Volume 16 • Issue 43 | March 26 - April 1, 2004

Film Forum programmer has had an award-winning run


Downtown Express photo by Elisabeth Robert

Bruce Goldstein in his office on lower Broadway.

On February 23 of this year the French government awarded Film Forum programmer Bruce Goldstein la belle France’s medal of the Order of Arts and Letters.

“I’m officially a chevalier,” says the ever-young kewpie doll who has spent 30 years — 17 of them with FF — knee deep in fine old movies. “Which means I can sing ‘When le nightingale. . . ,’” he warbles in the intonations of Maurice Chevalier. “I think I’m the only person from Hicksville, Long Island, to get this distinction. It was presented to me by a Monsieur Gehan.”

Did he kiss you on both cheeks?

“Yeah, of course. I got the medal and a little rosette to go with it. Everybody said to me: ‘Oh, you got to go to Paris.’ But no, I just got to go to Fifth Avenue and 79th Street” — locale of the Cultural Services of the French Embassy. “Which is just as exotic for me,” says Downtown’s Bruce Goldstein.

His world is in fact circumscribed between the Film Forum on West Houston Street, his and his wife’s home on Elizabeth Street and a small, cluttered office on the 10th floor of a building on Lower Broadway immediately below Houston.

Office? It is also something of a museum. “Look at this,” says Goldstein, as he plucks down off a wall what remains of a buff-and-black 1926 poster for the Palestine Theater, Clinton Street between Stanton and Houston.

“ANITA ROSENTHAL!” the tattered broadsheet proclaims. “The only woman Romanian cantor — IN PERSON! Plus TOM MIX in ‘No Man’s Gold.’”

On a facing wall is the Xerox of another broadsheet. It’s from Warner Bros., announcing the opening of “42nd Street” (Warner Baxter, Ruby Keeler, George Brent, Bebe Daniels, Dick Powell, Guy Kibbee, Una Merkel, 1933). “It opened the week of the Bank Holiday. Nobody had any money,” says the chevalier with a sort of whoop.

“Wait! Wait!!” he exclaims as he pries out of its plastic protection a crumbling, browning issue of Variety for March 7, 1933. “BANKS BUMP BOX OFFICE,” the headline hollers. And then the subheds: “Trading Post Box Office. Hen Fruit and Edibles for Admission.”

“I love this period of movies,” says Goldstein. “The pre-censorship era. Before the code” — the title of more than one of his retrospectives at Film Forum. “And in those years Warner Bros. made one great movie after another. Not B-movies. Quickies, but not B’s.”

On yet another wall there’s a framed letter from Samuel Z. Arkoff in which that historied producer of schlock says of Goldstein: “You’re a brilliant publicist.”

Sam Arkoff (1918-2001) “was the last of the great movie moguls,” says Goldstein. Arkoff’s 140 producer’s credits in the Internet Movie Data Base notably include “How to Stuff a Wild Bikini” (1965) and “The Amityville Horror” (1979).

Bruce Goldstein, son of Murray and Betty (Horowitz) Goldstein, was born July 5, 1952, in, guess where, Amityville, Long Island, not far from Hicksville.

“I once went to Los Angeles,” says Bruce. “Sam picked me up in a 1961 red Cadillac convertible, sucking a cigar that long. He was the only Jew from Fort Dodge, Iowa. In 1991, at the opening of the new Film Forum” — i.e., the venue then to now, 209 West Houston — “we gave him a retrospective.

“Sam was the luckiest man in the world. That was the year of a citywide newspaper strike. Everybody had come to interview Sam, and all the articles came out the day before the strike.”

It wasn’t because of Sam Arkoff that the French government inducted Bruce Goldstein into its Order of Arts and Letters. It was because of what he’s done over the years, and keeps on doing, to preserve, enhance, present and publicize the works of such as Marcel Pagnol, Jean Renoir, Jean Vigo, Francois Truffaut, Jean-Luc Godard, Jean-Pierre Melville, Jacques Demy, Agnes Varda, Jacques Tati, Eric Rohmer. Just for one nationality.

Also to educate the American audience in these glories.

“Look!” he says, unrolling his newest acquisition, a 5-foot-high poster heralding “La Grande Illusion,” Renoir’s 1937 World War I masterpiece that’s good for this year, too, or any year. “Isn’t it beautiful?” Goldstein asks. He’s right, it is.

Betty Horowitz Goldstein, mother of Bruce, worked for years for the Screen Publicists’ Guild. Murray Goldstein, who died in 1991, was a commercial artist working for Columbia Pictures, here in New York.

“But,” says their son, “I don’t think my parents were a major factor” in his lifelong devotion to films. “I think it was New York television. Three words: ‘Million Dollar Movie.’

“Nowadays, with DVDs and video, kids can memorize a movie the way we used to memorize a song. Well, on ‘Million Dollar Movie’ you could see ‘King Kong’ over and over again all week, or Astaire and Rogers, or whatever it was. I remember seeing ‘The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner’ [Tom Courtenay, Michael Redgrave, directed by Tony Richardson, 1962] on ‘Million Dollar Movie.’ I probably didn’t understand it” — he was maybe 12 years old — “but I saw it over and over again for a week.”

