Vienna and New York Celebrate Amos Vogel

Amos and Marcia Vogel at Cinema 16 in 1955; photo by Peter Martin, courtesy of the Austrian Film Museum

With his insistence that cinema be taken as seriously as any other art and his tolerance for just about anything but censorship, Amos Vogel—“America’s seminal film programmer,” as J. Hoberman calls him in the New York Times—had an immeasurable impact on film culture. He was born in Vienna in 1921, and celebrations of the centenary began back in January with an exhibition at the Austrian Film Museum. The Museum and the Viennale have invited six curators from around the world to program a retrospective that will run in the Austrian capital from October 22 through November 25. So far this year, tributes to Vogel have included series at the Punto de Vista festival in Spain, the Arsenal in Berlin, and the just-wrapped New York Film Festival.

The city where Vogel and his wife, Marcia, ran Cinema 16 from 1947 to 1963—they called it a “film society for the adult moviegoer”—will be going all out over the next few weeks. Several New York venues have taken cues from chapter headings in Vogel’s seminal 1974 book Film as a Subversive Art as inspiration for a round of eclectic programming. The Museum of Modern Art’s series of “science-and-nature films” wraps tomorrow, when Metrograph begins rolling out four programs of “films subversive in form and content.” On Thursday, the Roxy Cinema will present a selection of experimental films on 16 mm and 35 mm. Light Industry steps up on October 19 with five films addressing what Vogel classified as “forbidden subjects.”

Anthology Film Archives has “chosen to recreate (as far as possible) a selection of Vogel’s original Cinema 16 programs, gravitating towards those that feature long-neglected, forgotten, and rarely screened works, and that are especially notable for combining distinctly disparate categories of films.” The program runs from October 21 through 27. The following weekend, the Museum of the Moving Image will focus on “radical documentary and docufictional films of the American counterculture,” all of them made in 1971. The citywide tribute wraps on November 7, when Film Forum presents a program first put together in 1986 by its director, Karen Cooper, and film historian Scott MacDonald, author of Cinema 16: Documents Toward a History of the Film Society.

Next month sees the publication of a newly revised edition of Film as a Subversive Art, which Hoberman calls “an encyclopedic cinematic cabinet of wonders.” Editors Jim Colvill and Herb Shellenberger have corrected “hundreds of errors” while at the same time, as Jessica Boyall emphasizes at the Notebook, “maintaining deference to Vogel’s original analysis.” In her extensive overview of Vogel’s life and work, Boyall calls Film as a Subversive Art “a wonderfully idiosyncratic text that resists straightforward classification, perhaps best understood as a hybrid of manifesto, encyclopedia, and memoir, its power deriving from Vogel’s uncompromising formal style and impassioned commitment to cinema’s epistemological capacity.”

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