To offer an idea of what sort of movies you can find here in New York, I pay tribute to my favorite nonprofit theater, Film Forum. Located in Greenwich Village, this theater offers new independent works, fictional and nonfictional, and revival screenings of beloved and forgotten classics. Here are three examples from their recent schedule:

My Dog Tulip

My Dog Tulip is one of the strongest examples in recent years of an adult animated film. The movie is a dramatization of J.R. Ackerley's memoir about his relationship with his German shepherd. Ackerley's recollections (adapted by director Paul Fierlinger and exquisitely voiced by Christopher Plummer) are more earthy and mature than the cute kid-friendly stories one often finds in dog movies. Despite remarking on matters like Tulip's bowel movements and Ackerley's attempts to find her a mate, these comical moments are not too crude. In fact, many of them are funny to anyone who has owned a troublemaking pet. For the more philosophical film viewer, the screenplay also features plenty of wit and wisdom as Ackerley contemplates the fulfillment Tulip gives him that humans have not. My Dog Tulip is alternately thoughtful and humorous, possessing a more adult sensibility than is usually found in American animation.

The art style of this feature is another step towards a sophisticated audience. The animation is not nearly as hyperbolic as hand-drawn family films, nor is it photorealistic like a computer-animated film. Instead, Fierlinger uses computerized drawing tools to create sketchy illustrations that fit the story beautifully. Everything in the movie appears to be pen scratches made by an old observer with somewhat amateur skills. The backgrounds look like they were made of ink and watercolor, and the characters' lines and figures seem to shift as they move. These images deliberately lack professionalism because the main character is not that kind of artist. He is just a writer planning the contents of his book. Far different from the bright colors and squash-and-stretch techniques of family animation, the art of My Dog Tulip is elegant and gorgeous in its plainness and simplicity.

Kings of Pastry

Film Forum covers various types of documentaries, and one of the more entertaining ones they hosted recently is Kings of Pastry. This movie covers the pastry portion of the Meilleurs Ouvriers de France competition. Directors Chris Hegedus and D.A. Pennebaker present the French culinary world as enticing (not even dogs and pigeons can resist going into Parisian pastry shops), rewarding (President Nicolas Sarzoky himself congratulates the winners) and unforgiving (on the final day, contestants have to start cooking before dawn). For food fanatics everywhere, Kings of Pastry offers a sapid and savory glimpse of the toil and grief necessary to be proclaimed the best pastry chef in France.

The film's structure does prove a little problematic. Though Hegedus and Pennebaker decided to focus on three of the contestants, the final film shows a preference for Jacquey Pfeiffer, co-founder and operator of the French Pastry School in Chicago. He is featured prominently through the introductory footage, and we do not meet the other two stars (Regis Lazard and Philippe Rigollot) until Pfeiffer leaves for France. Without seeing as much material for their sides of the story, I had trouble keeping track of Lazard and Rigollot's backgrounds and entry designs. At the Q&A after the screening (another perk of the New York film circuit), Hegedus and Pennebaker said that their lateness in meeting the other contestants and the fact that Pfeiffer spoke better English than the others were the cause of this slight bias. Those reasons are very understandable, but the end results do make this otherwise engrossing documentary a little confounding.

The Bridge on the River Kwai

David Lean's 1957 Best Picture winner is rightly considered one of the best war movies ever made. Part of what makes it so striking is that there is little warfare taking place and practically no army. The film begins after the British battalion has surrendered to the Japanese forces in India, but the soldiers remain faceless and nameless. The story focuses on the battle of wills between Lt. Col. Nicholson (the magnificently stoic Alec Guiness) and Col. Saito (the equally excellent Sessue Hayakawa). These men and their national ideals provide the real war, and their confrontations are as thrilling as, if not more so than, any battle between miscellaneous servicemen.

The excitement in an event like Film Forum's screening of Kwai is the chance to see a classic movie in an actual theater. The effect may be diminished depending on the theater itself (Film Forum's moderately sized screens curtail the impact of CinemaScope films like this one), but even a lesser theatrical exhibition is preferable to seeing this spectacle on a minuscule television set. These presentations are especially valuable if the movie's picture and sound have been restored for a new print, which has made Kwai sound like it is not even ten years old. And just between us film fans, I will never get tired of seeing the cue marks on a physical film reel, which are disappearing in this age of digital projection. They remind us that the visions onscreen are as much handiwork as they are imagination.


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