And then there was New York itself, in the days when art-cinema houses and revival houses thrived like mushrooms everywhere from Bleecker Street to 95th Street, or beyond.

“I remember a high-school field trip to see ‘The Silence’ [Ingrid Thulin, Gunnel Lindblom, directed by Ingmar Bergman, 1963]. Spooky — and erotic. I thought it was Ingrid Bergman,” says Goldstein, cracking up.

“Then I began schlepping in to the city every week to go to the Thalia [95th Street] and the New Yorker [88th Street]. That corridor along Broadway, 88th to 95th Street, terrified me. People like lunatics. It wasn’t like Hicksville, I tell you that.... Years later,” he adds with bemusement, “I ended up running the Thalia.

“I remember my father taking me to the Thalia to see ‘The Blue Angel’ [Marlene Dietrich, Emil Jannings, directed by Josef von Sternberg]. I think I took him actually. You know that moment when the schoolboys are passing around a Lola Lola photograph with a feather on it? When they blow on the feather, it shows her thigh? My father said that was the biggest turn-on of 1929” [no, Bruce — 1930].

From Hicksville High School he’d gone on to Boston University — “for a while.” Dropped out to run a movie theater at Provincetown, on Cape Cod. Then to New York to work for Sid Geffen, who owned the Bleecker Street and the Carnegie Hall Cinemas, both now long since dead and gone.

“Then I went to London for two years, 1978 and ’79. Knocked about, ended up working as publicity manager for a fashion company. Saw more great movies than ever in my life, many of them at NFT, the National Film Theater, on the south bank [of the Thames]. On British television you’d get things like Kevin Brownlow and David Gill’s great series, ‘The Silents’ on prime time, Here, it would be at midnight on Channel 9.”

From London it was once more back to New York to join Richard Schwarz running the Thalia, and a half-dozen years later, in 1986, Bruce was invited by Karen Cooper to come Downtown and launch a revival screen at her Film Forum.

“I wasn’t into programming. It was a gig that’s turned out to be 17 years now [going on 18].

“The first series I did, in 1987, was called ‘Bigger Than Life: Movies in Scope.’ The idea was that television could be a great entree to films, but you were always missing something. If the average picture was — what? — 90 minutes long, you’d only get 70 minutes because of commercials. The worst case,” Goldstein says with that glint of his of the ridiculous, “was ‘Silk Stockings,’ with Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse, songs by Cole Porter. On TV they cut all the musical numbers.”

“One of the proudest things I ever did,” he says, gloatingly, conspiratorially, “was restore a scene that [producer Dino] De Laurentiis cut from ‘Nights of Cabiria’ [Giulietta Masina, directed by Federico Fellini, 1957] because De Laurentiis felt the picture was too long. It’s called the ‘Man With a Sack’ sequence, in which this person with a sack distributes food to the poor. Seven minutes. I found it in France. It’s now part of the movie again. It was out of the movie from 1957 to 1998.”

Goldstein pops out of his chair, goes over to a small-size monitor on a tabletop, gestures for the interviewer to come over and take a look.

On the screen is an image of that marvelous, all-but-forgotten French actor Louis Jouvet (1887-1951) in a cover shot for the movie “Quai des Orfevres” (Jouvet, Suzy Delair, Bernard Blier, directed by Henri-Georges Clouzot, 1947). It’s one of the 25 classic films found, restored, and re-released by Rialto Pictures, a company started by Goldstein in 1997 and now run by him and entertainment lawyer Adrienne Halpern.

“A wonderful movie,” he says. “A thriller. Quai des Orfevres is what the French call their Scotland Yard. You know” — an intersecting thought hits him — “at 9/11 it just so happened that we were doing a N.Y.P.D. series at Film Forum. You’d be surprised. There are hundreds of movies about the N.Y.P.D.” Back to Suzy Delair. “She’s still around. Did some interviews for us from Paris two years ago when we ran ‘Quai des Orfevres.’ ”

The list of Rialto imports to date reads like a who’s who of motion-picture greatness. Among the titles, as he ticks them off: “The Open City,” “Paisan,” “The Bicycle Thief” — “that’s not chopped liver,” the importer murmurs — “Contempt,” “The Third Man,” “Nights of Cabiria,” “Grande Illusion,” “Rififi,” “The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie” and, this year, Gilo Pontecorvo’s 1965 “The Battle of Algiers.”

“You can see why I got this commendation from the French. But” — his sly grin — “next I’m bringing back ‘Godzilla.’ Yes! It’s his 50th birthday — and it’s getting more e-mail than anything we’ve ever done.”

The office is a hop, skip and jump away from where Goldstein, his wife Keiko Kimura (a DVD-box illustrator), and their daughter Mimi live on the street that bred a Martin Scorsese and was background for parts of Coppola’s “Godfather” triptych. It’s just like being in a movie, yes, Bruce?


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