Rialto Pictures takes high — and low — road

Company proud of its off-center slate

Though New York-based Rialto Pictures specializes in the theatrical reissuing of restored versions of such legendary films as Fellini’s “Nights of Cabiria” (1957) and Godard’s “Contempt” (1963), Rialto co-presidents Bruce Goldstein and Mike Thomas are proud to point out that the genesis of their company revolves around a film that isn’t normally grouped with those of the European masters: Russ Meyer’s “Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!”

In 1994, Los Angeles-based Strand Releasing successfully reissued the 1966 Meyer cult classic which Goldstein, programmer of the repertory calendar for Gotham’s venerable Film Forum, booked to play in January of that year.

Goldstein became friendly with Strand then-co-president Thomas, who also came from a repertory background — in this case, San Francisco’s Strand Theatre.

With their mutual passion for seeing first-class reissues of classic films on the bigscreen, the two joined forces with New York-based copyright lawyer Adrienne Halpern and formed Rialto Pictures, which was launched in February 1997, with a 30th anniversary reissue of “The Graduate.”

The Mike Nichols classic went on to gross $250,000 in 35 cities, followed up several months later by Rialto’s reissue of “Contempt,” which pulled in over $700,000 in 70 cities. The two films are the only ones on the Rialto slate to be “co-presented” by Strand Releasing. After “Contempt,” Rialto went on its own.

“We’ve had lots of projects in mind for a long time,” says Goldstein, who carefully points out that Rialto offers restored prints. “Even if you go out of the way to say it’s a new print, people will still refer to it as a ‘director’s cut’.”

Ten prints of “Cabiria” are currently circulating around the country — a large number for a reissue — which are slated to play in more than 80 cities over the next several months.

Since its release last July, the film has already grossed over $700,000, making it the most successful foreign language reissue since Miramax’s “Purple Noon” in 1996.

“And that’s pretty damn good for a 1957 black-and-white Italian film,” says Goldstein, who takes pride in having come up with the company’s name, which is an homage to the soon-to-be-razed Rialto Theater, an infamous Gotham grindhouse located at 42nd Street and Broadway.

The Rialto Theater was managed in the ’30s and ’40s by Arthur Mayer, an impresario of sorts who was known for importing and exhibiting such Italian Neo-realist classics as De Sica’s “The Bicycle Thief” and Rossellini’s “Open City,” as well as a slew of murder and mayhem product that earned him the nickname “The Merchant of Menace.”

If Mayer was alive to note the success of “Cabiria” and Rialto Picture’s upcoming slate of reissues, which includes such seminal thrillers Michael Powell’s “Peeping Tom” (1960), Carol Reed’s “The Third Man” (1949) and Jean-Pierre Melville’s “Bob le Flambeur” (1955), he would no doubt be proud of what his theater’s legendary name has inspired.

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