s “Reveille with Beverly” at Film Forum

Living in black-and-white

Bruce Goldstein unearths more timeless movie treasures


FADE UP on a cluttered office in downtown New York City. The walls are adorned with movie memorabilia and dusty rows of VHS tapes. A floor-to-ceiling bookcase is filled to capacity with oversized reference books about Hollywood history. Cans of 35mm film are neatly stacked by the door.

BRUCE GOLDSTEIN, a rumpled, fifty-something man sits behind an ornate desk. He is the Director of Repertory Programming for Film Forum. WILL McKINLEY, a handsome young reporter, interviews Goldstein about his two decades of presenting innovative festivals of classic films — including “B Musicals,” a three-week, 49-film series that begins on Friday.

WILL McKINLEY: I imagine you’re an old movie buff.

BRUCE GOLDSTEIN: Well, when you do it for your career you’re no longer a buff. I grew up in the suburbs watching New York television. We had something called “The Million Dollar Movie” and Channel 5 had all the W.C. Fields films and the Marx Bros. I grew up loving the comedies and when I became old enough I started going to repertory theaters in New York like the New Yorker and the Thalia.

Is this the best time ever for fans of old movies because of DVDs? Or is it the worst time ever, because these movies are becoming marginalized and falling out of the public consciousness?

Both. I think we’re in a Golden Age because of all the technology, but you’re right about the marginalization. You have 100 channels on cable TV and, except for Turner Classic Movies, you can’t see an old movie. I mean, TCM is wonderful but it is almost like a ghetto.

Is there a particular wiring of the brain that’s required to look at black-and-white not as a drawback, but rather as a positive?

Well, it’s what you grow up with. I love black-and-white. It’s comfort food for me. There’s something primal about it. But kids who grew up in the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s have had very little exposure. There is no black-and-white on TV anymore, outside of TCM.

And more and more “recent classics” have begun to sneak in on TCM.

Sure. Even at Film Forum more and more recent classics are sneaking in. I just did a Woody Allen festival that I couldn’t have done five years ago and it was a big hit. To me those are recent films, but to a 20-year-old those are old movies.

So how do you pick these films? Do you just sit at this desk, with the Wisdom of Solomon, and say “Now we’re going to do B-movies!” and it happens?

No. I have many, many projects in my mind, or on paper or floating around. It takes me years sometimes to do a series that I want to do.

For those who don’t know, what is a “B” picture?

“B” can mean many things — the best effort of a smaller studio, or a lower budget effort from a major studio. Studios had a contract with the theaters to supply a certain amount of second features to fill out the program.

So these films would always be the second half of a double bill?

Mostly. There are some films in this series that we call “nervous A’s” because they’re not true B-movies. Their production budgets were higher and the production values were better and the stars were of a higher caliber — not in talent, but in the fact that they were established A-stars already.

Most of the films in this series are not out on DVD? Why?

Let’s put it this way: some of the directors and stars that we think are major in the repertory [film] business, the studios think are marginal. If “Double Indemnity” or Preston Sturges are thought of as niche-y, consider what Peggy Ryan and Donald O’Connor are considered. Nothing. They don’t even register on the radar.

Are there people who will come to the “B Musicals” festival every night?

Yes. Not that many, but there are people who will come day in and day out.

Are they crazy?

Not necessarily.

Do they constantly call you and make requests for their favorite movie?

We keep the number private.

I’ll make sure not to include it in this story.

I do get mail. Some people seem a little off-center, but not every movie buff is nuts. There are people who just want to see movies they’ve never seen. I know people who are coming in from L.A. for this.

Are you like a proud poppa when you see a sold-out crowd watching a 70-year-old picture that you brought back to the big screen?

Absolutely. It’s fun, especially a good print. And we were able to get an amazing amount of new prints for this one. Because I want to show them, the studios want to make the new prints. That’s a wonderful thing. We didn’t have that twenty years ago. We’ve premiered 700 new 35mm prints. And once we show those films they get shown all over, even around the world.

If someone can only allocate one night to come to see the B Musicals what should it be?

I think it’s impossible to say because it’s not one film in the series, it’s the cumulative era, kind of a lost era.

But people are busy.

Then I would say go to one of the Ann Miller triple features to get an idea of what these films really were like. “Reveille with Beverlee” (Tuesday, April 3) has Duke Ellington, Count Basie and Frank Sinatra in his first solo appearance.

At some point in the very near future, every piece of filmed entertainment that has ever existed will be available on demand. Is that a good thing?

Great question. Part of the thrill for me when I was young was not having access to everything, pursuing and looking for things, checking the TV listings and haunting the revival houses. There was something wonderful about that. I don’t envy having instant access. It was much more fun when I was growing up.

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