‘New Yawk New Wave’: the good old bad old days

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The great non-profit Film Forum in lower Manhattan has just launched a new series devoted to independent filmmaking in New York City long before the words “indie” and “Sundance” were in any movie buff’s vocabulary.

The “New Yawk New Wave” films running through Jan. 31 were made by mavericks outside of the studio system in the 1950s, ’60s and early ’70s — the artists in question were so immersed in the idea of creating films that they didn’t have time to band together in any sort of organized movement.

And because they were working many years before the advent of cable and video distribution, the filmmakers had to get cameras and sound equipment and film before they could shoot anything.

Then they had to go through a laborious and expensive process of editing the footage and making prints in order to have the work seen.

One can only imagine what these New York filmmaking pioneers could have done if they had access to easily obtainable tools like today’s tiny digital video cameras and the video function on most smart phones (not to mention a network of theaters across the country equipped to show video rather than film).

Highlights of the series include today’s screenings of the John Cassavetes film “Shadows” at 7 and 9:10. The actor-director was still New York-based when he launched his amazing independent filmmaking career with this 1960 study of race and urban bohemia.

Before the 7 p.m. show tonight, the film’s star Lelia Goldoni will talk about Cassavetes and her role as a young mixed-race woman. “Shadows” (center) launched the actress but it took several years for her to find parts in mainstream movies like “Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore,” “The Day of the Locust” and the Philip Kaufman version of “Invasion of the Body Snatchers.”

Cassavetes was a quintessential indie director, raising all of the money for his films himself, gathering together actor buddies to work on them, and then self-distributing the results. “Shadows” was just the first in a series of challenging films that would include “Faces” and “A Woman Under the Influence.”

Pop artist Andy Warhol became a major film figure in New York, with his own work (“The Chelsea Girls” and “My Hustler”) and the more widely distributed films he produced with Paul Morrissey. Film Forum is screening the most popular of the Warhol-Morrissey collaborations, “Trash,” on Jan. 26.

Martin Scorsese is represented in the series with “Mean Streets” (which was shot independently and then distributed by Warner Bros.) on Jan. 30-31 and two very early Brian DePalma films, “Greetings” and “Hi Mom!” will be shown on Jan. 15.

In addition to their value as individual movies, the films in the series add up to a fascinating view of the city from the 1950s through the early 1970s.

The Warhol-Morrissey movie “Trash” (below) is packed with the vivid characters who surrounded the pop artist — the crew Warhol dubbed his “superstars” — and we get glimpses of real bohemian street life 40 years ago.

More than a few of the pictures are not available on video — including Anthony Harvey’s sensational “Dutchman” about an explosive confrontation between a black man and a white woman on the subway — so Film Forum programmers Bruce Goldstein and Jake Perlin deserve kudos for pulling together so many rare movies from so long ago.

(For a complete rundown of the “New Yawk New Wave” schedule, visit www.filmforum.org.)

Joe Meyers

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