L.A. film buff alert: here’s your chance to remind LACMA chief Michael Govan–and incoming film programmer Elvis Mitchell– that LA movie lovers want classic movies. Outgoing LACMA film curator Ian Birnie is running a summer program of his and the LACMA audience’s favorite classic film titles of the past 15 years. While the UCLA Film Archives and American Cinematheque do program classics, with Birnie gone, this could be your only chance to see some of the best movies of all time on the big screen in gorgeous prints in a friendly theater full of fellow film fans. Celebrate the best of what Hollywood has to offer. Pack the theater to the rafters so that LACMA knows that this is what audiences need and crave. Do it for fun, but make a statement too. Some of these films are actually on my ten best of all time list. Just see these movies: if you never have, order them up on Netflix. This is the creme de la creme. I’ve never seen Bay of Angels or Late Autumn–so I’ll be there with bells on.
The full schedule of classics and monster movie matinees is is below, along with Birnie’s swansong program notes.
CELEBRATING CLASSIC CINEMA: CURATOR AND AUDIENCE FAVORITES
July 8 7:30 pm Sunrise F.W. Murnau
July 8 9:15 pm I Know Where I’m Going! Michael Powell
July 9 5 pm The Earrings of Madame de… $5 Max Ophuls
July 9 7:30 pm L’Avventura Michelangelo Antonioni
July 15 7:30 pm Sullivan’s Travels Preston Sturges
July 15 9:10 pm To Be or Not to Be Ernst Lubitsch
July 16 5 pm Written on the Wind $5 Douglas Sirk
July 16 7:30 pm Pickpocket Robert Bresson
July 16 9 pm Bay of Angels Jacques Demy
July 22 7:30 pm In a Lonely Place Nicolas Ray
July 22 9:15 pm The Long Goodbye Robert Altman
July 23 5 pm The Exterminating Angel $5 Luis Bunuel
July 23 7:30 pm Mulholland Dr. David Lynch
July 29 7:30 pm The Lady from Shanghai Orson Welles
July 29 9:10 pm The Conformist Bernardo Bertolucci
July 30 5 pm The River $5 Jean Renoir
July 30 7:30 pm Late Autumn Yazujiro Ozu
CELEBRATING CLASSIC CINEMA: TUESDAY MATINEES
July 5 1 pm Meet Me In St. Louis Vincente Minnelli
July 12 1 pm Rear Window Alfred Hitchcock
July 19 1 pm The Letter William Wyler
July 26 1 pm Dinner at Eight George Cukor
SATURDAY MONSTER MATINEES
July 2 2 pm The 7th Voyage of Sinbad
July 9 2 pm Fantastic Voyage
July 16 2 pm The Thing
July 23 2 pm Journey to the Center of the Earth
July 30 2 pm The Incredible Shrinking Man
August 6 2 pm Jason and the Argonauts
August 13 2 pm Mothra
August 20 2 pm This Island Earth
August 27 2 pm Horror of Dracula
This July series is special in several ways. As I move forward with my career, the museum offered me the opportunity to revisit individual films and film series that I have organized since the summer of 1996; and in so doing to give the audience that has supported the LACMA film program over the past 15 years a chance to re-experience and discover some individual gems of film history, and to recall retrospectives and special screenings that they hopefully enjoyed. As we savor the diversity of great cinema by embarking on this four weekend voyage down a celluloid river from Sunrise to Late Autumn, viewers may note that there is irony—or if one prefers, subtext—in the choice of these two particular masterpieces to open and close the series.
Though the selection of films in Celebrating Classic Cinema was certainly personal and includes films I hold in high regard, I side-stepped the task of devising a list of ‘favorite’ or ‘desert island’ films—a soul-baring, mind-altering exercise for any film buff—in favor of a nostalgic look back at the program itself. The ground rules were simple: that the series as a whole would reflect the tradition and format of film programming at LACMA; that the titles selected would have played one or more times: and the films or series had been well attended. Given the finite number of screening slots, I decided to include only narrative feature films in the ‘classic’ tradition, notwithstanding the fact that both the audience and I have embraced many documentary, experimental, animated and conceptual films over some long nights (and days) in the Bing. An edgier series will have to wait for another time.
