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Bruce Ricker (first published on May 21, 2011)

Posted on March 23, 2012 by Dennis Doros | 0 Comments



http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/19/arts/music/bruce-ricker-filmmaker-with-affinity-for-jazz-dies-at-68.html?_r=1

[Note: this blog was first published on May 21, 2011] "Bruce Ricker, a lawyer turned filmmaker who made jazz resoundingly visible in a series of highly regarded documentaries, died on Friday in Cambridge, Mass. He was 68..."

There are so many places I could have placed this news on the internet. Bruce was Clint Eastwood's advisor on his film music, created some amazing documentaries on film and jazz, and was the founder of Rhapsody Films, a wonderful company dedicated to bringing out films on jazz. He really had an incredible knack for finding rare films in this genre and bringing them out. And for knowing where the best jazz was in town on any given night.

Beyond the obituary I've linked to above, he was also a great friend to many in the industry whom he helped without ever asking anything in return. When Amy and I started Milestone, he did the incorporation papers and refused any payment. Everybody I know in New York has a Bruce Ricker story. 

I first met him early on when he walked into the door of Kino one day (he and Don Krim were longtime friends) and I was THRILLED to meet the director of The Last of the Blue Devils, one of my favorite films. Naturally, we became friendly and later on, when I helped him with a loan of a video, he came to the office one day and presented me a poster of BIRD autographed to me by Clint Eastwood. I thanked him and said that I would be just as happy to have a poster of one of his films signed by Bruce. And yes, I did get a signed poster of one of his films a few days later. :-)

 

Don Krim (first published on May 21, 2011)

Posted on March 23, 2012 by Dennis Doros | 0 Comments



[Note: this blog was first published on May 21, 2011]

Don Krim, longtime owner of Kino International, died this morning. He had been dealing with a very serious illness this past year with courage and good humor, but it finally caught up to him. I've known this was coming for some time now, but it still is a shock that he won't be around to laugh about the rise and falls of our businesses and talk about our families.  To me, Don was my first boss in distribution and he was a fantastic mentor and a good friend. He gave me opportunities that few ever get in life and I'll always be grateful. When I told him I was leaving to start Milestone, he gave me a small smile and said, "welcome to poverty." And indeed, it was never about the money to him. 

Don was able to get films that no one else could have acquired. Because of his determination, hard work, honesty and good reputation, he was able to distribute WOMAN OF PARIS, METROPOLIS, PANDORA'S BOX, BALLAD OF NARAYAMA, DAUGHTERS OF THE DUST, DOGTOOTH and countless other great films that have enriched our lives. Back in the early 1980s, he told me that Kino had a "mandate" to release silent films -- this was at a time when few dared. And though he once joked that films have "the shelf life of milk," he also told me that he sought out films that would endure. That last lesson is something I consider every day.

My first restoration I did with Don was Queen Kelly. And though I did the manual labor, he was there every step of the way to hold my hand and gently guide me past my ignorance. There was one point where we "discussed" for three days over one intertitle until we got it right. But when I was writing up the final credits, he refused to share in any of them. He told me that the Kino logo was his credit and that was good enough. Although he sold his beloved company a year ago, Kino will always be his grand legacy. Our world owes a great debt to Don and his work.
 

Posted in Don Krim

Those dreaded THREE-letter words…(first published February 7, 2011)

Posted on March 23, 2012 by Amy Heller | 0 Comments



We all know the four-letter words we are supposed to eschew—the “s” word, the “f” word and for some, perhaps the “l” word. But all of those are okay with me—it’s a recent spate of dreaded three-letter epithets that have me bugged. [Note: this blog was first published on February 7, 2011]

Specifically: flu and ice—and sad (as both an adjective and the acronym SAD, for seasonal affective disorder). In short: I have had it with winter and I am thoroughly sick of being sick.

Generally, I am a fairly peppy fifty-three-year-old person. I do yoga, eat healthy and usually wake up with plenty of energy. But a recent bout of Influenza Type A (along with a series of winter weather crises) has left me wobbly, winded and weary.

