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Save The Date!
November 19, from 6 to 9 PM
Regattabar at the Charles Hotel
Master of Ceremonies:
Join us for this exciting event in celebration of the 50th anniversary of Janus Films! All proceeds support the Preserve The Brattle Legacy Campaign. Click here for more information or call 617 876-8021.
Sorry, this event has already taken place. Please visit our Support page if you would like to make a donation or become a member of the Brattle.
The Charles Hotel
Independent Film Festival of Boston - April 25-30, 2007
Party by Design
Brattle Square Florist
The Janus head coin looks at once to the past and the future, a fitting symbol for the company that over 50 years has kept the classics of cinema history alive for new audiences. Throughout the fifties and sixties, as theatrical distributor of Bergman, Kurosawa, Renoir, Fellini, Hitchcock, Truffaut, Welles and many more, Janus Films introduced American moviegoers to the great international masters. Janus Films Festivals became the staple of film schools and revival houses, and by 1973, the George Eastman House Award declared, "Janus Films occupies a position of fantastic eminence... the films they have offered over the years provide a collection unmatched in either the importance of the artistic careers they represent or the taste demonstrated in their selection." In the ensuing thirty years, Janus has continued to look reverently to the past, preserving and restoring films from throughout the world, but always with an eye to the future.
A History of Janus Films
The preeminent distributor of classic foreign films in the United States for fifty years, Janus Films was born out of the great wave of cinephilia that swept the United States in the years following the Second World War. The company's roots are in one of the era's first, and most beloved, art houses, the Brattle Theatre, in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Founded by Harvard friends Bryant Haliday and Cyrus Harvey, the Brattle film program began in earnest in 1953, with a screening of the little-known German film The Captain from Köpenick, and the 300-seat theater was soon playing its foreign and classic-American fare to packed crowds. Realizing they were onto something, Harvey and Haliday then expanded their operation to New York, where they bought the Fifty-fifth Street Playhouse and decided to go into the fledgling field of distribution for themselves--as Janus Films (named after the ancient god of open doors, Harvey says, to signify the company's twin drives: "One face was facing art; the other, commerce"). The company launched in March 1956 and got off to an auspicious start, with Pierre Braunberger's documentary Bullfight, which was a huge success. Then the partners took a chance with a little known Italian director by the name of Federico Fellini--and his The White Sheik, followed by I vitelloni--and Janus was catapulted into the forefront of the Golden Age of art house in America, becoming the distributor of, and forever linked with, Bergman, Antonioni, Wajda, and so many other great artists.
This Golden Age lasted into the early 1960s, but then the business of art-film distribution in America began to change--with Hollywood studios courting Bergman and Truffaut and the heyday of first-run distribution waning--and Harvey and Haliday decided to pass the company onto to two new partners: Harvard contemporary William Becker, who'd been at Oxford and then in the theater business in New York, and documentary producer and television pioneer Saul Turell. The new team's plan was to greatly expand the company's holdings, creating a library of established classics that could be preserved for distribution around the country and on television. The two took over Janus Films in 1965 and went about acquiring numerous films without delay. "The first deal we concluded," says Becker, "was with André Paulvé, in France--for Beauty and the Beast, Orpheus, Les visiteurs du soir, The Eternal Return, and Sylvie and the Phantom." Another early deal was with Daiei, for a slate of titles including Kurosawa's Rashomon, Ichikawa's Fires on the Plain, and Ozu's Floating Weeds. During the next decade, Janus Films would expand its collection to include the great works of Eisenstein, Renoir, Pabst, Tati, Ophüls, Welles, Marker …. The new Janus team grasped the spirit of the new times: film courses were burgeoning in universities across the country and student draft deferments led to a huge increase in college enrollments during the Vietnam War. A new generation was falling in love with classic art-house cinema, and the 16mm market exploded. William Becker's son Peter, now the president of the Criterion Collection, defines the ethos of Janus at that point: "In the film business, traditionally, the year in which a movie is released is the most important year of its life. Janus changed all that. Janus perceived its role as keeping these films out there. And not just in commercial theaters, but in colleges, film societies, universities."
The turbulent events of 1968 through 1970 in Europe and the United States ushered in yet another new era of films and filmgoing--and more new horizons for art-house cinema in America. By this time, the Janus collection had reached critical mass. The Janus coin was firmly implanted in the collective imagination as a symbol of the greatest in art-house cinema. And slowly but surely, Janus was moving away from the first-run field and concentrating on its core mission--refurbishing the classics of world cinema for the delight and edification of new audiences. In the early 1970s, that meant television. And as new technologies emerged, Janus continued to keep up with the times. In 1979, Janus joined forces with Chicago-based Films Inc., a leading distributor of 16mm and 35mm films, to form what would become known as the Classic Collection. This joint library nearly doubled the size of the Janus catalog, adding to it such renowned masterworks as Seven Samurai and Children of Paradise. The Classic Collection lasted for twenty-five years and bridged the gap from theatrical to videocassette distribution, with Films Inc. launching the Home Vision Cinema VHS line in 1991.
Criterion grew through the 1980s and 1990s, branching out to cable television, laserdiscs, CD-ROMs, and even early Internet projects, under the Criterion and Voyager names. Turell's son Jonathan Turell joined the company in 1981 and would take the reins with William Becker when his father died in 1986. Peter Becker joined Criterion in 1993 and has been its president since 1997, when he and Jonathan Turell took over the day-to-day management of the company. In 1998, the partners launched Criterion on DVD. "Today," Turell notes, "Criterion reaches far more people than Janus did years ago... Criterion has enabled us to expand Janus's influence and name far beyond its theatrical roots."
Assessing Janus' legacy, now forty-one years after he and Saul Turell took over, William Becker says he feels enormously gratified that Janus continues to thrive. "It has not been easy," he says, "as the many people who have had a hand in its success over the years can attest. It has been hard work building this library and keeping the company alive. There were certainly times when we didn't know exactly how we would make it through, but in the end, I think we have to chalk it all up to the films themselves. Nothing beats seeing a new generation of audiences get blown away by a Bergman or a Fellini, a Renoir or a Truffaut. These films are many of the best in the world, the best ever made, and at its core, that's what Janus Films is all about."