No matter how unique or original a programmer’s ideas, there are a multitude of informed individuals and organizations that become essential partners in the conceptual and practical presentation of films; and I feel that LA is particularly blessed in this regard. Thus it is a pleasure to acknowledge some of the key players: the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences, both the Archive staff and its Special Events and Exhibition Coordinator, Ellen Harrington; the UCLA Film and Television Archive, and in particular Todd Weiner; James Quandt of the Ontario Cinematheque whose ongoing advice and experience was invaluable; plus archivists at Sony, Fox, Universal, Paramount and Disney who, time after time, went out of their way to make rare prints available. Cultural and government representatives—notably Germany, Italy, Taiwan, Korea and Sweden—have been great friends to this department. However, my most valued partner is the French Film and Television Office: the resources made available by the French government in terms of prints and information is equaled only by the passionate and knowledgeable staff in their Paris, New York and LA offices. Without the efforts of Lise de Sablet and Mathieu Fournet (and his predecessors) in Los Angeles, French cinema at LACMA over the past fifteen years would not have enjoyed the prominence and success that it did.
All notes by Ian Birnie, Curator and Department Head
July 8 | 7:30 pm
Our opening double bill deals with one of the greatest themes in cinema: how the destructive and chaotic elements in human nature are mirrored in the violence of nature and transcended thanks to mystical and unseen forces. Sunrise, Murnau’s first American film, is an intense and emotional parable of seduction, betrayal, and redemption that revolves around three characters – a farmer, his childlike wife, and ‘the woman from the city’. One of the most technically innovative and visually stunning films ever made, with its symphonic structure and flowing, lyrical camera movements, the film needs no spoken dialogue and represents the apex of the silent film as a narrative and pictorial art form. The famous ‘trolley car sequence’ is the film’s adagio: the husband and his wife, recovering from their brush with death, stand frozen in anguish on a city-bound tram as a lyrical landscape glides by. Tied with The Rules of the Game for first place in my personal pantheon, Sunrise was screened in 1996 as part of my first LACMA series—“Experiments and Achievements in Film Narrative”—and again in 2000 in our F.W. Murnau retrospective.
1927/b&w/94 min. | Scr: Carl Mayer; dir. F.W. Murnau; w/ George O’Brien, Janet Gaynor, Margaret Livingston.
I Know Where I’m Going!
July 8 | 9:15 pm
Among the jewels in the crown of post-war British cinema are the films of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger whose rhapsodic melodramas The Red Shoes and Black Narcissisus were rediscovered by cinephiles in the 1970s, in large part due to their hallucinatory use of saturated color. Last screened at LACMA in the 1977 Powell-Pressburger retrospective, this ironically titled, early black and white masterpiece stars brilliant stage actress Wendy Hiller (in one of her rare screen performances) as sophisticated career gal Joan Webster who loses her way, her resolve, and her heart while stranded by a storm en route to the Isle of Kiloran where she is to marry “the richest man in the England.” The journey, the British landscape, and the afterlife figure prominently in the Powell-Pressburger oeuvre but the misty Scottish coastline, with its gothic castles and ancient legends, provides a perfect setting for this romantic tale that is permeated with a sense of the supernatural. “Despite its wartime setting, I Know Where I’m Going! is a not a period piece: it is a modern folktale, complete with hero, maiden, a curse, and a difficult trial that pits them against death. By daring to mix a love story with fantasy elements, the film argues for intuition and destiny rather than planning and strategy, and for not being too certain of anything.”—Bright Lights Film Journal.
1945/b&w/91 min. | Scr/dir. Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger; w/ Wendy Hiller, Robert Livesey, Finlay Currie
The Earrings of Madame de…
July 9 | 5 pm | $5
As the diamond earrings of Madame de.. travel a circuitous route from one owner to the next, an entire world comes to life—both the world of the French nobility during the Belle Èpoque as well as the opulent private life of the vain Madame de, her indulgent, aristocratic husband, and her soft, charming lover. Ophüls’ elaborate fluid camera movements take us beyond the film’s glittering surfaces (we are “only superficially superficial” the count aptly remarks to his fashionable wife) to expose the raw feelings surging beneath and, in a final catharsis, into the spiritually redemptive territory of grand passion. Darrieux, Boyer and de Sica did their greatest work in this towering film which, as Roger Ebert writes, “glitters and dazzles… We sit in admiration of its graceful style, its sets, its costumes and of course, its jewelry. Then to our surprise we find ourselves caring.” Screened at least five times in various LACMA series including a major Ophuls Retrospective in 1999 and a Charles Boyer Centennial Retrospective in 2008, this masterpiece rewards multiple viewings and is truly an audience favorite.
