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Amos Vogel

Amos Vogel (1921–2011) was born in Vienna, Austria. After the
Anschluss of 1938 he left his homeland and eventually ended up
in New York. From 1947 to 1963 Vogel and his wife Marcia ran
Cinema 16, the most successful and influential member-ship film
society in North American history. After its demise he founded
the Lincoln Center Film Department and, along with Richard
Roud, was co-founder of the New York Film Festival which he ran
until 1968. Over the years Vogel has served as chairman of the
American Selection Committee for the Cannes, Moscow, Berlin
and Venice film festivals. He has taught at Harvard University,
the New School for Social Research, New York University and for
several years at the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg
School. Following huge public demand, Vogel’s seminal book Film
as a Subversive Art (first published in 1974) was re-published by
CT in 2007, thus inspiring a whole new generation of film-makers
and artists. According to Vogel the book details the ‘accelerating
worldwide trend toward a more liberated cinema, in which
subjects and forms hitherto considered unthinkable or forbidden
are boldly explored.’ Described by Werner Herzog as ‘the moral
conscience of the world of cinema’ and by Yoko Ono as ‘one of
the great pioneers of avant-garde film’, Vogel is affectionately
thought of as the Godfather of subversive cinema.

True Story:
Amos (aged 6. 7. 8…): “So why did you call me Amos?”
My Mother (Mathilde): “Because he was a Jewish prophet,
in ancient times, who preached against the rich.”

Do you trust yourself?
Totally, implicitly

What have you done since you woke up this morning?
Washing my neck, eating a sparse breakfast, thinking about
how to answer these searching and profound questions

What is your earliest memory?
When I was three, my father read me a particularly relevant
chapter of Karl Marx’s Das Kapital. I cannot deny that I was
strangely moved

Do you believe in life after death
Yes. Especially Cloud Seven

Which historical figure would you like to take out,
and what would you like to show them?

I would like to take Hitler out, first to convince him that
a Jew can be a good guy, secondly to kill him

Were you a popular child?
Yes, I had two close friends, 26 who were indifferent to me,
5 who wanted to kill me

Do you scare easy?
Well. Anything that comes up to me rapidly, and is large,
scares the Dickens(?) out of me

If you could make any one thing free for all,
what would it be?


If you could have put a stop to any one thing in the last
100 years, what would it have been?

Adolf Hitler

Which public space do you like best?
My bench in Washington Square Park

Which private space do you like best?
The bathroom

Do you subscribe to a particular belief?

Yes. Libertarian Socialism

What do you do for fun?
Answering questionnaires. Making love. Reading the
New York Times

What one thing would improve the quality
of your life?

The absence of ‘can’t’, of politicians,
President Bush

Who was the first cultural figure to influence you?
I am not sure. Bertholt Brecht, perhaps

What was the first thing you produced/participated
in that you are particularly proud of?

Marching with my parents in a Socialist May 1st
celebration in Vienna aged 11. We marched past
the Austrian Parliament and I remember the
exact refrain of the Socialist International that
we all sang

What is your number one priority?
To fix what is wrong with the world, the domination
of the rich, the poverty and misfortune of the poor,
of all races. This has been my life-long concern,
if not an obsession

What makes you tick?
My heart. It will do so as long as I live.
(This question is really below your otherwise
very high standards.)

Who do you most like to talk shop with?
Anybody willing to at least listen to — if not
embrace — my seemingly outlandish ideas

What is your principal defect?
My unflagging optimism. Obviously unwarranted

What is your most marked characteristic?
Unquenchable optimism, marred by increasing

What would you like to be better at?
Influencing people to do better by others

What quality do you most like in a man?
No idea. Perhaps compassion, strength, ability
to love

What is the quality you most like in a woman?
No idea. Perhaps smiling warmth, comradeship,
ability to love

What is sexy?
If you don’t know I feel truly sorry for you. Why,
man, woman; it’s what makes the world go around.
I would not, could not, live without it. Come on now,
stop kidding

What is your favourite sound?
You got me there. Well… oh, I’ve got it: my favourite
sound is the warmth, intelligence, forbearance, so
marvellously revealed in President Bush’s immortal
speeches, particularly when he concentrates — as he
loves to do — on America’s greatness, forbearance,
overall Godliness. Watch out Al-Qaeda!

In a parallel universe what are you doing right now?

How I’d very much like to be able to be there right now,
so that I would answer your questions truthfully. But —
just wait — I’m working on it

What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?
The utter misery and degradation experienced by our
poor, by the natives of the world, by all the truly
disadvantaged of the world. Somebody should make
a count of them. Afterwards, totally emaciated by this
effort, he would be unable to truly help them

Do you collect anything? If so, what?
I used to collect memories of, or copies of, the best
films I have ever seen, old girlie magazines, complete
editions of political magazines, coloured pencils,
unanswered mail. Now I collect old age insurance

If you could turn back the clock, would you do
anything differently?

Of course. I must let you draw your own conclusions.
I have given you sufficient hints

Which work of art do you most covet for your home?
A well-executed portrayal of President Bush

Which book do you keep returning to?
I hesitate to choose between The Phantom of the
Opera and The Bible

What was the last film you watched, and was
it any good?

The American Presidency: Lincoln to Bush and
no, it wasn’t

What do you predict for America?
I am a tea-totaller and hence unable to predict
the future

What is the best bit of advice you can give to
someone who wants to succeed?

Try again

How will your epitaph read?
‘Here lies an honest man’. You could also add: Yes

What is love?
Come on now. You must be kidding

Is life serious?
Yes, very, and there is nothing we can do
about that

If you were to ask any two questions of any two
people, what would they be and whom would
you ask?

1. a) Are you happy? b) Are you making somebody else
happy? I would ask these two questions of my dear wife
Marcia…. But, come to think of it, instead of waiting for
an answer to the second question, I would smile sheepishly
and sweetly and say, ‘My dear I know…’
2. Sigmund Freud. I wonder if during his strolls through the
neighbourhood he remembers a little boy who could often
be found playing in the park on the corner of Waehringer-
strasse and Nussdorferstrasse, in the Ninth District. If he
and the boy had talked, the old bearded one might have
asked the boy in question about his sexual problems, but
being only eight or nine years old at the time, thankfully I
had none. He lived on Berggasse, we lived on Pichlergasse.
Vienna in the 1920s was such a beautiful place


Q&A index