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COMMEMORATING 30 YEARS OF TFF

7/1/2020 12:00:00 PM

So Ends Our Night, directed by John Cromwell, is based on the 1939 novel Flotsam by Erich Maria Remarque. It was shot in 1940 and released by United Artists in early 1941. Like Christian Petzold’s recent Transit, it is about the particular plight of the refugee. What is it like to be stateless, wrenched away from everything familiar, permanently unsettled, and under the constant threat of absolute crushing force? Those are the questions that shadow every moment, every second, every frame. The characters played by Fredric March, Margaret Sullavan, a very young Glenn Ford, Leonid Kinskey (the bartender in a more famous refugee film, Casablanca) and Alexander Granach who meet up along the European trail of displaced persons, the trail taken by Arthur Koestler and Walter Benjamin, warm themselves with the elemental gifts of life: a roast chicken, a bottle of wine, laughter, and each other’s company. And every moment of camaraderie and good cheer is haunted by the memory of home and loved ones lost or scattered. The film builds to an extraordinary passage in which you can really feel the presence of production designer William Cameron Menzies. March’s character returns to Vienna and wants to say a fugitive goodbye to his wife, played by Frances Dee. They take alternate routes to a designated spot, turning corners and making their way through crowds, and the sequence reaches a visual and emotional crescendo as they each get one last look at each other in a breathless succession of close-ups before they part forever.

So Ends Our Night, which was restored by George Eastman House (and now needs further attention), was independently produced by David Loew and Albert Lewin. No major studio would have touched it at the time. Hollywood was painstakingly careful, to a point well beyond moral cowardice and until the last possible moment, to neither offend German audiences nor advocate for American intervention in Europe. Films like Confessions of a Nazi Spy (Warner Brothers) and The Mortal Storm (MGM) were extremely rare exceptions to the rule. So Ends our Night is a courageous film, and it’s sad to think that some of the people who made it would later face the horrors of the Red Scare (March was hounded by HUAC early on and Cromwell was blacklisted through most of the 50s). It’s also a film that moves me deeply because, like The Big Country, it manages a rare feat: to dramatize and truly embody the good in people.

- Kent Jones

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COMMEMORATING 30 YEARS OF TFF

6/24/2020 12:00:00 PM

The Film Foundation has facilitated the restorations of five films by William Wyler, including one of his greatest (and one of the greatest, by anyone anywhere), Dodsworth. I wanted to focus on The Big Country because I’ve always found it underrated and because the circumstances of its creation provide a vivid snapshot of big-budget American moviemaking in the late 50s, as well as an equally vivid contrast with the world of cinema as it is now. Wyler had just directed live television for the first and last time, and he and his friend/star/co-producer Gregory Peck were eager to create a big screen movie epic. They shot in Technirama, a sort of anamorphic version of VistaVision. They developed a story about a liberal, educated easterner landing in the world of rival ranching families in a state of perpetual war—a meditation on manhood and the stark contrast between reason and inner fortitude on the one hand and blood-fueled and grievance-driven action and reaction on the other. Wyler and Peck chose locations that allowed them to shoot on an immense scale. As it sometimes happened in Hollywood, they went into production without a finished script, which meant a swelling budget and mounting tensions of all shapes and sizes on the set. Jean Simmons remembered learning her lines, then being given all new pages that she had to stay up all night memorizing, then arriving on location the next morning to find that the scene had been re-written once again. Carroll Baker’s Actor’s Studio training was sometimes at odds with Wyler’s method of directing. Peck insisted on retakes that Wyler refused to execute and they stopped speaking. In the end, Wyler left for Rome to make Ben-Hur and turned over all of post-production and even the shooting of a new ending to his editor Robert Swink. When the film was released it did moderately well, but it was thought of as something of a letdown. Looking at the Academy restoration today, within the context of this moment, when the difference between cinema and episodic television and all kinds of other audiovisual stuff has to be clarified and proudly proclaimed once more, and when blind passions and willful ignorance of scientific fact have put the country in real danger, The Big Country seems movingly grand and eloquent, kind of imperfect but generous, ample, and grounded in a belief in the very best in us.