When I first became sick, I was feverish, shaky and weak—I hurt “back, belly and sides” (as my father’s old Army buddy used to describe it). And I was really down—I felt so sad that couldn’t even imagine enjoying anything. As my fluish (and Jewish) son noted, when you’re sick, everything tastes crappy and you just don’t feel hungry. I didn’t have the energy for books or movies. Even the world around me seemed drained of color (although the nonstop blizzarding didn’t help!).

This is first time I have been sick in bed since my father died last spring, and I was surprised how much I thought about him and my mother—and how acutely I missed them. In some important way, it really mattered that I had no parents to care how I was feeling. I do have other loving people in my life—husband, son, sister, in-laws, friends, but I deeply felt the loss of my parents and their loving concern.

Being sick, even with a transient illness like the flu, also reminded me that wellness can just as transient. I have had the great luck to enjoy good health for most of my life, but my parents both experienced many serious illnesses and I was with them both during their last days. I have been remembering—vividly—the details of my father’s six-month battle against laryngeal cancer—the hospitals, ICUs, nurses, ambulance rides, and especially the crises and the end.

But, the Tamiflu and antibiotics are doing their magic, and as I start to feel like myself—my healthy self, that is—I am grateful for the returning ability to enjoy life and food and friends and films. My losses and memories are still there, but they feel less acutely painful. And although the weather remains dismal, I am starting to be able to think about… (Dare I say it?)… Spring.

Posted in Amy Heller, flu, seasonal affective disorder

You meet all the best people At the Chelsea (first published January 21, 2011)

Posted on March 23, 2012 by Amy Heller | 6 Comments

 


These days, with Lionel Rogosin’s On the Bowery opening around the country (in LA at the Nuart and in Portland, OR at the Cinema 21 on Friday 1/21/11) [note: this blog was first published on January 21, 2011] and his second great film Come Back Africa slated for release later this year, we here at Milestone are just embarking on our next big project. It is a little early to announce the topic, but in preparation, we are busy doing research. And my line of inquiries led me to an absolutely wonderful book and an amazing writer and person: At the Chelsea, a memoir written by Florence Turner.

Florence Turner also worked in the film business; she was a theatre scout (a “minor executive, a term that still sounds ridiculous,”) for MGM in New York in 1964 when good fortune (for her and her readers) landed her at the Chelsea Hotel, which would become her home for many years. Much has been written about the Chelsea and its storied guests (including Thomas Wolfe, Leonard Cohen, Dylan Thomas, Jimi Hendrix, Mark Twain, Sid Vicious, Arthur Miller, Patti Smith, Bob Dylan and Janis Joplin), but Turner’s At the Chelsea isso much more than who-slept-here-and-with-whom book. It is the self-portrait of a very perceptive older woman (that is, around my age—mid-50s) who is as honest with (and about) herself as she is kind and perceptive about the people she meets.

A refugee from the Upper East Side (after several neighborhood murders and a break in of her apartment), Turner found a home at the Chelsea and quickly came to appreciate the hotel’s unusual zeitgeist: “the rare quality of the place where we could be ourselves without the wariness or the sense of critical eyes. We could work and dream and even starve with the knowledge that we were not alone, or as far as possible as it is not to be alone.”

While conveying her love and respect for the hotel denizens and staff, Turner observes them in all their weird glory. Her voice and sense of the absurd are hard to resist. One of the most celebrated inhabitants of the Chelsea was composer Virgil Thomson, famed for his Four Saints in Three Acts (written with Gertrude Stein). Turner encountered Thomson in the hotel lobby one day, “carrying his dirty laundry.” When he noticed she was reading a biography of Edith Piaf, Thomson told her “she lived in the house, you know.” Turner later learned that Thomson, who had been the music critic of the Herald Tribune, came to the defense of the greatchanteuse when other reviewers savaged her performances—and then brought “the little sparrow” home to roost at the Chelsea. Turner’s interweaving of the banal and the immortal is charming—and I especially appreciate that sack of soiled clothing.

Turner is not a great airer of dirty laundry—but she does not go out of her way to hide it either. During her tenure at the Chelsea, the hotel’s owner, Stanley Bard welcomed artists, writers, musicians, dancers and filmmakers and sometimes overlooked their delinquent payments… at least for a while. When times got especially lean, Bard would rent rooms to pimps—at double the price he usually charged. As Turner writes, “the pimps were, unknowingly, patrons of the arts.”

