Playing Thurs March 1 at 7:30 at 92YTribeca [Program & Tix]
We sure do love The Daily Show‘s Elliott Kalan’s monthly expression of exquisite taste and good-humored cinephilia, “Closely Watched Films.” This month he selects Philip Kaufman’s overlooked western, and along with special guest Jason Jones “will discuss ’70s Hollywood, what a terrible person Jesse James really was and the glory of 19th century baseball.”
Stephen Farber for Film Comment (Jan/Feb 1979):
I had never heard of Philip Kaufman when I went to see The Great Northfield Minnesota Raid at a studio screening early in 1972. I debated about driving out to Universal when I got the invitation. It sounded like an utterly routine western, but movie freaks are insatiable gluttons for punishment, and I had nothing else to do that evening. Northfield turned out to be one of the happiest surprises that I have encountered in all my years of moviegoing. By the end of the film – a rich mother lode of Americana, with a vivid gallery of characters worthy of Dickens or Twain – I was exhilarated by the audacity and range of Kaufman’s talent. I was so enthusiastic that I called Kaufman the next day to find out why Universal was burying the movie.
His spirit born in independent filmmaking still survived in Northfield – in the iconoclastic re-evaluation of American movie heroes like Jesse James, and in the film’s sly, poignant vision of the perennial battle between outlaws and upright, respectable citizens. The studio wanted another Butch Cassidy, and the executives were bewildered by the film’s mixture of humor, violence, and lyricism; they dumped the movie without giving it a chance to find an audience. More important is his feeling for character; he has a geniune gift for creating oddballs and eccentrics. Although there’s nothing sentimental or soft-headed about Kaufman’s films, he’s a humanist who believes in fragile communities of misfits and mavericks.
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