A Forgotten Determine Of Movie Historical past Remembered In Documentary ‘Looking out For Mr. Rugoff’

They are saying no person builds statues of critics. I suppose the identical goes for exhibitors and distributors and all the parents working behind the scenes to search out movies of curiosity and put them in entrance of you. The late Donald S. Rugoff — or “Mr. Rugoff” as he was recognized to his staff — owned and operated a cluster of cinemas on New York Metropolis’s tony Higher East Facet in the course of the Nineteen Sixties and early ‘70s that just about invented the template for what we all know at the moment as artwork home moviegoing. A person of horrible manners, impeccable style and unparalleled promotional savvy, Rugoff found out find out how to promote a whole technology of uptown sophisticates on tough international language photos and scrappy American indies, turning artwork movies into bona fide cultural occasions. He modified the way in which motion pictures are marketed and made, and I’d by no means heard of him till final week. Rugoff died penniless in 1989, rumored to be buried in a pauper’s grave on Martha’s Winery, a determine forgotten by movie historical past. Till now.

Indie cinema icon Ira Deutchman — founding father of venerable distributors Cinecom and Superb Line Options — bought his first job out of faculty working for Rugoff’s Cinema 5 firm again in 1975, taking orders and no small quantity of abuse from the person himself. Deutchman’s marvelously informative and unappealingly titled documentary “Looking for Mr. Rugoff” is a portrait of his cantankerous outdated boss, culled from interviews with former Cinema 5 staff in addition to legendary filmmakers like Lina Wertmüller and the late Robert Downey Sr., who owe a giant chunk of their careers to the mercurial mogul’s advertising genius. It’s a compulsively watchable crash course in film historical past, often interrupted by Deutchman’s present-day detective work in Edgartown, Massachusetts, attempting to piece collectively particulars of his mentor’s messy last years.

By all accounts a hilariously slovenly man, Rugoff nonetheless keenly understood the refined aesthetic of his target market, changing the dumpy theaters he inherited into smooth, modernist palaces modeled after museums. If he was going to promote higher Manhattan’s elite on the thought of films as artistic endeavors, they’d higher be introduced as such. (Tales abound about Rugoff, often sporting remnants of a pastrami sandwich, furiously firing his ushers if he noticed a lot as a stray sweet wrapper on the ground of his elegant lobbies.) The cinemas showcased elaborate, handcrafted diorama window shows selling the most recent releases, irresponsibly exorbitant bills that despatched a priceless message to passersby: these movies are essential.

Left to right, theater owner Donald Rugoff with film director and writer Robert Downey Sr. (Bob Peterson/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images)
Left to proper, theater proprietor Donald Rugoff with movie director and author Robert Downey Sr. (Bob Peterson/The LIFE Photographs Assortment/Getty Photographs)

The films distributed by Cinema 5 had been a fascinatingly eclectic crop, starting from Ingmar Bergman’s “Scenes From a Marriage” to “Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” titles united solely by their oddball curator’s good style and insatiable curiosity. Rugoff was simply as comfy exhibiting audiences the four-hour French Resistance saga “The Sorrow and the Pity” as he was pushing the bodybuilding documentary “Pumping Iron.” Downey Sr. tells a narrative concerning the distributor sitting by his scabrous underground promoting satire “Putney Swope” and telling the director, “I don’t get it, however I prefer it.”

On the top of his powers, Rugoff had the outré junkie decadence of “Andy Warhol’s Trash” promoting out a cinema throughout the road from Bloomingdale’s. The grosses for his movies had been goosed by a mix of graphically progressive print promoting and carny barker stunts like Cinema 5 staffers traipsing across the Higher East Facet in chainmail, clomping coconuts collectively to advertise the Python image. Curiously, Nicolas Roeg and David Bowie’s future cult traditional “The Man Who Fell to Earth” was one of many few motion pictures his masterful advertising couldn’t crack, bombing in a number of, expensive incarnations.

Rugoff’s conduct was so anti-social and erratic most believed the rumor that he had a steel plate in his head. (His widow is readily available right here to dispel that tall story. Seems it was simply his character.) Making his directorial debut, Deutchman maybe overestimates our curiosity in watching him fiddle with microfiche machines on Martha’s Winery. “Looking for Mr. Rugoff” suffers from some rookie errors like canned music, chintzy title playing cards and a corny Steve Jobs quote kicking off the proceedings. However what makes the film important viewing for movie aficionados is its topic’s unshakable conviction that even the wildest and most unconventional photos can and will likely be appreciated by an viewers that’s been correctly prepped to just accept them on their very own phrases. That’s the obligation of exhibitors, distributors, critics and everybody else who’s made a profession out of sharing movies with different folks, and for a few of us it’s a sacred vocation. It makes good sense that when Rugoff handed away he was within the technique of attempting to construct a brand new movie show out of an outdated church.

“Looking out For Mr. Rugoff” begins screening Saturday, Aug. 21 on the Coolidge Corner Theatre. On the request of the filmmakers, all proceeds will likely be donated to the not-for-profit theaters presenting the movie.