Turner brings great attention and affection to all the people she came to know at the hotel. Of Irene, the maid on her floor, she wrote: “she was black and from the South, with a healthy cynicism, a regal bearing and huge kindness… Later, when I was jobless, her friendship proved to have great depth.” She was well acquainted with the members of the hotel staff and tells each one’s story with care—Charles Beard, captain of the bellman was a church warden and had trained as a welter-weight with Canada Lee; John Dorman, the night man, was a talented actor whose imposing size made it hard to find jobs; Josephine Brickman, the queen of the switchboard, had been a telephone operator with the WACS in World War II England.


The vibrant community of the hotel provides a rich cast of characters and Turner also writes about luminaries like actress Viva (who starred in several Andy Warhol films), poet Gregory Corso, couturier Charles James and the woman who shot Warhol, Valerie Solanis.

Turner gives special care and time to her closest friends at Chelsea. Dr. Helen Johnson, a distinguished black expert on the history of the black theatre introduced Turner to legendary jazzmen like Eubie Blake and Noble Sissle. The two women often conversed at the bar of the hotel’s restaurant, El Quijote, Florence drinking whisky, Helen enjoying bourbon.

Because I am an expat New Yorker (now living out in the ’burbs) I am especially drawn to Turner’s lovely evocations of everyday life lived in a great, scruffy city. New York in the 1960s and 1970s was not the imperial city it had been, and is now again. It was distinctly tattered, often smelly, sometimes dangerous and vibrant. She writes: “The hippie days were gradually changing. We had all eaten soul food, hummed songs from Motown albums, enjoyed ourselves in a blackout, which resulted in the best kind of conviviality where the entire hotel met in the lobby, paired off, lit candles, enjoyed walking in the shifting light and shadow up the lovely shallow steps of the Chelsea stairway…. The summers were still wonderful…. From my window I liked to watch the Leonardo da Vinci come silent up the Hudson, set against a sunset sky the colour of the inside of an abalone shell.” I remember summer evenings like that.

But more than anything else, I love Turner’s courage. An unmarried woman, the mother of grown sons, Turner launched her life in New York and then at the Chelsea in a spirit of openness and adventure. She made friends, found lovers, took risks and lived her life fully. But fully does not always mean happily, and Turner bravely tells all aspects of her story—sometimes with humor, sometimes with throat-catching honesty and sadness.

When she was laid off from MGM, Turner went through several very hard years. The grind of poverty, the humiliation of being unable to pay her bills and most of all a profound depression born of “job hunting day after day without success,” wore her down. She struggled to fill her time and earn a living. When Maurice Girodias, publisher of Olympia Press and a Chelsea resident, suggested she write pornography for him, Turner pulled out her typewriter and started work on a novel titled The Naked and the Nude (she had wanted to call it Wait for Me I’m Coming!).

But her depression deepened and became overwhelming—her sobbing uncontrollable. A doctor at St. Vincent’s Hospital eventually took her “tear-sodden” condition seriously and admitted her to the psychiatric wing. During the six weeks she was a patient, Turner was able to finish her pornographic novel. As she described it, the Virgin Mary smiled down from the walls of the Catholic hospital, as she wrote about “cocks and cunts.” The book earned her $1700—and helped her stay on at the Chelsea.

That year, Turner met a new young man—a Russian photographer in his 20s who was “both exceptional and non-serious.” They spent a magical spring day together at Coney Island where they ate “disgusting” pigs ears and watched as the giant QE2 sailed silently by. (Curiously, Patti Smith, fellow hotel resident and a friend of Turner’s, describes an unforgettable day spent at Coney Island with Robert Mapplethorpe in her extraordinary book, Just Kids.) That winter, Turner and her photographer friend attended an uptown party together. On the cab ride home, the tipsy young man told the driver to stop. He ran into Central Park, whooping and leaping with drunken joy. “As I watched,” Turner wrote, “Time lurched with a jolt and a grinding into the season and slot of my old age.” I don’t think I have read a more nakedly honest sentence, or one that chilled me more.

