To Save and Project 2024

Enrico Maria Salerno in Franco Rossi’s Smog (1962)

The twentieth-anniversary edition of To Save and Project, the Museum of Modern Art’s festival of film preservation, will open on Thursday evening with Alexander Payne’s introduction to the new restoration of Albert Barker’s The Black Pirate (1926). Douglas Fairbanks biographer Jeffrey Vance calls the film a “showcase for the actor-producer’s favorite production value: himself.” Fairbanks is “resplendent as the title’s bold buccaneer, buoyed by a production brimming with rip-roaring adventure and exceptional stunts and swordplay, including the celebrated ‘sliding down the sails’ sequence, arguably the most famous set piece of the entire Fairbanks treasure chest.”

As MoMA curator Dave Kehr explains in the program notes, The Black Pirate was shot in an early version of Technicolor, “a complex and finicky technology” that made the restoration especially challenging and “required returning to the original camera negatives for the first time in fifty years.” Writing for the BFI, James Layton of the Celeste Bartos Film Preservation Center at MoMA points out that the “subdued color scheme is expertly coordinated; with this film, Technicolor became another tool in the filmmaker’s toolkit, rather than a gimmick.”

This year’s festival includes several early-Hollywood gems. January 21 sees a double bill of Charlie Chaplin’s 1923 western spoof The Pilgrim and Buster Keaton’s Sherlock Jr. (1924), which remains one of the most delightfully entertaining deconstructions of cinema as a dream machine. The rarely seen original theatrical cut of John Ford’s Arrowsmith (1931) has been restored from a nitrate print owned by star Ronald Colman.

“As a big fan of the magnificent Jeanne Eagels,” tweets Farran Smith Nehme, “I’m especially excited for the restored Man, Woman and Sin (1927, Monta Bell), her sole silent film, opposite John Gilbert.” Screenwriter and film historian David Stenn, who notes that the unduly forgotten Monta Bell was “once regarded on the level of Lubitsch,” will introduce Saturday’s screening.

Yunte Huang, the author of Daughter of the Dragon: Anna May Wong’s Rendezvous with American History, will introduce two films starring Sessue Hayakawa, William Worthington’s The Dragon Painter (1919) and Jay Hunt and Thomas H. Ince’s 1914 short The Last of the Line. Huang will also discuss a film Wong made in Germany, Richard Eichberg’s Pavement Butterfly (1929). Expressionist poet and critic Ernst Blass called Wong’s performance as a dancer and artist’s model who winds her way into high society on the French Riviera “sublime, piercing, luminous.”

Two films by Soviet Armenian director, actor, and screenwriter Hamo Bek-Nazaryan, The House on the Volcano (1929) and Land of Nairi (1930), were made close to home, but there’s a strand of filmmakers working abroad that runs through the program. Brazilian-born Alberto Cavalcanti’s Rien que les heures (1926) is a Parisian city symphony, and Autumn Mists (1929), a portrait of a woman facing the end of a love affair, was shot in France by Dimitri Kirsanoff, who was born Markus David Kaplan in a Jewish Lithuanian community in Estonia. An evening devoted to Lorenza Mazzetti will showcase films the Italian painter, writer, and director made in London in the 1950s along with Brighid Lowe’s new documentary, Together with Lorenza Mazzetti.

Franco Rossi’s Smog (1962) opened the twenty-third Venice Film Festival and was then almost immediately forgotten. During an unplanned layover in Los Angeles, a Roman lawyer is “literally and metaphorically inserted into the city’s traffic flow,” as Gabriele Cirami and Roberto Zancan observe in Domus. Smog explores “a fundamental theme for the culture of designers: skepticism toward the evolution, proper or improper, of forms of living (or of infrastructure).”

Back in Italy, Pietro Germi scored a hit with The Railroad Man (1956). Germi himself plays an engineer who allows his life to fall apart after a terrible accident. When The Railroad Man screened at Il Cinema Ritrovato last summer, the programmers excerpted notes from festival founder Gian Luca Farinelli, who wrote that the film’s “greatness lies in the fact that, in narrating the changes Italy was undergoing and coming to terms with the neorealist tradition, Germi renders a universal story.”

