Honor Thy Father

Nov 7, 2006

The New York Times ran a really nice piece about the Janus box this morning. It started on the front page of the Arts section and jumped to another half page inside. It featured big pictures from M, L'Avventura, Seven Samurai, The Virgin Spring, and Viridiana alongside an article by Dave Kehr that compares the set to Harvard's famous "five-foot shelf of books" and refers to the "central role Janus has played in American film culture." We couldn't have hoped for more. Kehr does a great job of articulating the purpose of the Essential Art House set and the role we hope it will play in continuing to introduce new audiences to classic cinema, but on a very personal level, what I like best about the piece is that it catches my father, William Becker, in his element, out at the American Film Market, looking for films.

My father has been at this since 1965, when he and his partner Saul Turell bought a prestigious but near-defunct company and started to build a film library. With Saul, and later Saul's son Jonathan (who started in 1981, not 1993 as the Times has it), he has devoted his life to Janus Films. It's been years since he's had to mind every little day-to-day thing in the company, but he is still very actively engaged in the life of the library. There is nothing that gives him more satisfaction than finding some lost treasure. At heart my father is a collector, and he is never so happy as when he is on the trail of something, and that's just where he was when the Times caught up with him.

When we set out to make Essential Art House, our main goal was to create an elegant single-volume reference for viewers who wanted the essentials of a certain kind of film literacy but didn't necessarily know where to begin. When the Times writes, "It is hard to argue with the historical importance and artistic significance of the great majority of the movies in this volume," it certainly helps to get the idea across. On National Public Radio's Fresh Air today, John Powers also helped to make the case when he called the Janus box "an invaluable introduction to foreign film literacy." There's lots more coverage coming, but for personal reasons this morning's Times article is going to be pretty hard to beat. I know my father is feeling very deservedly proud, and I only wish Saul were around to share this moment with him