Don Rugoff changed the face of moviegoing in New York in the 1960s and had a lasting impact on the way foreign and independent films were distributed and advertised. I was part of that audience but frankly, I had forgotten about the man’s enormous contributions until I watched Ira Deutchman‘s new documentary Searching for Mr. Rugoff. It took me back in time and reminded me that he was an avatar of film culture in the 1970s, when I was still living in New York. His east side Manhattan theaters were the place to see the hottest new movies in chic, comfortable surroundings. He even had clever window displays (designed by John Willis, who appears in the documentary).

I had no knowledge of the man behind all of this. That’s where Deutchman‘s film fills an important gap. Rugoff’s father owned a handful of movie theaters but his son wasn’t just an exhibitor; he became a visionary. He was also a world-class character, mercurial and even mean. 

Family members and former employees share their war stories and Lina Wertmuller confirms that it was Rugoff who made her films Swept Away and Seven Beauties a cultural phenomenon. 

It’s rare that a documentary affects me on a personal level but this one evoked a flood of memories. I can see my wife and me waiting to get into the Baronet Theater on the Wednesday afternoon when Woody Allen’s Interiors opened. We had to be there for the first showing. 

Searching for Mr. Rugoff captures a time and place when movies really mattered to a whole generation. I’m not saying it was better or worse than it is today, but it certainly was different. And the man who drove much of that life force was a compulsive, erratic and unforgettable man named Who shouldn’t be forgotten. Deutchman has done him proud in this absorbing documentary.

For information on how and where to see it, click HERE

Leonard Maltin is one of the world’s most respected film critics and historians. He is best known for his widely-used reference work Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide and its companion volume Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movie Guide, now in its third edition, as well as his thirty-year run on television’s Entertainment Tonight. He teaches at the USC School of Cinematic Arts and appears regularly on Reelz Channel and Turner Classic Movies. His books include The 151 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen, Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons, The Great Movie Comedians, The Disney Films, The Art of the Cinematographer, Movie Comedy Teams, The Great American Broadcast, and Leonard Maltin’s Movie Encyclopedia. He served two terms as President of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, is a voting member of the National Film Registry, and was appointed by the Librarian of Congress to sit on the Board of Directors of the National Film Preservation Foundation. He hosted and co-produced the popular Walt Disney Treasures DVD series and has appeared on innumerable television programs and documentaries. He has been the recipient of awards from the American Society of Cinematographers, the Telluride Film Festival, Anthology Film Archives, and San Diego’s Comic-Con International. Perhaps the pinnacle of his career was his appearance in a now-classic episode of South Park. (Or was it Carmela consulting his Movie Guide on an episode of The Sopranos?) He holds court at Follow him on Twitter and Facebook; you can also listen to him on his weekly podcast: Maltin on Movies. — [Artwork by Drew Friedman]

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May 2024