Sometimes unlikely forces shape whole artistic movements. There’s an argument made that New Hollywood was driven just as much by changes in entertainment business contract norms as it was by the cultural and political tides of the era. Similarly, discussion of the boom in US independent cinema in the 1980s and ’90s doesn’t often pay attention to a single company that helped facilitate the whole thing, merely by offering an affordable option by which productions could process their film stock. A new screening series at Metrograph, The Process, seeks to bring fresh attention to this overlooked element of film history, paying tribute to brothers Robert and Irwin Young.
The two were sons of Al Young, who in 1922 founded DuArt Film and Video, a postproduction facility in New York City. Over nearly a century in the industry, it saw countless technologies come and go, sometimes aiding in their creation and refinement (the studio won an Academy Award in the 1970s for its frame count cueing system). Under first Al and then Irving’s stewardship, the company had to evolve drastically to survive roughly every other decade; they made much of their money by processing newsreels until those went out of style, then did a lot of television news footage until the networks went to video, and so on. A key turning point came when DuArt finessed methods for blowing up 16mm film — for a long time favored by documentary and independent directors — to 35mm — the theatrical exhibition standard. This would prove a blessing for countless filmmakers outside the Hollywood system, who could now compete in the same market as mainstream studios better than before. Not only that, but Irwin Young was also known (and much beloved) for letting upstart directors use DuArt’s services for cheap. His name can be spotted in the “Special Thanks” sections in the credits of films by everyone from Mira Nair to Spike Lee to Jim Jarmusch. For this work he received his own technical Academy Award in 1980 and the honorary Gordon E. Sawyer Oscar in 2000.
Many of the films in The Process are highlights of the indie boom that used DuArt for their postproduction work, ranging from familiar classics like the Coen Brothers’ Miller’s Crossing (1990), Barbara Kopple’s Harlan County, U.S.A. (1976), and Michael Moore’s Roger & Me (1989) to late-blooming reclaimed works like Lizzie Borden’s Working Girls (1986) or William Greaves’s Symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Take One (1968). Seminal No Wave films like Sara Driver’s Sleepwalk (1986) and Susan Seidelman’s Smithereens (1982) are programmed alongside still-overlooked titles like Charles Lane’s Sidewalk Stories (1989) and Michael Roemer’s Nothing But a Man (1964).
That last film was co-written by Robert M. Young, whose work as a director comprises a good portion of the rest of the series. While Irving focused on production and the technical aspect of the process, Robert embarked on a career as a writer/director that lasted over five decades. He is consistently fixated on those on the outskirts of society — immigrant farm workers in Alambrista! (1977), a Jewish concentration camp inmate forced to box for his captors’ pleasure in Triumph of the Spirit (1989), prisoners in Short Eyes (1977).
Irwin Young passed away at age 94 earlier this year. This came just months after, at the tail end of a long slow decline, DuArt finally ceased all production work. Toward its end, the studio became an invaluable resource for cinema archives all over the country, which gladly took in materials they had in storage for the films they had worked on over the decades. Its era may have passed, but the work Robert and Irwin Young either made or shepherded will endure.
The Process: A Tribute to Robert and Irwin Young begins August 12 at Metrograph (7 Ludlow Street, Manhattan).