|Image from Nocturama provided by SFFILM|
One highlight of the weekend was the Sunday afternoon presentation of the Mel Novikoff Award, named for the former owner and/or operator of many historic Frisco cinemas (including the Castro), to former Pacific Film Archive director, Telluride Film Festival co-founder and co-director, and storied producer of films of all sorts, Tom Luddy. One of the great highlights of my blogging "career" was when Luddy responded by e-mail to my obituary of his friend and collaborator Chris Marker, and then allowed me to publish some of his recollections of working with Marker. Although I've never had the gumption to introduce myself to Luddy on the many occasions I've seen him at a local screening, I feel very much like a personal beneficiary of his famed generosity. Of course I also have greatly benefited from viewing films he had a hand in getting produced (like Jean-Luc Godard's Every Man For Himself and Godfrey Reggio's Koyaanisqatsi), or revived (like Mikhail Kalatozov's I Am Cuba and countless others).
|Alice Waters onstage at the Castro Theatre to introduce the Mel Novikoff Award presented by SFFILM to Tom Luddy, April 9, 2017.|
Tommy Lau, courtesy of SFFILM
For better or worse, this long build-up to the award presentation itself felt less like a public presentation and more like an intimate industry event than any Novikoff Award event I've attended (namely, Manny Farber in 2003, Paolo Cherchi Usai in 2004, Jim Hoberman in 2008, Serge Bromberg in 2011, Pierre Rissient in 2012 and Peter Von Bagh in 2013). The real highlight of the afternoon came after the statuette was delivered to its recipient and he expounded on his life as a cinephile-mover-and-shaker in an interview with critic Todd McCarthy. From a chair on the Castro stage (and magnified by video camera feed running above him), Luddy told stories from various stages of his life amidst screens and the artists who fill them. It didn't feel like name-dropping to me while hearing it, so I hope it doesn't seem like it when I try to summarize what he said.
|Film critic Todd McCarthy and Mel Novikoff Award recipient Tom Luddy onstage at the Castro Theatre during the 2017 SFFILM Festival, April 9, 2017.|
Pamela Gentile, courtesy of SFFILM
Asked by McCarthy about the San Francisco International Film Festival's early days, Luddy said "it was my film school." His first year attending was 1962, "when it was the only film festival in the Western Hemisphere." He fondly recalled Albert Johnson's afternoon tributes to key cinema figures and rattled off the line-up for just one year, 1965: "Walt Disney. Busby Berkeley. Gene Kelly. Hal Roach. John Ford. John Frankenheimer. King Vidor. Leo McCarey. Lewis Milestone. Mervyn LeRoy. William Wellman." A few other names from other festival years were tossed out by Luddy and McCarthy (who was also in the Bay Area by the late 1960s): Raoul Walsh, Jacques Tati, Bette Davis, William Wyler, and Rouben Mamoulian. And of course Howard Hawks, for whom Johnson had prepared such an extensive compilation of clips from throughout his career that the director was able to introduce the screening, head to Kezar Stadium to watch an entire 49ers football game, and be back in time for the post-montage interview.
|Tom Luddy, recipient of the Mel Novikoff Award presented by SFFILM. April 9, 2017.|
Pamela Gentile, courtesy of SFFILM
Luddy said he left his position at the Pacific Film Archive due to frustrations with the University bureaucracy at the time; he gave one example of being left on the hook for expenses, that ought to have been paid by the school, from Jean-Luc Godard's visit to the institution. By then he'd struck up a friendship with Francis Ford Coppola, who welcomed him into the fold at his American Zoetrope with open arms. Together with George Lucas, they helped secure backing from 20th Century Fox for Akira Kurosawa's 1979 film Kagemusha, after a shared meal at Chez Panisse in which the elder master explained how he couldn't find enough funding in Japan, and the younger three couldn't help but notice the scars from his 1971 suicide attempt on his hands. After Luddy presented Gance's Napoléon at the Avenue Theatre with Bob Vaughn performing an organ accompaniment, Coppola was inspired to try to present it at Radio City Music Hall with "a symphony" by his father Carmine Coppola as accompaniment. Luddy helped make that happen, too, and went on to produce Mishima: a Life in Four Chapters with Paul Schrader, Barfly with Barbet Schroeder and Wind with Carroll Ballard. Those are just a few of the titles he highlighted from the Castro stage!
|Tom Luddy, recipient of the Mel Novikoff Award presented by SFFILM onstage at the Castro Theatre, April 9, 2017.|
Pamela Gentile, courtesy of SFFILM
Luddy said that working at the non-profit Telluride Film Festival at the same time as working as a producer in the for-profit movie business is part of the reason why he kept a fairly low-profile through those years, refusing interviews in order to avoid drawing attention to his unique, and perhaps to some, questionable, position. But looking at what he was able to build by straddling both sides of the non-profit/for-profit line, it's hard to begrudge his dual devotions.
The films he chose to screen after the discussion represented these two sides of Luddy pretty well. First, we saw Une Bonne à Tout Faire, a brief piece made by Jean-Luc Godard on the incredible Dean Tavoularis-designed casino set of the American Zoetrope production One From the Heart. Intended as a test for his 1982 film Passion, Godard creates a luminous tableau quite reminiscent of some of the most memorable shots in that film, turning a real film production site into an imaginary one in which Andrei Konchalovsky, portraying a director, and Vittorio Storaro, portraying a cinematographer, communicate with each other in un-subtitled Russian and Italian, respectively, as if locked in a Las Vegas Tower of Babel. Though it was never released at the time, Godard sent Luddy this digital version of the short, transferred from the 1-light dailies for a 2006 screening at the Pompidou. The film's actual cinematographer Ed Lachman (La Soufrière, Carol) is on the hunt for the original negative materials so a preservation (and, I would hope, release) print can be struck, but in the meantime what we saw looked pretty darn good.
|Image from A Long, Happy Life provided by SFFILM|
Though both films screened as DCP, Luddy himself is clearly for the use of 35mm prints when possible. Before introducing the screening, and after listing a few all-time favorite filmmakers at McCarthy's behest (including Julien Duvivier, Sergei Eisenstein, Vsevolod Pudovkin, Alexander Dovzhenko, Mikio Naruse, and Kenji Mizoguchi, as well Murnau, Ray, Bergman, Godard and Coppola) he expressed appreciation for Bay Area audiences and presenters. He singled out the San Francisco Silent Film Festival (which has recently announced its June slate, by the way), for being able to "fill this theater for relatively obscure silent films," as well as Noir City and the completely-non-digital Stanford Theatre. He noted that his friend, critic David Thomson, was helping prepare a summer program tribute to the Warner Brothers studio, stressing that David Packard would be striking new 35mm prints of certain titles currently unavailable to show in that format. Obviously the series will probably include plenty of well-known titles like the Adventures of Robin Hood, The Jazz Singer and Mildred Pierce but my mind is still racing imagining all the possible rarities I might finally be able to see in their intended format this summer. Rarities by Walsh? Hawks? Wellman? Frank Borzage? One Way Passage? Thunder Over the Plains? The Blue Gardenia? Perhaps even the namesake for this blog? I'm trying not to raise my expectations too high.