Goings On: Poverty Row Classics and More

The Daily — Oct 19, 2017

New York. “Feverish, fragmented, expressionistic, The Sin of Nora Moran (1933) is one of the most formally daring films to come out of Hollywood in the early sound era,” begins Imogen Sara Smith in her overview for Film Comment of the Museum of Modern Art’s series Strange Illusions: Poverty Row Classics Preserved by UCLA, opening today and running through October 28. “While ‘Poverty Row’ referred to a strip of Gower Street in Hollywood where small production companies made movies on a shoestring, it also applies more generally to independent filmmakers working on the margins of the industry. The best known Poverty Row auteur, Edgar G. Ulmer, who claimed that working on this fringe preserved his creative freedom, is represented by three films, including the rare Damaged Lives (1933).”

“While Poverty Row films tended to shoot on-the-quick and on-the-cheap, they weren’t always identifiable as a cinema apart from studio product,” writes Nick Pinkerton for Artforum. “When making White Zombie (1932), for example, brothers Edward and Victor Hugo Halperin rented their sets from Universal Studios and hired contract player Bela Lugosi to play Murder Legendre, a white voodoo master in Haiti. . . . More than a decade before Jacques Tourneur’s I Walked with a Zombie, the Halperins drew the connection between zombie thralldom and black slavery, most strikingly in a scene at Legendre’s sugar factory, where one of the shuffling drones falls headlong into a cane-chopping hopper.”

“For sheer jaw-dropping incredulity, False Faces [1932] can't be beat,” suggests Daniel Eagan at Film Journal International.False Faces has it all: drunken showgirls spilling out of their dresses; doctors too stoned to operate safely; shady detectives on the lookout for easy marks; jaded reporters, slutty secretaries, and patients crippled for life. A natural ham, Sherman powers through every scene, dripping with oily charm, carrying on while dropping lines, setting a hard, driving pace. The movie looks better than its budget, with confident tracking shots, ironic reverse angles and excellent use of crowd scenes. Sherman elicits great performances from his cast, and maintains the movie's breathtaking amorality right through its supposedly uplifting ending.”

“Few critics have laid waste to an artist’s reputation as definitively as François Truffaut laid waste to the director Jean Delannoy’s,” writes Alan Scherstuhl in the Village Voice. Truffaut “assailed” Delannoy “for crafting drearily professional, impersonal films that evince nothing of their creator’s sensibility other than an interest in empty quality. . . . Among film aesthetes today, auteurism is misunderstood as a kind of hero-worshipping cant, an insistence on the director as god — of course a top Delannoy couldn’t be as interesting as a secondary Renoir. Kino Lorber’s sparkling restoration of Delannoy’s 1958 hit, Maigret Sets a Trap, offers a rare chance to test Truffaut’s dictum in an American theater. It seems to me the best of the several Delannoy films I’ve seen, but is it actually interesting?”

For J. Hoberman, writing in the New York Times, Maigret is “a credible example of the policier, a French genre that flowered in the mid-1950s. This film adaptation of a Simenon novel published in France in 1955 pits the gruff, pipe-smoking inspector (played here by Jean Gabin) against a serial killer of women. . . . The supporting cast is strong. Annie Girardot portrays a woman of mystery in one of her first roles, before Luchino Visconti’s Rocco and His Brothers (1960) made her a star in Europe. Jean Desailly, a suspicious character here, would later play the straying husband in Truffaut’s The Soft Skin (1964). Alert viewers may also recognize a rough-hewn Lino Ventura—already a fixture in policiers—as one of Maigret’s men.”

On Saturday, the Museum of the Moving Image presents a live event, The American Film Institute: Celebrating 50 Years.

“Imagine a collaboration between Tennessee Williams and Herschell Gordon Lewis, and one might begin to develop a sense of Tobe Hooper’s multifariously sticky Eaten Alive [1976],” writes Jon Dieringer. Also at Screen Slate, Chris Shields: “With his 1981 film The Funhouse, Hooper gives us the most explicit statement on his preoccupation with terrible places.” The Tobe Hooper Funhouse is a series on at the Alamo Drafthouse Downtown Brooklyn from tonight through Sunday.

Los Angeles. The 2017 Eyeworks Festival of Experimental Animation arrives at REDCAT on Saturday. “Highlights include films from Pat O’Neill, Barbara Hammer, Jan Svankmajer, Jaakko Pallasvuo, Annapurna Kumar, and Sarina Nihei.”

And on Monday, REDCAT presents Fantasmas Cromáticos: 8mm Visions of Claudio Caldini. Jordan Cronk for the Hollywood Reporter: “Screening in their original format, a pair of Caldini's classic small gauge works from the mid 1970s and early 1980s, Ventana and A traves de las ruinas, will share space with one of the filmmaker's newer films, Lux Taal. Each is a brief but bracing evocation of rural and domestic life in and around Buenos Aires.”

Cambridge. The Brattle presents the new digital restoration of Andrei Tarkovsky’s Solaris (1972) on Friday. Tyler Patterson: “With incredible comprehensiveness and clarity, the film addresses issues of faith, love, loss, memory, grief, anguish, and reality itself.”

Dallas.Truth: 24 frames per second brings together twenty-four pioneers of film and video and over six decades of work focused on pressing contemporary themes, such as race relations, political unrest, sexual identity, and the media, to explore the nature of truth and reality in contemporary life.” Monday through January 28, 2018 at the Dallas Museum of Art.

London. “Henri-Georges Clouzot’s movies provide some of the most thrilling yet paranoid portrayals of France in cinema,” writes Adam Scovell. “Filled with treachery, voyeurism and unease at the unknown, his cinematic world forces its characters to confront the darker reality behind closed doors—much as Alfred Hitchcock was doing in Hollywood during the same years.” Scovell writes about “seven key Clouzot films that reveal his visual flair and tense, cynical style.” The BFI Thriller season is on through December.

Sergei Eisenstein’s October (1928) “was intended to encourage international Revolution (the battle between Trotsky’s ‘International Revolution’ and Stalin’s ‘Socialism in One Country’ had not yet been resolved to Trotsky’s eventual fatal disadvantage). Hence a deal was struck with Berlin’s Prometheus Film. A decision had to be made about the music. (Re)-enter Edmund Meisel.” Writing for Silent London, John Leman Riley, who’ll be discussing Meisel’s score with conductor Frank Strobel at Pushkin House on Tuesday, previews the Barbican’s presentation of October with that score performed live by the London Symphony Orchestra on October 26.

Vienna. The Viennale opens tonight and runs through November 2. Back in August, we previewed the lineup; now the full program and schedule are set.

Berlin. Starting Saturday, the Arsenal presents the second part of “the most comprehensive retrospective of Harun Farocki’s cinema and television work ever held,” Year by Year / Side by Side.

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