A long-term collaborator of Kaneto Shindo’s, Kozaburo Yoshimura was assigned to direct the project Kenji Mizoguchi was working on when he died (1957’s An Osaka Story, which isn’t in MoMA’s program). “Mizoguchi’s influence was apparent in Yoshimura’s sympathetic engagement with the trials of women,” wrote Alexander Jacoby for Sight and Sound in 2012, and Undercurrent (1956), the story of a young woman who has an affair with a married scientist, is one of a cluster of Yoshimura’s films that make up “one of the Japanese cinema’s richest and most complex accounts of social change, the position of women in the new Japan, and the conflict between tradition and modernity.”

Hong Kong director Wong Tin-lam’s The Wild, Wild Rose (1960), a reimagining of Bizet’s Carmen, stars Grace Chang, “she of the sultry, man-eating gaze and volcano voice,” as Kevin B. Lee put it at the House Next Door in 2007. “The butchiness of her stentorian singing makes her ripe for camp appreciation among contemporary Sino-queers, including Tsai Ming-liang, who offered touchingly makeshift homages to her song-dance numbers in The Hole. But her lasting impact on Chinese cinema is no less important than Brigitte Bardot’s on French cinema or Marilyn Monroe’s on Hollywood: when Asia Weekly conducted a poll of the greatest Chinese films of the twentieth century, two Grace Chang films, Mambo Girl and The Wild, Wild Rose, made the list.”

Michel Piccoli and Catherine Deneuve star in Agnès Varda’s Les créatures (1966) as a writer and his mute wife, who seem to exert an inexplicable control over the inhabitants of their isolated village. “Varda transformed science fiction into a subject in her own image,” wrote the New Yorker’s Richard Brody in 2018, and “the extremes of her ideas may be exactly why Les créatures has wrongly fallen by the wayside of film history.”

In his forthcoming book Cocktails with George and Martha: Movies, Marriage, and the Making of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Philip Gefter explains how Edward Albee’s 1962 Broadway hit became Mike Nichols’s 1966 debut feature and was likely inspired by marital spats between poet Willard Maas and filmmaker Marie Menken. Between screenings of Andy Warhol’s Bitch (1965), starring Maas, Menken, Gerard Malanga, and Edie Sedgwick, and Nichols’s movie, Gefter will chat with Malanga, the Andy Warhol Museum’s Greg Pierce, and Nichols biographer Mark Harris.

Another book hitting shelves is Vanishing Point Forever, Robert M. Rubin’s tribute to the 1971 cult classic directed by Richard C. Sarafian and cowritten with Cuban novelist Guillermo Cabrera Infante. The book gathers essays, stills, and never-before-seen location-scouting photos, and on Sunday, Rubin will introduce Sarafian film, which Quentin Tarantino saluted with Death Proof (2007) and that served as inspiration for Edgar Wright’s Baby Driver (2017).

The year 1971 also saw the release of David Schickele’s Bushman, which we took a look at earlier today, and Joseph Losey’s The Go-Between, featuring Julie Christie and Alan Bates, a screenplay by Harold Pinter, and a score by Michel Legrand that composer Marcelo Zarvos adapted for Todd Haynes’s May December. In 1972, the gritty Yugoslavian mining drama Life of a Shock Force Worker got director Bahrudin Bato Čengić and cinematographer Karpo Godina banned from making movies for ten years.

On January 18, MoMA will present a two-part prelude to the Anthology Film Archives retrospective Skip Norman: Here and There, which opens the following day and runs through January 24. Norman was a Black artist who worked in the 1960s and ’70s in the U.S. and Germany, often collaborating with Harun Farocki, Holger Meins, and Helke Sander. With Reza Dabui, Norman shot Lothar Lambert and Wolfram Zobus’s 1 Berlin-Harlem (1974), which features appearances from Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Ingrid Caven, and Günther Kaufmann.

In Alain Tanner’s 1979 road movie Messidor, two Swiss women chuck their daily lives to hitchhike across the Alps. They steal a gun, and then, whatever they need. “Tanner is less concerned with the young women’s criminal exploits than with the bond that unites them,” writes Ben Sachs at Cine-File, and “the film’s moving portrait of friendship lingers in the memory long after you’ve seen it.”