Eventually her money and luck ran out and Turner packed her bags and relocated to Edinburgh, Scotland. Her friends threw a party for her, lent her some money, poured champagne and drove her to Kennedy Airport. “Thus I left the Chelsea, my heart and New York City behind me on February 5, 1975.”

It took me quite a bit of searching to learn the end of Turner’s story. No amount of googling yielded anything except the fact that she had written a volume of short stories that was published only in the UK. Finally, through Yahoo, I learned of an obituary in a 2001 edition ofThe Scotsman. I signed up with High Beam Research so that I could read it all. And it was worth it the $29.95 it will end up costing me.

According to Todd McEwen’s loving tribute, Turner moved to Scotland to be near her children and grandchildren. She lived there for 26 years (she died at the age of 91!) and was the mainstay of a group of Bohemians in the city. Turner was a frequent habitué of the bar of the Drummond Hotel, where she enjoyed the “indifferent whisky and, still the cow-girl, the excellent steaks.”

McEwen describes Turner as a colorful dresser and “in all things a writer, a believer in the life of the artist, in the energetic, rich feeding of the senses. Skilled in handing out big, American-style kisses to everyone, she made no secret of the fact that she found growing older a distinct disappointment and ‘pain in the arse.’”

A coda to this long rambling book review/homage: After reading At the Chelsea on loan from my local library system, I got online and bought a copy along with a copy of Turner’s book of stories, All the Little Wars. When they arrived, I opened the short story collection and discovered, hand-written on the title page:

“To Helen Johnson my dear friend of many years with love from the author—Florence Turner.”

I felt as honored and delighted as if I had been actually able to welcome these remarkable ladies into my home.

A final footnote: the Helen Armstead Johnson Collection is now part of the New York Public Library and items from the collection are on display at the “What’s up @ the Schomburg” exhibition at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, 515 Malcolm X Boulevard, New York, NY 10037-1801, (212) 491-2200 (through February 27). The Johnson collection includes historical photos, posters, theater memorabilia, and rarely seen scrapbooks of black entertainers of the 18th and 20th centuries.
Turner, Florence. At the Chelsea. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Publishers. New York. 1987.
Turner, Florence. All the Little Wars. Hamish Hamilton. London. 1987.
Todd McEwen Obituary. “Florence Turner.” The Scotsman. Scotsman Publications. 2001. HighBeam Research. 13 Jan. 2011 <http://www.highbeam.com>.

Posted in chelsea hotel, florence turner

Why I Love My Job (most of the time) and How I Got Here (first published January 16, 2011)

Posted on March 23, 2012 by Amy Heller | 0 Comments

Amy Heller in 1982?

When I was a mere youth, back in the 1970s (and early 1980s—I matured rather slowly), I struggled to imagine a career for myself. I had jobs, sure, but as much or as little as I liked them, I was always ready to move on after a while—often, a very short while.

Was I a prima donna? A slacker (long before the word was ever coined)? A snob? A baby? Probably.

I do remember that I consciously did not want to be a “hack”—which to me meant doing the same task over and over again. Or maybe I was just easily bored. But either way, I wandered away from good internships and jobs as soon as they started to seem repetitive.

I also wanted my work to be both meaningful to me and “good for the world.” Stints working for the book editor of a fashion magazine and at a publisher of teen romance novels left me with the feeling that the product of my labor was (at best) questionable. I had been a good student in college and I remembered my Marx: the worker under capitalism loses control of the product of his labor, of the work process itself and finally, of her own connection to humanity. I might be willing to punch a clock and wear pantyhose, but I cringed at the idea that my work was making other women feel fat or unloved (although I felt that way myself, a lot of the time). So on I went.

As a feminist, I believed that the personal was political. A temporary job (at, of all places, an antinuclear group’s fundraising campaign) brought home how important it was to work at a place where everyone is treated with respect. I was giddy with relief when that gig ended—and I remained friends with some of my (amazing) elderly volunteers for years.

