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In Defense of Capitalism

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Dear editor:

Jonathan Rosenbaum's intelligent review of Guelwaar in the April 22, 1994, issue of the Chicago Reader contains a few gratuitous remarks about me and my company, New Yorker Films, which I cannot leave unattended.

New Yorker Films is charged with renting only 16-millimeter and 35-millimeter prints of [Ousmane] Sembene's work and no video. He's right, and this is a pity. I have been after Semebene for years to put his works out on video. He refuses to cooperate--and I cannot do it without his cooperation, let alone his approval--because he simply loathes video and does not want to see his films in the marketplace in video. If Jonathan had taken the trouble, as any competent journalist would have done, he would've gotten the straight dope. Instead, he chose to bum rap me, as if his role as a critic gives him special entitlement.

I do believe that Jonathan once wrote about the [Nagisa] Oshimas not being out on video. Since then, we have put two out--Cruel Story of Youth and The Sun's Burial. We are hoping to do the others on video as soon as we are able to renegotiated our contract and the film will be going on video sometime in 1995.

As to the works of Jean-Marie Straub and Daniele Huillet, he's got to be kidding. Would Jonathan like to be my partner in this venture? The fact that I still keep the Straub films in service should be sufficient guarantee that someday I will have a place in show business heaven. Does Jonathan think that I run a nonprofit operation? Does he know how much red ink all the Straub films are swimming in? Is he living in the same country as I am? Or is he confusing the U.S. with Bulgaria?

Over the years we have had our share of professional cranks in the critical community, but I'm afraid that J.R. takes the cake. I would appreciate it, if he wants to have any measure of respect from me, if he would, in the future, pick up the phone and call me and do his homework.

Daniel Talbot

New York

Jonathan Rosenbaum replies:

My apologies to Dan Talbot for misconstruing why Sembene's films are unavailable on video, and my thanks for all his other clarifications; I'm especially delighted to hear the Celine and Julie will finally be out next year. I should have called him for more precise information rather than extrapolated from my previous impressions of New Yorker Films' policies.

As both an exhibitor and a distributor, Talbot played a major role in defining as well as expanding our film culture in the 60s with his courageous, imaginative, and generous work, and we all still benefit from it in many ways. The film business, however, has changed a great deal over the past three decades, and New Yorker Films has changed with it. While I appreciate that Talbot runs a for-profit operation, it still bothers me that when the Film Center recently mounted a Kafka-on-film series they had to omit Straub-Huillet's Class Relations because they couldn't afford the $250 rental fee charged by New Yorker. Many film teachers I know--myself included--have frequently omitted New Yorker films from their courses because of similarly exorbitant fees. I also wonder why the videos released by New Yorker--though not those released by plenty of other capitalist video distributors have to be encoded with an anticopying signal so powerful that some of them can't even be played normally without the light values shifting constantly. And of course I'm not confusing the U.S. with Bulgaria; I suspect it's a bit harder to see Straub-Huillet films there than it is here. I just wish Talbot would consider what he means, exactly, by "keeping those films in service," and how much it costs, in the final analysis, to get into "show business heaven."

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