1953/b&w/105 min. | Scr: Marcel Achard, Max Ophüls, Annette Wademant; dir: Max Ophüls; w/ Charles Boyer, Danielle Darrieux, Vittorio De Sica.
July 9 | 7:30 pm
One of the most thrilling moments during my museum tenure was Antonioni’s appearance at his 2005 LACMA retrospective (just 18 months before his death) and my onstage conversation with the maestro and his wife prior to a screening of La Notte which he stayed to watch with the audience. L’Avventura, the first film in the trilogy that includes La Notte and L’Eclisse, is a towering work of modernist cinema, constructed around an absence that occurs within a void: it is from what is not in the film, not in the narrative, not in the frame, and not said by the characters that Antonioni has constructed his unique dramatic universe. The story is simple: Anna (Massari) a moody young Roman socialite has invited a dozen friends to sail with her to the Aeolian Islands off Sicily, among them her lover Sandro (Ferzetti) a successful architectural engineer, and her best friend Claudia (Vitti), the only member of the party who is not upper class. The next afternoon Anna disappears from a small volcanic island and as hours become days and the guests drift back to Rome, an anxious Claudia and a reluctant Sandro continue to search through Calabria and Sicily where their relationship evolves from antagonistic to intimate. With its carefully composed images, its neo-realist locations, its emotional reserve, its erotic undercurrents, its unnerving silences, its oblique dialogue, and its insincere characters, L’Avventura is part Chekhov, part Beckett and all Antonioni. The screening of this towering film, last shown in the 2007 series “Fifty Years of Janus Films”, is made possible courtesy of the UCLA Film and Television Archive.
1960/b&w/143 min. | scr: Michelangelo Antonioni, Elio Bartolini, Tonino Guerra; dir: Michelangelo Antonioni; w/ Monica Vitti, Gabriele Ferzetti, Lea Massari
July 15 |7:30 pm
As a lover of American screwball and sophisticated comedies, I struggled to choose among a dozen favorites, my solution being to narrow the field by highlighting a theme common to screen and stage—the relationship between art and life—hence, the pairing of these Pirandellian, and very personal, films by two of cinema’s greatest comedy directors. The medium is definitely the message in Sullivan’s Travels, Sturges’s satire of Hollywood hubris in which a successful director (McCrea), disdainful of his own hit comedy ‘Hey, Hey in the Hayloft’, vows that his next film, “O Brother Where Art Thou?’, will deal with the plight of the working man. Despite several unsuccessful attempts to escape the studio’s publicity machine, Sullivan naively hits the road dressed as a hobo; but neither the love of waif-like Lake (disguised as a boy) nor a phone number hidden in his shoe can protect him from the brutal reality of Depression America. By turns light, dark, sweet, sad, satiric, sentimental and laugh-out-loud funny, Sturges’s artistic testament affirms the healing powers of laughter in both life and the movies. Guaranteed to draw an audience, Sullivan’s Travels featured prominently in two centennial tribute series: Preston Sturges in 1998 and Joel McCrea in 2005.