Graduate school was (naturally) a more complicated series of lessons. I was challenged (scared witless, much of the time) and excited about what I was learning and writing. But I had the bad (or good, perhaps) luck of arriving at a university to study labor history in the midst of a very divisive and bitter strike. I walked picket lines and tangled (briefly and ineptly) with the administration. I also saw how grandiose and self-righteous students (like me), while meaning to do the right thing, could end up turning on one another. Later, I understood that my grad school experience had given me a valuable and cautionary taste of corporate America. When you work for a large corporation (like a university), you have very little power or control. I knew I didn’t want to be an itinerant teacher, hop scotching the country from one three-year teaching assignment to another. I wanted to go home, to New York City.

So I did. And I had the wonderful luck to fall into a job in film distribution. My colleagues were the best: smart, interested in everything and deeply engaged in their work. And the films were “products” that I could and did believe in. They combined art and politics and I felt happy to be part of the process that got them into theaters (this was before video, if you can believe it).

The pay was, well, meager. So I moved on to another fine film distributor and saw more life-altering films. I loved my coworkers and my customers. Conversations with film programmers across the country taught me about places I had never been, books I wanted read and music of all kinds. I am still friends with many of these folks, 25 years later. The job occasionally chafed (remember, prima donna…) but I worked at a small company and when I had a beef, I could take it to the boss. And I had some pretty great bosses.

Work did get a bit repetitive, of course. And I wished I had more say in what films were acquired and how they were marketed. Even at a small company, the division of labor could be inflexible. I thought about other careers, but I stayed in film. And eventually I met Dennis Doros, my now-husband and partner at—of course—a film party.

Dennis was also working for another small independent film distributor and had done terrific work putting together several film series and restoring two silent features. He had a project he was working on outside his day job—a series of adventure and exploration films from the early days of cinema. So I joined in. And after we married, first I, and then he, left our jobs to start Milestone. We were (relatively) young, quite naïve and we just plunged in. Somehow—I’m not quite sure how—we, and Milestone, survived.

So why—after more than twenty years—do I love my job? Well, first and above all, it is not boring. (At least most of the time—bookkeeping is predictably tedious.) Each film is a new project, a new start. Over the last twenty-plus years we have had occasion to do research on Antarctic exploration, Korean Zen Buddhism, Mary Pickford, the history of New York’s Bowery, Aboriginal bark painting, Native Americans in Los Angeles, Italian neorealism, life in occupied France, chess-playing automatons, the life and loves of Edna Saint Vincent Millay, Islamic religious schools in Bangladesh, Pablo Picasso and Luke the Wonder Dog—well, you get the idea.

Truth is, I suspect that we do more research than most distributors—certainly more than we absolutely need to. But from the start, we realized that while our P&A budgets were meager, we could make sure that the members of the press (and now, increasingly, the public) have all the information they need to give the film an informed viewing—and plenty of background to include in any reviews (or now, blog posts). And I have to admit that the research often becomes and remains a joy and a pursuit in itself. There may be somebusiness rationale for our ongoing interest in, say, the life and work of those intrepid filmmakers Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack. Perhaps we will re-release their great documentaries Grass and Chang one of these days. But really, we love them and their stories and enjoy learning more about them, whenever we can.

Other reasons I like this job: although it took me years to get used to it, running Milestone means we can set our own schedules and priorities. This is really a tremendous luxury. When we first started, Dennis and I worked all the time. But after we became parents, we (and especially I) were able to hang out with our son as he went from infant to toddler to now, teenager. And last year when my dad was fighting his gallant battle against laryngeal cancer, I could be with him almost every day. Of course as small business owners we also work many nights and weekends (I’m writing this at 8:11 on a Saturday night, and I generally try to write in the evenings) but we choose.

Another huge perk: I get to work with Dennis. If you know him or have been reading his blogs, you will understand why I appreciate and enjoy this! And over the years we have worked with many great colleagues—full-time employees and interns. They have brought—and continue to bring—great energy, creativity, passion and talent to Milestone.

Finally, when we started Milestone, Dennis and I decided to release films that we love and believe in. And so we love and believe in the films we release. I think that our collection contains art, sanity, intelligence and humanity—and I hope it has a good effect on the world. I believe and hope it may.

 

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