Late February represents a collision of two significant American cultural events: President’s Day sales and the Academy Awards. Lacking any connections to auto dealers and with Oscar night looming on Sunday, we have opted to theme this week’s interviews around an alternative segment of the film world: venues that specialize in showing movies in repertory.
For moviegoers seeking sanctuary from ordinary multiplex fare, we’ve highlighted five local establishments you can trust to bring you films new and old, foreign and domestic that will both illuminate and educate.
- David Schwartz
- 44 years old. "But I feel 42."
- Born in Queens; grew-up in Long Island; moved to Astoria in 1985. Now lives in Tarrytown.
- Chief film curator, Museum of the Moving Image
How did you first come to join the Museum of the Moving Image?
I was a film school graduate, trying unsuccessfully to get work as an apprentice film editor, when I lucked into a ten-month internship at the Museum. I'll have been at the Museum twenty years this September.
What do you and other organizations like the MMI offer the average Gotham movie-goer seeking sanctuary from a sterile multiplex experience?
Good movies, shown in the best available prints. Good program notes. Discussions with the world's best filmmakers. The chance to mingle with our glamorous, sexy members.
What makes MMI unique from those others? Does MMI have a specific mission? Is there a program you've seen another organization run that you wished you had thought to do?
The programming has its own distinct personality and style, as do all of the best venues. Our strengths may be in classic Hollywood film, silent cinema, and avant-garde work, although lately we've moved to doing more thematic shows and more contemporary international cinema. The quality of our in-depth discussions is unique. And a lot of people say we have the best projectionists in town.
I was jealous of the Whitney's Andy Warhol retrospective in the 1980s, and some of Bruce Goldstein's blockbuster shows at Film Forum, like his Billy Wilder retrospective. But there hasn't really been a dream show I haven't been able to do.
What's taken into account when choosing the program? Are decisions based solely on artistic merit? Do financial considerations (commercial appeal of certain directors) come into play?
We try to do programs that advance the field in some way -- offer a new perspective on the subject matter. Of course, potential audience must be taken into account, and the availability of good film prints.
MMI seems to have more ongoing regular programs than other places -- this year alone: "Repertory Nights," "Cinema Tropical" and "Asian Cinevisions." How have these series evolved and what’s up next?
We used to only do weekend afternoon retrospectives. As our audience has grown, and the surrounding area has changed and become more popular, we've been able to add evening programs. Our "Repertory Nights" series is steady and successful, with screenings of classic arthouse movies. We've also expanded the international scope of our series with things like "Fist and Sword: Martial Arts Film Classics," and series devoted to Greek, Asian, and Latino films. In April, we're introducing a new series, "Black Light," with new and classic international films by black directors.
What makes MMI a "museum"? You're unique in that no other comparable film organization is solely a museum dedicated to "the moving image"; they usually are one component of a larger whole. How do your programmed screenings and exhibitions/installations work together? Do visitors seem to come specifically for one thing or the other? Does calling yourself a museum give you any sort of cache?
In actuality, we serve two different audiences. There's a general museum-going audience, with families, tourists, and city residents looking for a fun outing, who enjoy the exhibitions, especially "Behind the Screen," a hands-on look at the process of filmmaking. Our film audience is different ... they're the city's hard-core cinephiles, who will gladly spend a beautiful spring afternoon indoors watching an old movie. Cache? Yes, certainly we're able to get many of our wonderful guest speakers because they're honored to be viewed in the context of the Museum's programs. And there seems to be something flattering about receiving a month-long retrospective.
You also offer online exhibitions on your website, including a version of "The Living Room Candidates: Presidential Campaign Commercials 1952-2004." What's the benefit of coming to the museum to see such an installation as opposed to simply watching the commercials at home on one's computer?
Not a heck of a lot. Our web exhibitions work beautifully at home. However, there are still plenty of people without computers or broadband connections.
Besides dropping "American" from its name, the museum has just announced a massive expansion program (with a $25 million budget) that will double its size and add a number of amenities. What catalyzed the changes in such quick succession? What effect will construction -- which goes on thru 2008 -- have on the museum?
The name change came about for a few reasons. First, the Museum of the Moving Image in London closed for good. The change was really long overdue. The old name was too long, and it implied that our subject matter was limited to American film. In fact, our programming is increasingly international. And our cool new logo, designed by 2x4, makes "Museum of the Moving Image" look beautiful and dynamic.
The expansion should have a tremendous impact. Not only are we nearly doubling the size of the building, we're creating all sorts of new spaces for screenings, installations, and exhibitions, and we're building a dynamic, inviting new lobby, outdoor café, and outdoor theater. There will be an enormous increase in the variety, and the sheer quantity of programs, and the neighborhood itself will only continue to grow.
How much are you affected by your location in Astoria? Do you tend to draw your audience from the local neighborhood? Do you feel like being in Queens hurts you at all, or does it just provide you with a different audience?