1941/b&w/90 min. | Scr/dir: Preston Sturges; w/Joel McCrea, Veronica Lake
To Be or Not to Be
July 15 | 9:10 pm
In Sullivan’s Travel’s Joel McCrea tries to impress down-on-her-luck starlet Veronica Lake by promising to introduce her to ‘Lubitsch’, a name synonymous with power and artistry in 30s and 40s Hollywood. Following on a string of pre-war comedies that emphasized sexual innuendo and witty sophistication over ‘gags’, To Be or Not to Be came as a shock to audiences: Lubitsch’s audacious mix of farce, thriller and biting sarcasm was condemned for its “tasteless” humor and quickly disappeared from screens. Set in occupied Warsaw in 1939, the story concerns a Shakespearean troupe, headed by sexy Maria Tura (Lombard) and her ham actor husband Joseph (Benny), who become Nazi impersonators in a daring ruse to foil a political assassination. As the wall between play acting and reality crumbles, Lubitsch directs his performers through a dizzying array of entrances, exits, and costume changes, while unleashing a string of blistering one-liners, none more controversial than that of Sig Ruman’s backslapping Nazi commandant who says to Benny: “What you did to Shakespeare, we are now doing to Poland.” Critic James Harvey observed that To Be is “Lubitsch’s most modernist film (and) one of the least cynical comedies ever made… Evil is clearly named, but it is also brought closer to familiar feelings and situations than audiences expected.” Included in a 1997 series on American anti-Nazi films and in a Carol Lombard retrospective in 2003, the film was one of the best attended in last summer’s popular 16 film Lubitsch retrospective.
1942/b&w/99 min. | Scr: Edwin Justice Mayer; dir: Ernst Lubitsch; w/ Carole Lombard, Jack Benny, Robert Stack, Sig Ruman
Written on the Wind
July 16 | 5 pm | $5
Jean-Luc Godard once wrote that “the only logic that concerns Sirk is delirium” and though this glossy studio director held a privileged place in the affections of the Cahiers du cinema critics – along with such 1950s melodramatists as Minnelli, Preminger and Ray – Sirk’s greatest influence emerged a decade after the new wave in the films of fellow German Rainer Werner Fassbinder. Written on the Wind, which has not screened since ‘Fassbinder and his Friends’ in 1998 where it was paired with Chinese Roulette, depicts a wealthy Texas oil family that is torn apart by alcoholism, jealousy, impotence, nymphomania, and the false gods of happiness and success. In this hot house drama, played out in a nouveau riche mansion awash in icy blues, jarring reds, and garish artificial lighting, the four main characters live surrounded by mirrors and flower arrangements, a cold and deceptive environment where the possessions of middle-class life displace true human feelings. Taking its cue from the driven, destructive siblings played by Stack and Malone, Written on the Wind is the Sirk’s most dynamic melodrama, and the film that inspired Fassbinder to write that “the good, the ‘normal’, the ‘beautiful’ are always utterly revolting; the evil, the weak, the dissolute arouse one’s compassion… In the same way, the camera angles are almost always tilted, mostly from below, so that the strange things that happen in the story happen on the screen and not just in the spectator’s head.”
1956/color/ 99 min. | Scr: George Zuckerman, Robert Wilder; dir: Douglas Sirk; w/ Rock Hudson, Lauren Bacall, Robert Stack, Dorothy Malone.
July 16 | 7:30 pm
Robert Bresson was the subject of a major touring retrospective organized by the Cinematheque Ontario in 1999; virtually all the LACMA screenings were sold out which made LACMA the best attended venue out of a dozen US stops, which pleased Bresson when he was informed of this fact by curator James Quandt! Pickpocket, made three years after the classic A Man Escaped, was the shortest, most concentrated film that Bresson had directed up to that time, and it exerted a profound influence on directors worldwide. A chronicle of the day to day activities of Michel, an introverted academic who picks pockets not for the money but as a route to human contact, Pickpocket intercuts close-ups of Michel’s impassive face with extended sequences of professionals at the top of their game: on the Paris metro, at the racetrack, in a ticket line, crossing a busy street. As billfolds slip from pocket to hand to newspaper to sewer grate at lightning speed, Bresson’s flights of virtuosic editing generate an adrenalin rush and an edge-of-the-seat-tension equal to the best action cinema. One of the few Bresson titles in U.S. distribution (a restored print of Diary of a Country Priest had a weekend run at LACMA this past April) Pickpocket also screened in a 2002 tribute to the fiftieth anniversary of Cahiers du cinéma.
