Alex Weinstein – Cultivator Profile

Buffalo is full of people helping to cultivate cinema and we want to celebrate those involved.
The Cultivators is a new monthly feature in which we highlight individuals who are integral
to the presentation, promotion and production of film here in the queen city.

THE CULTIVATORS #019
ALEX WEINSTEIN
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Program Director/Host of Noir Essentials
Twitter: @AlexJWeinstein3 / @DipsonNoir

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QUESTIONS & ANSWERS

What got you interested in movies?

You know … I think it all starts with Disney’s Hercules. It’s my earliest movie memory. I was very young—so it’s a bit hazy—but we were all at the drive-in and I was small and able to crawl myself up towards the back window of our van. The scene was filled with bright animated clouds and I wanted to get as close as possible. Face and hand on glass, I was in it.

… but it was really the family trips to Disney World and Universal Studios later on that would truly set the spark. Back in the peak when Universal Studios still had the Jaws ride and King Kong and everything smelled vaguely of gasoline. When you could hear the pops and mechanics and you were always slightly in danger of losing something. All of that excited me.

And then there’s The Great Movie Ride—which is the most important, because it offered me my first glimpse into the world of classic cinema and the Golden Age of Hollywood. There was a special air to the place, filled with heavy nostalgia. Waiting in line, I knew nothing of the faces on the wall or the props in the cases. I had never heard the sweep of Hollywood strings or seen any Bogart movies, but it all burned into my mind. I became fascinated with this stuff and Robert Osborne’s voice and presence made it an adventure.

What is your favorite movie related memory?

Watching a movie, at its core, can really be sort of a lonely experience. If you’re by yourself, that is. I mean, it’s just you and your television and maybe your dog. But that’s okay—because if a movie’s good, it becomes something more. That said, some of the films I cherish most are the ones I’ve shared with others. Every year I get together with family and friends to watch Bad Ronald and it’s always a blast. We do the same thing for Picnic around Labor Day and it’s one of my favorite traditions. Those are the memories that I’ll look back on down the line … not when I was sitting alone watching Ozu.

How did you end up in Buffalo?

I shot a man in Ireland and had to flee the country.

What do you want to see more of in Buffalo?

Any sort of silent cinema retrospective would be super welcome. Can you imagine watching Safety Last! with an audience—especially with people seeing it for the first time? My god, that would be a dream.

What are your essential film books?

My Lunches with Orson: Conversations between Henry Jaglom and Orson Welles by Peter Biskind: In a way, I’ve always felt that Orson Welles was his own best character—a brilliant, difficult mountain of grace who told better yarns than just about anyone. The conversations published here, no matter their dubious origin, make for a fun read. He’s never less than captivating, even when the stories are less than factual—but hey, that’s showmanship.

Roger Ebert: Not a book, but I used to spend a lot of time on his website. I can’t say that I agreed with him all of the time, but he was a wonderful writer. Passionate and insightful, his very best work rose up to the art of the movies he loved.

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TOP TEN FILMS
This is an impossible list to make, but here are ten that I like right now. In alphabetical order.
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website-headerAfter Hours [1985], directed by Martin ScorseseI’m a big fan of all-in-one-night plots and this is absolutely one of the best. It’s at least the wisest—dark and funny and honest about lonely people trying to find company at the end of the day.
website-headerThe Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford [2007], directed by Andrew DominikI’ve carried this movie with me for so long, it’s easy to forget why I even like it in the first place. It’s a big, depressing teddy bear. An old friend. Why would I bother breaking it down?
website-headerBrief Encounter [1945], directed by David Lean – My favorite unconventional noir. For me, noir exists in the interior—the decisions characters make and the consequences that result. Here the choice to begin an affair carries the same weight as taking a life—to the point where the emotion of it all bleeds into the film itself. It takes what could be just straight melodrama and abstracts it in such a way that an incoming train can be as foreboding as the hit men from The Killers.
website-headerF for Fake [1975], directed by Orson WellesThe film that made me fall in love with Orson Welles. This slot could have easily gone to Touch of Evil or Chimes at Midnight, but I think on a deeper level this one matters most to me. How Welles dances between illusion and reality and the general prankster nature of the piece … it’s all very inspiring.
website-headerMiller’s Crossing [1990], directed by Joel and Ethan CoenFor my money, the ultimate Coen Brothers movie. The script is aces and it’s all delivered by one of their best casts—including personal favorite Coen regular Jon Polito. For such a messy and violent film it ultimately becomes a story of friendship—and that’s actually kind of sweet. Also: name a movie made in the past thirty years that has more hats than this one …
website-headerModern Times [1936], directed by Charles ChaplinI love silent comedy. It’s one of my favorite genres. While I tend to lean towards the Harold Lloyd side of things these days, it all began with Chaplin. You could make a good argument that City Lights is his masterpiece, but Modern Times is perfect. From the frenzied Metropolis-esque factory sequence to the episodic structure and brilliant finale, it just keeps on giving.
website-headerPhantom of the Paradise [1974], directed by Brian De PalmaMy favorite schlock horror musical. Like many of De Palma’s films, this one is deliciously sleazy and really just a hell of a fun ride. But make no mistake, there is something beneath the spectacle. And, of course, the Paul Williams soundtrack is sublime.
website-headerThe Third Man [1949], directed by Carol ReedOh man, this one is so atmospheric. With broken-down postwar Vienna providing the backdrop, it almost has a spooky, haunted quality. That alone would make it one of the most memorable noirs, but it hits on all other levels. Joseph Cotten and whoever plays Harry Lime are exceptional.
website-headerThree Colors: White [1994], directed by Krzysztof KieslowskiOf course the Colors trilogy is fantastic as a whole, but this is the one I usually come back to. I suppose I’m just taken with the idea of a man shipping himself home in a suitcase.
website-headerTopsy-Turvy [1999], directed by Mike LeighLeigh is such a master with his ensembles—each character and performance so well-observed to minute detail. They always feel like real people … flawed, foolish, loving, hopeful. This is true of all his works—but this one has Timothy Spall singing Gilbert & Sullivan, so it wins.


website-headerHonorable Mention
website-headerBreakdown [1955], directed by Alfred HitchcockYes, this is technically television—but I consider it to be a really fine short. It’s a fascinating work in that Hitchcock seemingly finds every possible angle to show a man’s face.
website-headerThe Man Who Planted Trees [1987], directed by Frederick BlackThe most lovely animated short. So peaceful and knowing that it would appear to come from nature itself.
website-headerPhantom Thread [2017], directed by Paul Thomas AndersonIt’s a bit fresh, so I can’t say for sure. But the more I think about it, the stronger it gets. It’s a very a musical movie in score and form and I can’t help but get locked into its groove. The world needs more Vicky Krieps …
website-headerThe Room [2003], directed by Tommy Wiseau / Troll 2 [1990], directed by Claudio FragassoSeriously. Most of my friendships, or at least the ones that matter, have been punctuated by watching these terrible movies at least once. That should count for something.


Photo of Alex Weinstein supplied by the subject.
Film stills from left to right, top to bottom are Hercules,
The Great Movie Ride, Bad Ronald, Picnic, and Safety Last!.

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