“I’ve always been interested in people who shoot, you know?,” Amy Taubin said. We were talking on the eve of her guest film program at the Museum of Modern Art, where she follows “Carte Blanche” invitees such as Cindy Sherman and Guillermo del Toro.
For decades, discerning moviegoers have relied on Taubin for brilliant criticism about cinema’s greatest talents and new voices, in the pages of the golden-age Village Voice and beyond. But writing is only one part of Taubin’s mind-boggling career. She’s acted on Broadway, appeared in Warhol films, curated for the Kitchen arts center, and funded minimalists with a New York State arts program. There’s always another Amy chapter—like when she worked for the defense committee for the Black Panther Party and was subject to F.B.I. surveillance.
“I had a double life,” Taubin, 84, said—this time referring to a fervid stretch in the 1960s. She’d built a career as an actor in “what’s called the legitimate theater,” she recalled. Then she started visiting Warhol’s Factory; Barbara Rubin, who introduced Warhol to the Velvet Underground, was a friend. The result?
“There are two Screen Tests of me,” she said, referring to Warhol’s beguiling series of silent film portraits. Fellow Screen Test luminaries include Lou Reed, Bob Dylan, Dennis Hopper, and Marcel Duchamp. Andy, she recalled, would turn on the camera for the Screen Test and walk away, letting it run …
Taubin’s MoMA series will feature another Warhol work, the unfinished Batman Dracula. It’s definitely the only superhero movie you’ll see this year starring experimental-film legend Jack Smith.
At the time, she lived on the Upper West Side with then husband Richard Foreman, the avant-garde playwright. She remembers being in a play with her neighbor Christopher Walken, who had a gaggle of soap-opera fans in the front row. Eventually she gravitated downtown, to the SoHo loft she’s had since 1973.
“It was this place where you had to be crazy to live,” Taubin said of the once deserted neighborhood. Later she saw William Friedkin and Jeanne Moreau around. They had a loft, too; Moreau would buy cheese nearby at an early incarnation of Dean & DeLuca.
New York looms large in Taubin’s MoMA programs, from Richard Widmark in Pickup on South Street to Scorsese’s Life Lessons, starring Nick Nolte as a big-canvas SoHo artist. She realized something about her intense relationship with independent and avant-garde films: “They were all about secret worlds that were in this city where I lived.” Taubin’s ties with the film scene run deep: the late Jonas Mekas was a friend for ages, and she serves on the board of the Anthology Film Archives, an East Village landmark.
Taubin features in one such “secret world” in the MoMA series: Michael Snow’s Wavelength, which shows her in an epic zoom shot in a loft. Steven Soderbergh will introduce another program. And she’ll show rare shorts by Joie Lee, a friend from the School of Visual Arts, where she teaches. (Spike Lee, brother to Joie, figured in a memorable Village Voice feature on Do the Right Thing: Taubin sat with him in the Sal’s Pizzeria set.)
As we wrapped up, Taubin and I began to compare notes on some recent viewing. The writer was already back to work. There was always another movie. Or maybe this life was a movie.
“Carte Blanche: Amy Taubin” is on at New York’s Museum of Modern Art until May 26
Nicolas Rapold is a New York–based writer and the former editor of Film Comment magazine