Film Visionary Adam Yauch (1964-2012)
“The idea from the start was to find films that we really like” – that’s how legendary rapper Adam Yauch described the goal of his independent film distribution company, Oscilloscope Laboratories. With Yauch’s passing last week at age 47, we’re paying tribute to his accomplishments as a film visionary as well as being one of the Beastie Boys, the hardcore hip hop band inducted to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame just days before Yauch succumbed to cancer.
Oscilloscope acquired “films that make us laugh or that are informative,” Yauch told the GOTHAMIST in 2009, six months after co-founding Oscilloscope. That’s when Film Fresh started working with Oscilloscope, back when we still sold DVDs. Very quickly, Oscilloscope’s lineup became “synonymous with smart, interesting cinema,” noted NY TIMES film critic Manhola Dargis in her remembrance of Yauch.
An example of this is THE MESSENGER (2009), starring Woody Harrelson and directed by Oren Moverman (who both worked together recently in RAMPART). INDIEWIRE reported Moverman’s anecdote on how Yauch acquired the film: When they first met, Yauch told Moverman that he hoped Oscilloscope would someday distribute films like THE MESSENGER. What Yauch didn’t realize was that Moverman’s film, despite winning great acclaim at Sundance Film Festival, didn’t have a distributer. Not only did Yauch follow up on the opportunity to distribute THE MESSENGER, but he accompanied Moverman to the Oscars when the film was nominated for two awards in 2010. Moverman remembered:
He never talked to me about awards or even the business of the film. He seemed to be about the "message," the intent, the filmmaking. At every introduction to the film he spoke from the heart, just pouring love, not just for the work he was presenting but also for the potential of cinema.
Photo from THE MESSENGER, starring Woody Harrelson (L), directed by Oren Moverman
As a musician, Yauch had helped shape the band’s playful and irreverent music videos, some made by edgy directors such as Spike Jonze, and some made by Yauch himself under the alias Nathanial Hörnblowér. Among Oscilloscope’s earliest films was GUNNIN’ FOR THAT #1 SPOT, directed by Yauch in 2008. Last year, Yauch directed FIGHT FOR YOUR RIGHT (REVISITED), a spirited revision of the Beastie Boys’ successful 1987 song and video, “(You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (To Party!).” The 30-minute film features cameo appearances by dozens of Hollywood stars like Will Ferrell, John C. Reilly and Seth Rogen as well as indie artists like filmmaker Mike Mills. Beastie Boys bandmate and childhood friend Mike D. explained how comedies from their childhoods, like CADDYSHACK and STEP BROTHERS, inspired the antics in Yauch’s last video. Mills gave Film Fresh an idea of why Yauch is a hero to so many:
I think Yauch was part of the great American transcendentalist tradition that goes from cultural entrepreneurs like Emerson, Throreau and Whitman down through the Beats like Ginsberg and Dylan and slides into more contemporary punk/hip-hop scene. This tradition says your particular misshaped voice and soul and body are perfect and powerful and divine - not any official or ideal cultural self. As a huge fan and sometime graphic collaborator, I felt that he and the other Beastie Boys were THE shining example of how white boys could find self-empowerment in a mediated, consumerist world - they showed how to subversively laugh, how to do what you want and own the company that is distributing that product, how to be free, and in their later phase, how to embrace the political responsibilities of an open and compassionate heart - the completion of their self-empowerment being the care and support of others of the less empowered. Yauch was incredibly brave, even during his illness, not letting it define him. To me, and my generation, he is a real living cultural radical hero, passed on or not.
Yauch was a board member of IFP, a frequent attendee of the Sundance Film Festival, and also a founder of the Milarepa Fund, a non-profit organization working for Tibetan justice. Oscilloscope Laboratories continues without Yauch. Film lovers can support his legacy by joining Oscilloscope’s DVD/Blu-ray club, Circle of Trust, or renting one of Oscilloscope’s films here: