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NY Times, Jan. 1 2018
Dan Talbot, Impresario of Art Films, Is Dead at 91
By ANITA GATES
Dan Talbot, one of the most influential figures in the world of
art-house film as an operator of Manhattan theaters — including Lincoln
Plaza Cinemas, which is scheduled to close on Jan. 28 — and a founder of
the film distribution company New Yorker Films, died on Friday at his
home in Manhattan. He was 91.
His death was confirmed by Ewnetu Admassu, the general manager of
Manohla Dargis, co-chief film critic for The New York Times, summed up
Mr. Talbot’s impact in a 2011 interview with him at the Cannes Film
Festival, where in his 80s he continued to see four to six films a day.
She described his theaters as places where “generations of moviegoers
have had their minds and worlds expanded, and even blown.”
Mr. Talbot was always realistic about the narrow appeal of his product.
In 1987, interviewed during a Public Theater retrospective, “The Age of
New Yorker Films,” he described his chosen field as “a very financially
masochistic business.” In fact, he told Ms. Dargis (and others) what he
thought of the term show business: “It’s not a business. It’s a casino.”
And he acknowledged that the audience for art-house films was both small
and static. “It’s an elite, college-educated, well-traveled group, and
it’s very determined,” but it isn’t growing, he told The Times in 1981.
Mr. Talbot chose to trust his own tastes. “When I look at movies, I
don’t think of the box office,” he said in the same interview. “If it
appeals to my aesthetic sense, if it has some artistic foundation, I
take a chance with it.” And that system worked.
He introduced American moviegoers to a whole universe of European
filmmaking, including the French New Wave and the postwar German
auteurs. One of his greatest successes was Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s
“The Marriage of Maria Braun” (1979), about one German woman’s struggles
after World War II, which ran for a full year.
Mr. Talbot’s boldest moves included “Point of Order,” 188 hours of the
1954 McCarthy Senate hearings, edited to 97 minutes; “Shoah,” Claude
Lanzmann’s almost nine-and-a-half-hour interview-based documentary about
the Holocaust, which aired on PBS after half a year in theaters; and a
1960 release of “Triumph of the Will,” Leni Riefenstahl’s infamous
propaganda documentary about the 1934 Nazi Party Congress.
Daniel Talbot was born on July 21, 1926, in the Bronx. His father,
Israel, worked as a textile jobber. His mother, the former Jeanne
Frances Charak, owned a fabric and notions shop.
After graduating from New York University with a literature degree, Mr.
Talbot worked in publishing and film — as a book editor, as East Coast
story editor for Warner Bros. and briefly as film critic for the
pacifist magazine The Progressive. After a year living in Spain, putting
together a collection of essays titled “Film: An Anthology” (1959), Mr.
Talbot returned to the United States and the opportunity that became the
New Yorker Theater.
Mr. Talbot and his wife, the former Toby Tolpern, learned that the old
Yorktown Theater, on Broadway between 88th and 89th Street, was
available. They renamed the theater the New Yorker and reopened it in
March 1960 as a revival house, presenting “Henry V” with Laurence
Olivier and “The Red Balloon” as their first double feature. By 1962,
business was so good that the couple bought the lease. By 1964, Mr.
Talbot was being interviewed for The New York Post by a young writer
named Nora Ephron, who described his theater as “a raving success”
It all seemed easy. “The theater had a policy of no policy,” Ms. Talbot
wrote in “The New Yorker Theater and Other Scenes From a Life at the
Movies,” her 2009 memoir. “We thought of it as our living room, playing
movies we wanted to see.”
The theater branched out into first-run foreign and independent films
and presented retrospectives of the work of both actors and directors.
The New Yorker’s lobby guest book was signed by the city’s creative elite.
New Yorker Films was founded in 1965 after the Talbots saw a movie they
loved at the New York Film Festival. It was “Before the Revolution,” a
romantic drama from an unknown 23-year-old Italian director, Bernardo
Bertolucci, and the only way they could screen the film at the New
Yorker, they learned, was to agree to distribute it.
By the mid-1970s, the couple were devoting themselves full time to
distribution, Ms. Talbot recalled. New Yorker Films’s hundreds of
credits included “Aguirre, the Wrath of God” (1972), “Tampopo” (1985),
“The Boys of St. Vincent” (1992) and “My Dinner With Andre” (1981). The
company ceased operations in 2009 but was later revived under new owners.
In the intervening years, other projects had come along. Two more Upper
West Side theaters came and went. And the theater that became Mr.
Talbot’s final legacy began a 37-year-run across the street from Lincoln
Lincoln Plaza Cinemas opened in April 1981 with three screens (later
expanding to six). Mr. Talbot described it as “a supplement on a
year-round basis to the New York Film Festival.” The first film that
played there was Federico Fellini’s “City of Women.” The theater’s
current features include “Darkest Hour,” a British drama starring Gary
Oldman as Winston Churchill; “1945,” a black-and-white period drama from
Hungary; and “Loving Vincent,” a Polish-British coproduction about the
life of Vincent van Gogh.
It was revealed in mid-December that the real estate company Milstein
Properties, which operates Lincoln Plaza with the Talbots and Gaumont
Films (a French studio), would not be renewing the theater’s lease.
In addition to his wife, whom he married in 1950, Mr. Talbot is survived
by three daughters, Nina Talbot, Emily Talbot and Sarah Tanzer; and four
Although he had been ill for some time (in May he did not attend Cannes,
where he had been an enthusiastic regular since 1967), Mr. Talbot
continued to be involved in the industry. He wrote an article,
“Fragments From the Dream World: Reminiscences of a Film Distributor and
Exhibitor,” for the spring 2017 issue of Cineaste.
On the Friday afternoon before Christmas, he even dropped by Lincoln
Plaza to catch a movie. “He watched the Haneke film,” Mr. Admassu said
in a telephone interview, referring to the German-Austrian director
Michael Haneke’s “Happy End.” “And he asked how business was.”
Mr. Talbot disliked cinematic pretentiousness. He told Ms. Ephron that
his work should never be viewed “with solemnity.” In the 1981 Times
interview, he insisted that his programming choices had never been
intended to shape audiences or advocate any ideology. They were chosen,
he said, just to “demonstrate the full glory of movies.”
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