Kaufman was attending the University of Chicago's master's program in history when he and his wife, Rose, decided to move to Europe in the early 1960s. Avid movie-goers, the Kaufmans became enamored with the innovative European films of the time, especially the New Wave and the Italian Post-Neorealists. Kaufman was not only excited by the fresh style of French, Italian, and Swedish cinema but also by the idea that these directors treated film as an art form. After returning to Chicago, Kaufman met author Anais Nin, who was speaking at the University of Chicago, and it was Nin who encouraged him to make his first film.
Shot entirely in Chicago, Goldstein was written and directed on a shoestring budget of $40,000 by Kaufman and his partner, Ben Manaster. The film is a modern-day interpretation of the story of Elijah, a prophet who supposedly heralded the end of time. In Kaufman and Manaster's version, Elijah takes the form of an old hobo, played by theater actor Lou Gilbert, who walks out of Lake Michigan to wander the South Side of Chicago. He crosses paths with several city dwellers, including a sculptor, an ineffectual cop, and a lonely old woman. He touches their lives by instigating change, causing trouble, or prompting them to divulge their frustrations or feelings, revealing more about the characters and the society they live in than the old man. The film is titled Goldstein, but there is no attempt to suggest that the old man is, in fact, the title character. "Goldstein" is never spoken in the film and appears only on the side of a beat-up delivery truck on which the old man hitches a ride. At the end, the old man dances along a beach, unaffected by his adventures and his impact on the lives of others.
Kaufman was directly inspired by the French New Wave and by the burgeoning independent movement in America that included John Cassavetes and Shirley Clark. Like the New Wave and Cassavetes, Kaufman used a minimal crew and documentary-like techniques to shoot in the streets of Chicago, capturing the same sense of freshness, spontaneity, and playfulness. The loose narrative with its enigmatic conclusion, in addition to the natural lighting and the documentary-style camerawork, are the opposite of the traditional Hollywood conventions typical of the time.
Unlike Cassavetes and the Film School Generation, Kaufman made his first two films in Chicago. While not a hub for filmmaking, the city does have an important albeit sporadic place in film history that is rarely acknowledged. In addition to being a center for educational and industrial filmmaking, Chicago spawned a documentary scene during the 1960s that involved students from its universities, including the University of Chicago. The city also had a thriving club and comedy scene with many talented entertainers who went on to enjoy substantial careers.
Kaufman tapped into that pool of performers when casting Goldstein. The legendary improv troupe Second City was just taking off when he and Manaster began looking for actors. Severn Darden and Anthony Holland, who play the art-loving abortionists in one of the film's most caustic sequences, were members of Second City as were Del Close, who plays a sinister-looking doctor, and Jack Burns, the annoying, bungling cop. Darden, famous for his offbeat, intellectual humor, cofounded Second City, while Close, a renowned teacher of comedy, is considered a major influence on modern improvisational theater. Burns became a highly recognizable figure on television variety shows with his comedy partner Avery Schreiber. Viola Spolin, who plays the lonely woman in the apartment, was an acclaimed acting teacher who wrote Improvisation for the Theater (1963), an important text on improvisational techniques in acting.
The loose narrative structure of Goldstein allows for tangents and twists unrelated to the actual plot. One of the most unusual sequences occurs when acclaimed Chicago writer Nelson Algren sits in his office and recounts the tale of Lostball Stahouska, who--as Algren explains it--"musta been innocent of something." Algren was a Chicago legend who saw himself as a spokesperson for the outsiders, the economically oppressed, and the disenfranchised. During Algren's scene, the camera pans across his bookshelves to reveal photos of boxers and bare-breasted women among the classic works of literature--a combination of cultured tastes and nonconformity that was Algren.
Kaufman and Manaster shot Goldstein in real locations, partly for economic reasons and partly as a stylistic choice. They shot in the apartments of friends and families as well as on familiar streets and recognizable locales. Some of the locations have long since disappeared, making Goldstein a kind of historical document of Chicago fifty years ago. At one point, the old man is chased into a meatpacking plant, a scene shot on location in a kosher meatpacking facility. Shots of sausages wiggling down a conveyor belt make the factory seem like a surreal, almost comic setting. From 1865 to 1971, the city was the meat processing capital of America, with the industry centered around the Union Stockyards on the near South Side. In its heyday, the yards encompassed one square mile, and the pens could hold 75,000 heads of cattle, 50,000 sheep, and 300,000 hogs. The dirty, harsh conditions of the meat-packing factories and stockyards helped define the city and its residents as tough, gritty, and resilient. The Union Stockyards closed in 1971; today, only one slaughterhouse/meatpacker remains in business.
Other Chicago locations that give Goldstein its unique sense of place include the city's neon-laden movie-palace district with its huge marquees, including the city's Cinerama theater, the McVickers. Most of these huge movie palaces were eventually demolished or converted. Among the most striking locations is the Oriental Institute Museum, which houses artifacts and statuary from the Nile Valley, Persia, and Mesopotamia. In one scene, the sculptor and his girlfriend argue over their relationship as they wander among the statuary and artifacts of the museum's Egyptian collection. The alien imagery from an ancient culture gives the scene a moody, uneasy tone that parallels the alienation between the two lovers, particularly when the couple passes by a statue of a blank-faced man and woman bound together forever in stone-cold immortality.
The independent scene was minimal at the time, and there were few theaters to exhibit movies made outside the confines of Hollywood. However, Kaufman made the most of what little exposure his film managed to get. Goldstein played at the independently run Carnegie in Chicago, where Francois Truffaut managed to catch it while he was in town. In New York, it played on the same bill as a short by an unknown NYU film student named Martin Scorsese. Kaufman entered Goldstein into the Cannes International Film Festival, where it shared the Prix de la Nouvelle Critique in 1964. For Kaufman, among the most memorable responses to the film was a remark made by French master director Jean Renoir, who declared Goldstein to be "the best American film he had seen in 20 years."
Producers: Zev Braun, Philip Kaufman
Director: Philip Kaufman, Benjamin Manaster
Screenplay: Philip Kaufman, Benjamin Manaster
Cinematography: Jean-Phillippe Carson
Music: Meyer Kupferman
Film Editing: Adolfas Mekas
Cast: Lou Gilbert (Old Man), Ellen Madison (Sally), Tom Erhart (Sculptor), Benito Carruthers (Jay), Charles Fischer (Mr. Nice), Severn Darden (Doctor), Anthony Holland (Aid), Nelson Algren (Himself), Jack Burns (Truck Driver/Policeman), Mike Turro (Guard).
by Susan Doll