• The Flowers of St. Francis

    The Flowers of St. Francis

    When Roberto Rossellini was making his film Francesco, Giullare di Dio, he cast non-actors in every role (with the exception of Aldo Fabrizi as the invader Nicolaio). Francis and his followers were all played by Franciscan friars and novices, one of whom told Rossellini that he was a poet. “I asked him what kind of poetry he was doing,” said Rossellini in a 1971 Film Culture interview, quoted in Tag Gallagher’s definitive critical biography, The Adventures of Roberto Rossellini. “He…

  • Apache Drums

    Apache Drums

    In today’s New York Times—a newspaper with a sad history of treating the arts like a cat’s toy—we are served yet another slice of baby talk in the guise of a cultural “think piece.” “Great is what this art is,” goes the sub-hed of a reflection on the Gardner Museum’s new Titian exhibition, “yet it raises doubts about whether any art, however ‘great,’ can be considered exempt from moral scrutiny.”

    What art has ever been “considered exempt from moral scrutiny?”…

  • Pickpocket

    Pickpocket

    24 years ago, I was thumbing through a copy of Cahiers du Cinéma and came across an item on a low budget ($50,000 to be exact) first film called Xiao Wu by a young Chinese director named Jia Zhangke. I was intrigued, because the description of Xiao Wu seemed wholly different from the Fifth Generation films of Chen Kaige, Zhang Yimou, or even Tian Zhuangzhuang. The film made its way through the international film festival circuit, first appearing in Berlin,…

  • The Swindlers

    The Swindlers

    Il Bidone, recently restored by The Film Foundation and the Cineteca di Bologna at L’Immagine Ritrovata, in collaboration with Titanus, has always been considered one of Federico Fellini’s “minor” works. True enough, I guess. Just as Poor Folk is “minor” Dostoyevsky and Pericles “minor” Shakespeare: when you’re in territory that exalted, the word “minor” ceases to be of much use.

    Il Bidone started life as a picaresque comedy about Italian swindlers in the key of Lubitsch, inspired by real con…

  • Night Tide

    Night Tide

    Curtis Harrington was one of the few directors who began in avant-garde & made the transition to feature narrative moviemaking. Like his friend Kenneth Anger, he began by just picking up a camera & making movies, & both artists came out of the extremely particular world of the west coast art/poetry/cinema/music/occult world of the 40s & 50s. The last of Harrington’s non-narrative shorts, which had a life on the college 16mm circuit & in film societies, was The Wormwood Star (1956), a cinematic portrait of…

  • Sambizanga

    Sambizanga

    Sambizanga, newly and immaculately restored by the Cineteca di Bologna and The Film Foundation, is a movie that will probably be new to many people. For anyone who cares about the cinema, for anyone who wants to make cinema, it is as essential to know well as Sunrise or Vertigo or 2001. It is “noteworthy” because it is the very first African feature directed by a woman, Sarah Maldoror, and it is a touchstone in surveys of political and revolutionary…

  • The Red House

    The Red House

    The literary critic and novelist Lionel Trilling made an observation in one of his essays that’s stuck with me over the years—younger people in the America of the 50s, he wrote, had developed an unfortunate habit of reflexively equating reality with evil. This habit of mind persisted for many years. If it seems to be fading away, that’s because no one at a moment like the one we’re in now can afford to be casually hopeless or pessimistic.

    Delmer Daves…

  • The Chase

    The Chase

    Film noir has been so thoroughly fussed over and theorized and fetishized and trumpeted since it was first classified and named back in the 70s that it has now become a brand name. It’s interesting to give the films a fresh look and consider their most outlandish aspects—labyrinthine narratives, wildly eccentric and impulsive characters popping up around every corner, unreliable narrators, resurrections from the dead and soul-searing betrayals. The mixture of resignation, confusion, wild romantic longing, punishing cruelty and sheer…

  • Back and Forth

    Back and Forth

    About 25 years ago, a writer I knew gave me a call. He was writing a piece about film restoration and he was taking a contrarian’s point of view. He didn’t have a problem with the actual practice of restoration and preservation per se, but with the advocacy for the practice. He had a Darwinian perspective: he maintained that the best films would always be cared for because they were the ones that had stood the test of time, while…

  • The Woman on the Beach

    The Woman on the Beach

    It’s been a while since I’ve seen Jean Renoir’s The Woman on the Beach, but it’s a film that’s never left me, and I was excited to know that The Film Foundation had collaborated on a restoration with the Library of Congress, funded by the Hobson/Lucas Family Foundation. I remember it discontinuously, in powerful, resonant fragments. “The Woman on the Beach was a perfect theme for treating the drama of isolation,” wrote Renoir in his autobiography. “Its simplicity made all…

  • Tunes of Glory

    Tunes of Glory

    I note that the Wikipedia entry on Tunes of Glory—a 1960 adaptation of James Kennaway’s novel (Kennaway also wrote the screenplay) directed by Ronald Neame and restored by the Academy Film Archive in collaboration with The Film Foundation, Janus Films, and MoMA with funding from the Hobson/Lucas Family Foundation—identifies the film as a “dark psychological drama,” a quote from a brief article in TCM’s database. This little turn of phrase, innocuous as it might seem, perfectly embodies what Martin Scorsese…

  • Hallelujah

    Hallelujah

    When Galveston-born King Vidor, one of the most successful directors in Hollywood, went to MGM just after the dawn of sound with the idea of making an all-black musical, he was immediately shot down. He went back to Nicholas Schenck, Chairman of the Board of MGM’s parent company, with several different approaches, and the answer was always no. It was a matter of economics: southern exhibitors would never open the film, which meant that it could never make a profit.…