Our audience really comes from all over the city, although the local membership has been increasing. It's a pretty amazing bargain: free movies all year for our members. We were originally going to be located in Trenton. Queens turned out to be a much better choice. But not everyone can survive here. Why, just a few months ago, MoMA slinked back into Manhattan
One of your most successful programs is the series of "Pinewood Dialogues." How did those start? You've had some great guests!
Sidney Poitier and Mike Nichols were among the first Pinewood Dialogues, and I've had the privilege to interview some truly amazing directors and actors -- David Cronenberg, Chuck Jones, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Richard Linklater and more. Jerry Lewis, the subject of our first retrospective, was supposed to come in 1988, but he got a job, acting in Wise Guy, and had to cancel. I regretted that, but I did get to meet him at his home in Las Vegas, and have tuna sandwiches with him for lunch. Life doesn't get any better than that.
Was there ever something selected that failed to connect-and surprised you? Is there something you'd love to program, but don't think the public is yet ready for?
We have a highbrow audience that's not really interested in looking at lowbrow movies. We did a great series once called "Laughing Screaming" about gross-out comedies and horror movies including Porky's and Revenge of the Nerds. That was a big flop. Also, we don't get an audience for historic television shows. So we stick to film.
Does having to assess the artistic merits of film for a living every ruin them as entertainment for you?
Actually, the opposite is true. The more you think about film, know about it, and understand the process, the more you can appreciate the experience. What I can't do is enjoy a crappy movie.
How many films do you figure you watch in an average year? With all the new films from around the world you need to see, how much time do you have to revisit older pictures?
I'd say around 1,000, old and new, short and long. I spend more time looking at older movies. I think that's changing, however, as the emphasis of our programming shifts to new work.
How do you feel about the greater notoriety all the various year-end critic's lists and various awards receive? Is it good or bad for the greater film world?
This whole award thing is totally out of control, and has really become a bore. I don't need to know that the Phoenix Film Critics Association gave Sideways its award for Best Musical Score.
What do you think will take home this year's Oscar? What should? What are you rooting for? What (film or individual) do you think was most overlooked?
Don't know and don't care. I'm rooting for my pal Bill Plympton to win Best Animated Short [for the film Guard Dog]. Overlooked? The Polar Express, especially in Imax 3D.
Do you have an all-time favorite film and/or filmmaker? If so, what/who and why?
There's a very long list that starts with the Lumiere brothers and ends, for now, with Richard Linklater, the best American filmmaker. Keaton, Renoir, Lang, Hitchcock, Hawks, Welles. Favorite film? Of course, you can't top Vertigo.
Ten things to know about David:
What's the best thing you've ever purchased/salvaged off the street?
An abandoned dog, we named Taika, who became a wonderful pet.
Which city establishment sees more of your paycheck than you do?
The New York Parking Violations Bureau.
Personality Problem Solving: Would you consider your personality more hysterical or more obsessive, and have you changed since living in New York; has "New York" become a part of you?
I feel like I’ve always had a New York personality: compulsive, restless, capacious.
NYC Confessional: Do you have a local guilty pleasure?
Black-and-white cookies from Martha’s Bakery in Astoria.
When you just need to get away from it all, where is your favorite place in NYC to be alone, relish in solitude and find your earthly happiness? (We promise not to intrude.)
The great thing about the city is that you can find solitude anywhere, even in crowded places.
What's one thing you've done (or regularly do) in NYC that you could not have conceived doing anywhere else?
See five great movies in a day, and not during a film festival.
Assuming that you're generally respectful of your fellow citizens, was there ever a time when you had to absolutely unleash your inner asshole to get satisfaction?
Yes, when the credit card machine was broken at a parking lot, and by the time I got back from an ATM, it was 6:03, so the attendant made me pay a higher rate since the daily special was over. I was having a bad day anyway, and let him have it.
Describe that low-low moment when you thought you just might have to leave NYC for good.
Besides more square footage, what luxury would you most like to have in your apartment?
A quiet room where I couldn’t hear my two wonderful sons.
311: Help or hoopla? Have you ever put it to use?
Yes to call the Parking Violations Bureau
There are 8 Million stories in The Naked City. Tell us one, but try to keep it to a New York Minute.
I’m always reminded of how considerate and neighborly New Yorkers are, despite the reputation. The blackout a few years ago occurred during the afternoon, and I had to drive from Queens to the Bronx to check on my grandmother. It was amazing how orderly the roads were, despite the fact that all the traffic lights were out. Drivers were courteous, and people spontaneously became traffic cops and crossing guards. The drive turned out to be easy.
Admission to the Museum of the Moving Image is $10, and free (galleries only) on Friday between 4 and 8 pm. This weekend’s "Repertory Nights" feature is Eric Rohmer’s Marquise of O. Upcoming family matinees include The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie and a selection of Peter Sellers classics like Dr. Strangelove and A Shot in the Dark. here. For more information about the museum's expansion plans or its other screenings series and galleries, visit the museum’s website at