West Coast surfers in the late fifties knew Bruce Brown as a fellow surfer who started filming his surfing exploits with his buddies before Gidget became a best-selling novel in 1957. Hollywood bought the rights and turned it into a hit movie in 1959 starring Sandra Dee. For most movie audiences, it was their first exposure to the popular sport of surfing but Brown was already well known among California surfers before that due to his own surfing movies. He would shoot them without sound and travel around showing them to fellow surfers while narrating the footage in person; occasionally a yet-to-be-famous band called The Beach Boys provided musical accompaniment.. His first documentary effort Slippery When Wet appeared in 1958 and he followed it up with six more surfing features over the next seven years. It was in 1965 when Brown became a household name after the release of The Endless Summer, a surprise box office hit that inspired a whole new generation of surfers and ended up on the top ten list of many major film critics. In 2010 it was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress which solidified its reputation as the holy grail of surfing documentaries.
When did movie theaters specializing in repertory cinema, foreign language films and alternatives to Hollywood mass-produced entertainments become an option for movie lovers in the U.S.? Some might think it all began with the Landmark Theater chain, founded in 1974, which eventually expanded into a network of 46 cinemas in 26 markets. No, the concept of the art house cinema can be traced back to 1952 when the Beekman Theater on Manhattan’s East Side opened and turned movie-going into an event. The man behind the venue was Donald Rugoff and his entrance into the world of film exhibition was due to his father Edward’s partnership with Herman Becker; the two men had built up a small empire of theaters across New York City during the days of the nickelodeon and vaudeville. Rugoff would soon have a major impact on movie-going, film distribution and film culture in the 1960s and 1970s but he is virtually forgotten today. Ira Deutchman, a former employee of Cinema V, Rugoff’s trail-blazing film distribution company, is bound to correct that situation with his fascinating, warts-and-all homage, Searching for Mr. Rugoff (The documentary was completed in 2019 and is finally screening and streaming at various venues).Continue reading