1959/b&w/75 min. | Scr/dir: Robert Bresson; w/ Martin Lasalle, Marika Green, Pierre Etaix
Bay of Angels
July 16 | 9 pm
If fate is a key component of the Bressonian universe, chance plays the same role in the world of Jacques Demy, and nowhere more prominently than in his second feature Bay of Angels. A platinum blonde Jeanne Moreau, in one of her most beguiling incarnations, plays Jackie, a compulsive gambler who haunts the casinos of Nice and Monte Carlo. Constantly broke and with an eye for a sucker, she picks up an unworldly office worker in search of adventure, and as the film moves into high gear, the couple spin breathlessly from exhilaration to despair in sync with the roulette wheel. Featuring Demy’s stylish, swift direction and aided by Raoul Coutard’s dazzling images of a sunny Riviera, Bay of Angels is one of the best films ever made about gambling and may be the least screened film by a major French New Wave director. Last shown at LACMA on the opening night of our 1998 Jeanne Moreau retrospective—where Moreau captivated audiences with her stories for almost an hour—this screening is made possible thanks to Agnes Varda and the Film and TV Office of the French Consulate.
1962/b&w/90 min. | Scr/dir: Jacques Demy; w/ Jeanne Moreau, Jackie Demaistre, Jean Fournier.
In a Lonely Place
July 22 | 7:30 pm
Los Angelenos always come out for films set in Hollywood and Los Angeles and this program pairs two of the best. One of the great films of the American cinema and one of Ray’s most poignant studies of a social outcast, In a Lonely Place tells the story of two characters that briefly trade pain for love. When Dixon Steele (Bogart), a Hollywood screenwriter suffering from creative burnout, is implicated in the murder of a hatcheck girl, the glamorous new tenant (Grahame) across the courtyard provides an alibi, a warm bed and domestic bliss until she begins to doubt the innocence of the man she saved and loves. Contemporary in its heady mixture of sex and fear, In a Lonely Place is a visually seductive depiction of a love affair that is doomed, and a sardonic portrait of life in a company town. As critic Richard Schickel wrote in Time, “Steele is a modern archetype—a talented, disappointed man surrendering to an anger he cannot govern, an existential blackness he cannot understand.” Featured in a Humphrey Bogart Centennial Retrospective in 2000 – where a highlight of the night was an onstage appearance by 84 year-old Hadda Brooks who belted out the torch song she sings in the film—In a Lonely Place returned to the Bing in a 2007 series devoted to Burnett Guffey, the gifted cinematographer responsible for the silky noir imagery.
1950/b&w/94 min. | Scr: Andrew Solt; dir: Nicholas Ray; w/ Humphrey Bogart, Gloria Grahame, Frank Lovejoy.
The Long Goodbye
July 22 | 9:15 pm
“Altman’s America: A Thirtieth Anniversary Retrospective” which ran for 5 weekends in July 2000 was one of the first such tributes to this modern master who participated in an onstage discussion following a screening of The Player which, like In a Lonely Place, features studio types caught up in a murder. More LA-centric than Hollywood self-centered is this Altman adaptation of Raymond Chandler’s famous novel featuring the laconic, hard-bitten gumshoe Philip Marlowe. Transposed from a nocturnal 1940s setting to a sun scorched 1970s milieu populated by assorted lowlifes, pot heads, topless blondes and Tinseltown hustlers, The Long Goodbye trades in the terse idealism of Bogart’s Marlowe for Elliot Gould’s garrulous, mocking take on the contemporary hero, a disheveled and distracted loner who seems more interested in looking for his missing cat than solving the crime. Moral rot is pervasive, punctuated by bursts of gratuitous violence, both beautifully evoked by the off-kilter widescreen compositions of Vilmos Zsigmond, the gifted cinematographer who virtually created the “look” of the New American Cinema. “The faith in friendship, the respective for human life are clearly anachronistic in the context of Malibu’s fast cars, corrupt cops and quick divorces; and in the end, the Seventies Marlowe can only preserve his old-style idealism by meting out a Mosaic justice of his own….The lyricism, the violence and the humor merge in a pure style which, although it may not be Chandler’s, Altman has made unmistakably his own.”—Jan Dawson, The Monthly Film Bulletin.
1973/color/ 112 min./Panavision | Scr: Leigh Brackett; dir: Robert Altman; w/ Elliot Gould, Nina van Pallandt, Sterling Hayden.
