When the great arthouse impresario Dan Talbot passed away last week, just two weeks after the announcement of the closing of the Lincoln Plaza, his flagship Upper West Side multiplex, it was a double-blow to the New York film community. To me and to a number of my friends and colleagues it was also a deep personal loss. Dan had given me my first job in New York in 1990 at his distribution company New Yorker Films, hiring me first to type up their annual catalogue and then to be an assistant to himself and his right-hand man, Jose Lopez. Ironically, it was a New York Times article about the closing of another of Dan’s theaters, the Cinema Studio, that alerted me not only to Dan and to New Yorker Films, but also to the whole concept of film distribution. Dan took a chance on me based on a rather corny application letter I sent him using stills of classic movies with speech bubbles pleading my case. Walking into the New Yorker Films office on 61st St, with its long wall of fame of framed photos of New Yorker’s star auteurs, and with posters all over its white walls, was a moment I will never forget. Though I only worked there for a year and a half, I continued my association with the company until 2008, editing, co-writing and laying out their catalogue every year.
New Yorker Films began in 1964 when Dan and his wife Toby fell in love with Bernardo Bertolucci’s Before the Revolution at that year’s New York Film Festival. Wanting to show it at the New Yorker, the theater that they had been running since 1960 on Broadway at 88th St., they were told that the producer wanted nationwide distribution of the film, not just a single run at a New York arthouse. As Toby Talbot writes in her 2009 memoir The New Yorker Theater and Other Scenes from a Life at the Movies, “What did we know about Distribution? And, what did we know about Exhibition until we began exhibiting? What does one know about anything until embarking? We put up a $500 advance against percentage and opened Before the Revolution in the summer of 1965. Before we knew it, we found ourselves in distribution.”
New Yorker Films ran for 44 years under Dan’s watchful eye. In that time they distributed great auteurs like Ozu and Bresson and Herzog and Godard, but they also championed less well known greats such as Ousmane Sembene, Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet (one of the highlights of my time as Dan’s assistant was typing up a letter to the Straubs) and Alain Tanner. Their catalogue of African and Latin American cinema was especially strong.
In honor of Dan I have chosen some of my favorites of New Yorker’s posters from the four decades of their existence, presented in a chronological order. What I like about New Yorker’s posters, especially those from the late 70s and early 80s, is that they have a very distinctive look: mostly illustrated (with the artist nearly always credited) often in a charming style that wouldn’t be out of place on the cover of the New Yorker magazine, and admirably light on text, sometimes with just the title and the director’s name. They also almost always quite prominently featured the rubric “a New Yorker Films release” but almost never their distinctive Manhattan skyline logo. A lot of the posters don’t even have pull quotes, which is especially surprising in the case of a film like The Marriage of Maria Braun, a commercial and critical smash which ran for over a year at the Cinema Studio. I’ve included the posters for Shoah and My Dinner with Andre, two films which were very important to the history of New Yorker Films, even if their posters were not the most aesthetically pleasing: Proof that a poster can do its job even if it isn’t a thing of beauty. But many of these—my favorite probably being Rich Grote’s illustration for Eric Rohmer’s Perceval—most certainly are.
Above: illustration by Michael Deas.
And there’s just one more poster I want to add. In 1964, prior to the genesis of New Yorker Films, Dan co-produced, with Emile de Antonio, Point of Order, a superb documentary record of the 1954 Army-McCarthy hearings. It was, as far as I know, Dan’s only foray into filmmaking.
As a footnote to my New Yorker story, one of my first pieces for MUBI was about how, in my time at New Yorker, with no prior experience in movie poster design, I had wanted to design a poster for their re-release of Jean Vigo’s L’Atalante, only to discover years later that the French poster that we ended up using had a very illustrious author, also just embarking on his career.
Rest in peace Dan.