- “Nathanial Hornblower“‘s letter to the New York Times.
Not only did Adam Yauch record some of the most joyful music of the last 30 years, he directed many of the videos that made the Beasties iconic. That he credited a man in liederhosen might make him one of my favorite video directors ever even if the clips weren’t also brilliant, using simple but inventive, memorable imagery and always making the artists the focus of the clips, whether it was just three guys jumping a field or a full-blown homage to Danger: Diabolik. I knew he had a film company, but I didn’t realize until now that it was Oscilloscope Laboratories, which distributed Bellflower, We Need To Talk About Kevin, Exit Through The Gift Shop and a bunch of other high-profile indie releases in just a few short years. (You can find the above letter and more Hornblower letters at Oscilloscope’s site). The guy gave the world so much (the Tibetan Freedom concerts and Milarepa fund don’t even appear on his Wikipedia) and clearly had no plans to stop. That he could die so young is just heartbreaking.
Oscilloscope also tried its hand at licensing older films (releasing Jules Dassin’s The Law on DVD and, more recently, distributing Nicholas Ray’s We Can’t Go Home Again theatrically). Plus when New Yorker Films closed in 2009, Oscilloscope jumped at the chance to be the Milestone library’s new home-video distributor. (“The Milestone team does amazing work,” said Adam Yauch, head of Oscilloscope. “Clearly they care deeply about the films they choose to release and how they release them. And to be quite frank, I’m a little envious that they beat us to the punch on I Am Cuba.”)
Milestone is its own company, of course, and I don’t want to overstate the importance of the Oscilloscope deal, but the Milestone titles that first reached home video in partnership with Oscilloscope present an astonishing array of underrepresented voices in cinema finally becoming accessible to the non-academic community.
We’re talking Charles Burnett (Killer of Sheep, My Brother’s Wedding, et al.) and Kent Mackenzie (The Exiles et al.) and Lionel Rogosin (Good Times, Wonderful Times, On the Bowery (which was released on VHS), et al.) and Lucy Massie Phenix and Veronica Selver (You Got to Move: Stories of Change in the South, plus the previously-VHS-only Winter Soldier and Word Is Out: Stories of Some of Our Lives).
Maybe those names and titles don’t ring out for you, but they deserve the acclaim they have and much more, and if they do ring out for you, it’s almost definitely because of the work that Milestone and Oscilloscope have done.
And I always feel kind of gross praising a company simply for bringing a product to market, but thanks to the intersections of law, art, and commerce, and an entirely shameful American unwillingness to invest in archivism, turning a work of art into a mass-distributed commodity is the most effective form of preservation our culture has.