A warning to those picking up the DVD of Philip Kaufman's 1965 debut film, Goldstein: Avoid watching the disc's Kaufman interview before watching the movie. It isn't that Kaufman spoils the plot—Goldstein doesn't really have a plot to spoil—but by the time he's finished spinning anecdotes about sharing a Cannes Critics Prize with Bernardo Bertolucci, and explaining how Jean Renoir called Goldstein the best American film he'd seen in 20 years, Kaufman has set up anticipations for something more life-altering than what's to come. Goldstein is hardly the great lost '60s movie. It's more a charming experiment in cinematic play, from a brilliant, restless artist-in-training who set out to write a novel and ended up making an American contribution to the fully flowering New Wave.
Kaufman and his co-director Benjamin Manaster based Goldstein on an old Hasidic fable about a man who emerges from a lake and begins to alter the lives of the people he meets. Lou Gilbert plays the man, a grizzled, ebullient oldster who may be the prophet Elijah, heralding some auspicious (or perhaps ominous) occasion. But none of that is necessarily clear from the movie, in which Gilbert mostly runs around the streets of Chicago, hopping on trucks and laughing like a maniac. In between Gilbert's scenes, Kaufman and Manaster turn the movie over to performers from Second City, like the inimitable Jack Burns, who does a riff on cops and pizza that's more entertaining for its rhythm and certainty than for what's actually said.
Goldstein is fascinating as a cultural document, both for the way it slots between John Cassavetes and the early films of Brian De Palma on the American independent-film timeline, and for the way it captures Chicago's mid-'60s art and folk scenes. Kaufman and Manaster's experimental spirit allows them to stop the film for a long sports anecdote from Nelson Algern, and to narrow the frame into a kind of super-widescreen, just for fun. The filmmakers attach a camera to anything that rolls, following characters through long, Béla Tarr-like trudges through a vibrant city, and they lead such a charmed life that when they head out to O'Hare for a pickup shot of a plane landing, they catch one that's wobbling on its way in, with smoke trailing from one engine. That moment is Goldstein in miniature: a happy accident.
Key features: A lengthy, informative, and expectation-building Philip Kaufman interview.