Any longtime reader of this blog ought to know full well my affinity for Andrew Dominik’s “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford.” The film instantly won me over the moment I saw it on the heels of its Venice Film Festival world premiere and Toronto Film Festival North American premiere in 2007, and it definitively held the top spot on my list of the decade’s best films. (It also, by the way, took the top spot on another list: the inaugural Top 10 Shots of the Year column). It is a masterpiece, and any chance to soak it up on the big screen should be welcomed.
Well, one such chance has arisen, and full disclosure up front, I had a small hand in putting this program together. The Museum of the Moving Image in New York is presenting, along with upstart programmer, museum member (and In Contention reader) Jamieson McGonigle, a screening of the film in December. “No Eulogies: A Revival of ‘The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford'” will take place at the Sumner M. Redstone Theater on Saturday, Dec. 7. Dominik will be on hand to participate in a Q&A after the screening, and who knows what the candid artist will have to say with six years removed from what was a troubling post-production process and a release that, quite frankly, could have been more delicately handled by the studio?
“The first time I walked out of ‘Jesse James’ on opening night here in New York at the Angelika Theater, I felt really strongly that it was something classic and timeless,” McGonigle said. And how. This is a film that instantly won a dedicated following. Those who know, know. And indeed, said MOMI Chief Curator David Schwartz (who will moderate the Q&A), “It seemed to be a cult movie almost from the beginning and it clearly struck a chord with people.”
The idea here, McGonigle and the rest of us are hoping, is that other repertory theaters and venues will be keen to program the revival themselves. He’s very passionate and eager for “Jesse James” to receive the on-going spotlight it deserves. McGonigle’s story here is pretty interesting, to be honest: this all started with the guy pulling the strings available to him to launch a revival screening of a film he loved for, get this, his bachelor party. He’ll be married on the stage of the Redstone Theater in January. He tracked down and bought a print of the film from a Chicago collector (nearly all of them have been destroyed), though it turns out Dominik strongly prefers the DCP, which is what will be screened at the event. In any case, McGonigle is committed, and movies like this tend to drive that sort of commitment, I think.
“‘Jesse James’ is the thing that I’ve done in my life that I’m most proud of,” Dominik said. “I think it’s a movie that really benefits from being on the big screen, and I love the idea of it having some further life on the big screen.” You and me both, Andrew.
“Jesse James,” you’ll recall, was nominated for just two Oscars: Best Supporting Actor (Casey Affleck) and Best Cinematography. Both were obviously deserved, but it should have run the table. It remains an instant classic regardless, the rare recent gem already worthy of revitalization.
Stay tuned in the coming weeks for much more about this event, including a long chat with Dominik about his work on the film, the troubled post-production process and what the experience means to him six years later. But for now, mark your calendars.
Tickets are available for the event now to MOMI members for $12. If you’re not a member and would like to be, visit the Museum website for further details. Otherwise, tickets will be available to the general public on Sunday for $20.