The story of a small-time Jewish bookie freshly out of jail and trying to regain his lost turf, The Plot Against Harry is one of the great New York films and, to a contingent of true believers, a total masterpiece, beautifully shot in black and white, again by Young. However, in keeping with Roemer’s new path as a writer, Harry is an increasingly desperate and unheroic character who keeps losing, propelled by unbelievable coincidence as he attempts to work his way out from under increasing obstacles completely beyond his control. It is also deadpan in the extreme, specifically ethnic—warts and all—and refuses to telegraph its intentions. Thus, early screenings were met with bafflement, most significantly from anyone who would possibly distribute the film. Roemer decided to shelve it. The Plot Against Harry is not a film that was released and failed. It is a film that the creator decided failed and was never released.
The disaster that The Plot Against Harry had on his career trajectory as a filmmaker was matched by Roemer’s own despondency. It was nearly twenty years later, when transferring the film to video in the lab, that a technician laughed, and Roemer reconsidered the film. On a whim, he submitted it to festivals, and The Plot Against Harry finally made it to screens twenty years after it was made, with a major run including Cannes, New York, Toronto and Sundance, followed by a theatrical release, a rave review on At the Movies with Siskel and Ebert, and even coverage on The Today Show. Here is where the film permanently re-enters consciousness, fully appreciated. And that happens, somewhat, except for the permanent part. Though truly beloved, and, like Nothing But a Man, enough of a singular achievement for an entire career to rest, The Plot Against Harry also faded from availability over the decades. The DVD, thankfully released by New Video, is out of print, but this too will soon change with a new 4K restoration completed by Duart, and a new 35mm print that will screen in this retrospective and remain in the collection of the HFA. – excerpted from the introduction by Jake Perlin
Faces of IsraelDirected by Michael Roemer.
US, 1967, digital video, black & white, 27 min.