The Exterminating Angel
July 23 | 5 pm | $5
The Spanish-born Surrealist Luis Buñuel—like fellow filmmakers Fellini, Hitchcock and Bergman—was possessed of a vision so unique that his surname has become an adjective not just for his cinematic style but as shorthand for a particular world-view. In Bunuel’s large canon, made on different continents between 1928 and 1978, there are no films without interest and a handful that represent the perfect flowering of his art: El, Illusion Travels by Streetcar, Viridiana, Belle de Jour, and The Exterminating Angel, his final Mexican film which, like The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, revolves around a dinner party. What ensues is typically black Buñuelian comedy: a group of upper-class friends gather in a baroque villa for a post-theater supper, but a mysterious force prevents them from leaving the premises. As hours and then days pass, the media – unable to enter – gather outside the gates while inside civilization vanishes as the captives drink water from the pipes, kill and eat a sheep, dabble in witchcraft, commit adultery, and burn the furniture. Buñuel decorates this vision of hell with hallucinations, scenes that repeat, and characters that say and do the most inexplicable things in the most normal way. Though “the exterminating angel” is a phrase that appears in the book of the Apocalypse, Buñuel chose it as a title because, he writes, “if I saw ‘The Exterminating Angel’ on a marquee, I would go in and see it on the spot.” A perennial favorite of LACMA audiences, the film first screened in our “Buñuel in Mexico” series in 1998 and again in 2004, 2007 and 2010.
1962/b&w/95 min. | Scr: Luis Buñue/dir: Luis Buñuel; w/ Silvia Pinal.
July 23 | 7:30 pm
The early films of David Lynch introduced a much-needed dark energy and surreal imagery into the bubblegum culture of 80s Hollywood and this brilliant filmmaker has discussed his work in the sold out Bing theater on two occasions: following Lost Highway which climaxed our Lynch retrospective in 2000; and several years ago at the preview screening of Inland Empire. Mulholland Dr.—the opening film in our 2007 René Magritte-inspired series “Through the Looking Glass”—is set in a duplicitous Hollywood where the sordid tale of a jealous, unemployed actress who descends into madness morphs into a glossy Nancy Drew adventure about a perky blonde (Watts) and a voluptuous brunette (Harring) who team up to solve a mystery. In reverse order. Conceived as an enigmatic series of nightmarish and whimsical events, Lynch’s epic hallucination evokes the claustrophobic universe of the similarly named Sunset Boulevard and the fantasy world of The Wizard of Oz, a Lynch favorite in which the American heartland is peopled by tin men, straw men and wicked witches—much like Hollywood today. “A nervy full-scale nightmare of Tinseltown… Watching Mulholland Dr. is a little like peering into the semi-darkness from the front car of a runaway subway train tunneling furiously into the earth as if sucked toward some unknowable hell.“—Stephen Holden, The New York Times.
2001/color/145 min. | Scr/dir: David Lynch; w/ Naomi Watts, Laura Harring, Justin Theroux, Robert Forrester, Ann Miller.
The Lady from Shanghai
July 29 | 7:30 pm
This double bill pairs two filmmakers who are magicians of the cinema, directors who employ the artifice of cinema to dazzle and deceive. The Lady from Shanghai, which appeared in “The Divine Rita,” my freshman fall series at LACMA in 1996, can be counted on to draw film noir fanatics as its inclusion in our bicentennial “California Noir” series and our “Through the Looking Glass” series in 2007 demonstrated. Hayworth, directed by ex-husband Welles and shorn of Gilda’s long red mane, is reincarnated as a quintessential noir seductress: a platinum blonde married to a rich, older and crippled lawyer, she spins her web around a naïve young sailor (Welles) who soon finds himself on the wrong end of a rigged murder trial. Rich in plot twists, exotic settings and cynical dialogue, the film has been described as a fever dream in which Welles’s vanquishes the cool, enigmatic, and iconic Hayworth. Though Welles stages memorable scenes on a yacht, in the San Francisco aquarium and in a Chinatown theater, it is the shootout in the hall-of-mirrors that may be the most bravura sequence this gifted director ever committed to celluloid. In critic Foster Hirsch words, “the funhouse (is) the ideal metaphor for the world view that prevails in noir. The multiple reflections of the film’s duplicitous husband and wife are representative of their uncertain, shifting identities.”
1948/b&w/87 min.| Scr/dir: Orson Welles; w/ Orson Welles, Rita Hayworth, Everett Sloane.
