The legendary distributor, exhibitor and producer Ben Barenholtz passed earlier today in Prague, at age 83. A Manhattanite for many decades, Barenholtz moved to Prague last year and into “an apartment over a legit theater in a cool, low-key neighborhood,” according to a New York-based distributor I spoke to this morning.
Remember that Humphrey Bogart line in Casablanca when Ingrid Bergman laments the possibility that Victor Laszlo “might die in Casablanca”, and Bogart says, “What of it? I’m gonna die in Casablanca — it’s a good spot for it.” Prague isn’t a bad place to depart from either. The vibe is very special there, I’ve always felt.
Two years ago Barenholtz completed his first directorial effort, Alina, which played at the Metrograph but apparently isn’t streaming anywhere. (I’m suddenly seized by an urge see it.) Here’s a good Barenholz profile that ran in the N.Y. Times a couple of summers ago, written by John Anderson.
Ben’s Wikipage says he was “developing a sequel to Alina as well as working on an autobiographical film, Aaron.”
Barenholtz was one of the original innovative cool cats of the 20th Century Manhattan indie exhibition and distribution scene. He was also a genuine human being. I used to run into him at Manhattan parties in the late ’70s and early ’80s, and over the years I knew a lot of guys (Sam Kitt, Joel and Ethan Cohen) who had worked with him in some capacity. He always wore that slightly bemused grin.
As an exhibitor, Barenholtz was known for innovative promotion and screening of cool films (Village Theatre, Elgin Cinema) and as a distributor for having discovered and nurtured the Coen Brothers, David Lynch, John Sayles and Guy Maddin. And for Libra Films (Cousin Cousine, Eraserhead, Return of the Secaucus 7), his distribution company that he launched in 1972 and ran until the early ’80s, and then Circle Films (Blood Simple, John Woo‘s The Killer), which was a going concern until the early ’90s.