“One of the extraordinary finds in To Save and Project (Oct. 24–Nov. 22), the Museum of Modern Art’s annual presentation of recent restorations from the world’s archives, is an untitled movie that was shot in 1913 and was never completed,” writes the New Yorker‘s Richard Brody. “It stars Bert Williams, the era’s leading black vaudeville performer, and it’s the oldest surviving feature film with a predominantly black cast. On Nov. 8, MOMA is presenting a collection of unedited takes in a program called Bert Williams: 100 Years in Post-Production, and it’s a revelation.” Brody also writes up The Cave of the Silken Web, a silent film shot in 1927 in Shanghai by Dan Duyu, and Allan Dwan‘s The Iron Mask (1929), which opens the festival this evening. This’ll be the North American premiere of the new MoMA restoration.
“Nearly five years after I wrote that a neglected western from 1933 with a pre-stardom Randolph Scott and Shirley Temple was in dire need of rescue, the Museum of Modern Art is debuting a brand-new restoration of To the Last Man next week,” announces a happy Lou Lumenick in the New York Post. Henry Hathaway’s 1933 film is “a fairly racy and very violent (at one point, the head gets shot off Shirley’s doll) western variation on Romeo and Juliet, made a year before Hollywood censors cracked down and began enforcing the Production Code.”
On Sunday, Debra Levine will be conducting an onstage conversation with George Chakiris, best known for his performance as Bernardo, leader of the Sharks in West Side Story (1961). Levine writes for arts·meme: “Fifty years ago, in November 1964, a beautiful and moody Italian film, La Ragazza di Bube (Bebo’s Girl) opened in theaters. Based on an acclaimed novel by Carlo Cassola, the film recounts a love triangle in an anguished and entangled setting: Italy’s post World War II struggle to come to grips with its fascist experiment and its leftist aspirations. Director Luigi Comencini’s striking location shooting captures the ragged landscape of a war-torn nation. The movie motors serenely on sensitive leading-role performances by Claudia Cardinale and George Chakiris, both beautiful young actors bringing soulful sadness to their pairing.”
From Bebo’s Girl (click the settings gear for subtitles)
“Four recently restored 3D films from the National Film Board of Canada will be featured Nov. 20 and 21,” notes Thomas J. McLean in Animation Magazine. “These films are being screened as part of MoMA’s 3-D Funhouse! program, featuring works by film legend and NFB animation studio founder Norman McLaren and frequent collaborator Evelyn Lambart, one of Canada’s pioneering women animators.”
Update, 10/25: That rediscovered and restored film Richard Brody writes about at the top of the entry? We’ve got a bit of listening here (7’29”). “Jacqueline Stewart, a professor of cinema and media studies at the University of Chicago, tells The Takeaway‘s John Hockenberry about the film’s portrayal of African-American life in early 20th century New York, and why the footage is so important to understanding African-American cultural history of the era.” And the exhibition 100 Years in Post-Production: Resurrecting a Lost Landmark of Black Film History is on view through March 31.
Update, 10/27: In the 3-D Funhouse! program, two “Soviet shorts harness the technology as a celebration of utopian possibility through a tour of park grounds (with a bunch of flowers handed out to the viewers) and a good-for-you educational look at crystals,” notes Nicolas Rapold in the New York Times. “But if 3-D lent itself well to promoting technology and its culturally improving qualities, the 1966 feature The Bubble… pursues a more pessimistic, even subversive vision. A Twilight Zone-style conceit writ large, The Bubble (at MoMA on Nov. 9) strands a couple and their newborn in a perversely clockwork village that turns out to be a human zoo.”
Updates, 10/28: “This year marks the 100th anniversary of one of the most influential films ever made,” writes David Filipi for Film Comment. “[A]udiences had seen nothing like [Winsor McCay’s] Gertie the Dinosaur when it was released in 1914. Unlike other animated characters that had appeared on screen, Gertie had a personality. She was shy, she cried, she danced, and she was both playful and mischievous. And she vividly occupied space. It’s a testament to McCay’s genius that he was able to realize Gertie as a massive creature whose limbs bore weight. When she lies on her side and breathes, her chest rises and falls as we’d expect it.” Gertie the Dinosaur Is 100 Years Young: John Canemaker Presents Animated Masterworks by Winsor McCay happens on November 7.
R. Emmet Sweeney writes up three titles at Movie Morlocks, starting with “South African blaxploitation soccer-rigging curiosity Joe Bullet (1971, screening 11/8 and 11/13), banned by the government soon after its release but rescued by the Gravel Road African Film Legacy (GRAFL) initiative. I’ve always treasured the festival more for its oddities than its classics, which would emerge elsewhere anyway. Another one is Miss Okichi (1935, screening 10/31 and 11/4), with Kenji Mizoguchi credited as ‘supervisor,’ though elsewhere he is listed as a co-director. It’s a tragic tale of doomed love that feels like a missing piece in Mizoguchi’s filmography, even if more detective work needs to be done about its origins. Then there is the bizarre It’s a Wonderful Life noir Repeat Performance (1947, screening 11/12 and 11/14), in which a murderous dame gets to re-live the year leading up to the moment she kills her husband.”
Update, 10/29: Melissa Anderson on Bert Williams Lime Kiln Field Day: “As the suitor walks his lady home, the film concludes with the two of them kissing—a bit of romance between a black man and a black woman played not for laughs, as was almost always the case at the time, but as an honest expression of love. (The moment is anomalous not just for 1913; throughout the next several decades, black actors would rarely be permitted to display any affection on screen.) Despite this and other singular traits of the film—notably the cast’s ease and camaraderie with the two white directors, Edwin Middleton and T. Hayes Hunter, and other white crew members, glimpsed during the rushes and in the production stills that line MoMA’s theater-lobby galleries—the project is not without egregious stereotypes.”