- Kent Jones

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COMMEMORATING 30 YEARS OF TFF

6/17/2020 12:00:00 PM

Point of Order, released in 1964 and restored by UCLA with the help of The Film Foundation, is a 97-minute distillation of 188 hours of the Senate Army-McCarthy Hearings, which were nationally televised from April to June of 1954. The film began as an idea in the head of Dan Talbot, the proprietor and programmer of the New Yorker Theater and later the founder of New Yorker Films. Dan had been mesmerized by the original broadcasts and wondered about the possibility of running kinescopes of the hearings at the New Yorker and charging a dollar an hour. He brought up the idea with his friend Emile de Antonio and they decided to make a film. Through a process of trial and error and the help of a young editor named Robert Duncan, they created a documentary without commentary, whose force—the film has the relentless momentum of Full Metal Jacket or There Will Be Blood—and considerable dramatic tension emerge from a grounding in character, body language, and emotional conflict. In other words, the filmmakers looked at the footage, they saw the drama, and they extracted it. And they created a dynamically political film, a clarifying vision of the politics of one historical moment—McCarthy’s populism, fueled by the craven Roy Cohn, coming head to head with the liberalism of Boston lawyer Joseph Welch and Missouri Senator Stuart Symington. It’s the same drama that has played out, in different forms and with different characters, over and over again in this country since the end of World War II—the latest version is raging at this very moment. Point of Order is a riveting film, and it is essential viewing. I look forward to the day when it will serve not as a reminder of an earlier iteration of a conflict that we keep reliving, but as a document of a time gone by.

- Kent Jones

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Martin Scorsese's Ten Favourite Films

6/3/2020 4:05:00 PM

From Ashes and Diamonds to BlacKkKlansman

Martin Scorsese is not only one of the greatest living film directors of our time, but  also an avid cinephile. His non-profit organization Film Foundation is dedicated to restore rare classics. His educational documentaries including “A Personal Journey with Martin Scorsese Through American Movies” reflect his deep love and passion for film history. Here are the director’s favourite ten films in no particular order:

 

8½ (1963)

A harried movie director retreats into his memories and fantasies.

Director: Federico Fellini

 

The Haunting (1963)

Hill House has stood for about 90 years and appears haunted: its inhabitants have always met strange, tragic ends. Now Dr. John Markway has assembled a team of people who he thinks will prove whether or not the house is haunted.

Director: Robert Wise

 

Ashes and Diamonds (1958)

As WWII and the German occupation ends, the Polish resistance and the Russian forces turn on each other in an attempt to take over leadership in Communist Poland.

Director: Andrzej Wajda

 

The Exorcist (1973)

When a 12 year-old girl is possessed by a mysterious entity, her mother seeks the help of two priests to save her.

Director: William Friedkin

 

Rebel Without a Cause (1955)

A rebellious young man with a troubled past comes to a new town, finding friends and enemies.

Director: Nicholas Ray

 

The Leopard (1963)

The Prince of Salina, a noble aristocrat of impeccable integrity, tries to preserve his family and class amid the tumultuous social upheavals of 1860's Sicily.

Director: Luchino Visconti

 

BlacKkKlansman (2018)

Ron Stallworth, an African American police officer from Colorado Springs, CO, successfully manages to infiltrate the local Ku Klux Klan branch with the help of a Jewish surrogate who eventually becomes its leader. Based on actual events.

Director: Spike Lee

 

Woman Is the Future of Man (2004)

Two college friends get together and reminisce on the woman they both fell in love with at different times in their past, and are thus propelled to find her.

Director: Sang-soo Hong

One-Eyed Jacks (1961)

After robbing a Mexican bank, Dad Longworth takes the loot and leaves his partner Rio to be captured but Rio escapes and searches for Dad in California.

Director: Marlon Brando

 

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

After discovering a mysterious artifact buried beneath the Lunar surface, mankind sets off on a quest to find its origins with help from intelligent supercomputer H.A.L. 9000.

Director: Stanley Kubrick

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