July 29 | 9:10 pm
In 2010 we presented a 40th anniversary screening of The Conformist, the favorite film of one of my favorite directors who had been the subject of a full retrospective in July 2004. Watching the film again, I marveled at the lyricism of Bertolucci’s direction and the full range of his golden age craftsmanship—the elaborate tracking shots, the opulent color photography, the ravishing art deco costumes and sets, the striking compositions, and such amazing set pieces as the Sandrelli-Sanda tango and the horrific assassination in the forest. A dark tale of moral betrayal based on a 1951 novel by Alberto Moravia, The Conformist unfolds against a sharply observed backdrop of political corruption and brutality. In a strikingly original performance, Jean-Louis Trintignant stars as the title character Marcello, a repressed, upper class intellectual whose desire for conformity—the result of a childhood trauma and a growing recognition of his homosexuality—compels him to marry a silly, middle-class girl and to become a bureaucrat in Italy’s new Fascist government. Told in an interlocking series of flashbacks that mirror the inner workings of Marcello’s mind and create an aura of impending doom, the film builds to a devastating climax.
1970/color/115 min. | Scr/dir: Bernardo Bertolucci; w/ Jean-Louis Trintignant, Dominique Sanda, Stephania Sandrelli, Pierre Clementi.
July 30 | 5 pm | $5
A recent restoration of The River by Martin Scorsese’s Film Foundation and the Academy Archive made it possible to include this sublime film—with its legendary color photography by Claude Renoir—in two LACMA series: “Out of India” in 2006, and again in 2010 in our 18-film “Jean Renoir Retrospective”, one of the Film Dept’s most ambitious series. Adapted from a novel by Rumer Godden, who was raised in India, Renoir’s first color film was a daunting task: it involved heavy equipment and long delays in printing the dailies; the cast was almost entirely non-professional locals; festivities and superstitions interfered with the shooting schedule; and sets and locations needed to be designed to reflect a year of seasons. As seen through the eyes of Harriet, the 15 year old daughter in a colonial British family, whose constant companions are her impetuous little brother and her teenage friends Melanie and Valerie, the film explores the mysteries of life in a foreign culture and captures the pain and joy of first love. Like the flow of the ever-present river, the film has a measured pace that chronicles day to day life with its sudden bursts of tragedy, pleasure and pain. As Valerie exclaims toward the end of the film: “This being together… in the garden. All of us happy. I didn’t want it to change… and it’s changed. I didn’t want it to end… and it’s gone. It was like something in a dream. Now you’ve made it real. I didn’t want it to be real.”
1951/color/99 min. | Scr: Rumer Godden, Jean Renoir; dir: Jean Renoir; w/ Nora Swinburne, Patricia Walters, Esmond Knight, Arthur Shields.
July 30 | 7:30 pm
Japanese cinema occupies a special place in my heart so I was gratified that every program we mounted including single revivals (Tokyo Twilight, The Story of Late Chrysanthemums) attracted large and dedicated fans. In addition to two series of Japanese classics curated by Susan Sontag, the department presented major retrospectives devoted to three of Japan’s greatest filmmakers: Kenji Mizoguchi, Nagisa Ôshima, and in 2004 Yasujiro Ozu who remains in a class by himself. Like The River, Ozu’s late color masterpiece is steeped in nostalgia and the acceptance of life’s disappointments; and its tale of a widow who urges her single daughter to marry and leave home marks the passage of time. No plot summary can convey the harmonious achievement of Ozu’s unique style of filmmaking: the geometric framing of the shots, the musical rhythm and repetition of the scenes, the muted color palette, and the restrained performances of actors like Setsuko Hara as the mother and Chishu Ryu as a family friend all magically combine to produce a work of profound insight and compassion. Ozu defined his approach when he wrote: “In art I follow myself… A director can really show what he wants without appealing to the emotions. I want to make people feel without resorting to drama. People sometimes complicate the simplest things. Life, which seems complex, suddenly reveals itself as very simple – and I wanted to show that in Late Autumn.”
1962/color/126 min. | Scr: Kogo Noda, Yasujiro Ozu; dir: Yasujiro Ozu; w/ Setsuko Hara, Yoko Tsukasa, Chishu Ryu.