A good portion of this year’s To Save and Project is given over to films from the 1980s. There’ll be Devo music videos and Lightning over Water (1980), Wim Wenders’s portrait of a dying Nicholas Ray. Writing for Not Coming to a Theater Near You in 2008, Leo Goldsmith found Lightning to be “an appropriate sort of tribute to the director. Not a sappy, hermetic work, it is rather, like all of Ray’s best films, a daring high-wire act between improvisation and order, an adventure, and a subtle celebration of Ray’s legacy as a stylist.”

Ashley Clark, our curatorial director, will introduce Menelik Shabazz’s Burning an Illusion (1981), which Yasmina Price, writing for Hyperallergic in 2021, called “a rare example” of a film “that centers Black womanhood and sexual politics alongside militancy. Shabazz’s cinema was committed to working through multiplicities of Black identities, a political mission reflected in Stuart Hall’s sentiment that ‘cinema, [is] not as a second-order mirror held up to reflect what already exists, but as that form of representation which is able to constitute us as new kinds of subjects, and thereby enable us to discover who we are.’”

In Toute une nuit (1982), Chantal Akerman’s “ebullient ode to romantic love,” as Ivone Margulies called it in 2016, “characters of all ages couple and decouple in short bursts of longing, sexual desire, and boredom. Gestures stretch between lassitude and impulsivity, and bumping bodies morph into impossibly long and passionate dances to schmaltzy music. Clichés are never banal in Akerman’s films because they insist on what needs repeating. Her entire work is attuned to the singularity that pulses through domestic routines, to particular ways of making love or of waiting in line.”

Barbara Grabowska won a Silver Bear in Berlin for her performance as an anarchist in the Polish underground resisting the Russian occupation in 1905 in Agnieszka Holland’s Fever (1981), a film that was immediately banned upon its release. On January 22, MoMA will host an evening with Jamie Nares and screen Arabian Lights (1983), a travelogue and self-portrait codirected with Edit deAk. A program of work by Narcisa Hirsch, a pioneer of experimental cinema in Argentina, is slated for January 26 and 31.

Dispatching from Cannes to Film Comment in 2017, Nick Davis noted that in The Choice (1987), Burkinabé filmmaker Idrissa Ouédraogo “evinces a knack for subtle but potent ironies, starting and ending his knotty plot of embattled loves and family rivalries with two visits from a UN truck to the same rural village, providing not enough rice to too many people. The main story, then, is both an engrossing melodrama rendered in unpretentious images and a secondary concern amid a basic quest for individual and regional survival.”

When Shivendra Singh Dungarpur, the founding director of the Film Heritage Foundation, first saw a deteriorating 35 mm print of Aribam Syam Sharma’s The Chosen One (1990) in 2021, he found that “the beauty of the film and the simple yet powerful narrative rooted in the unique culture of Manipur transcended the distortions that marred the artistry of the imagery playing out on the big screen, and I was just mesmerized by the poignancy of the story of a young mother torn between her family and the call of the divine.” He was determined to oversee the film’s restoration, and spoke to Variety’s Naman Ramachandran about the yearlong process.

The festival won’t be lacking in genre fare. Besides all thirteen chapters of the 1936 serial Flash Gordon projected from a newly struck 35 mm print, the lineup also includes Messiah of Evil (1974), a vision of Los Angeles ravaged by the undead written and directed by Willard Huyck and Gloria Katz, the screenwriters who worked with George Lucas on American Graffiti.Messiah of Evil is a triumph of mood and atmosphere,” wrote Budd Wilkins for Slant last October. “Its distinctive aesthetic, derived largely from European arthouse cinema, informs Stephen Katz’s brooding cinematography, Jack Fisk’s weird set design, and the disorienting Pop Art paintings by Joan Mocine.”

In 2010, MUBI’s Daniel Kasman caught Tsui Hark’s Dangerous Encounters: 1st Kind (1980), “a blood-shot, parasitic work of extremely angry energy and invention, fueled by MTV aesthetics and Hong Kong problem-solving [that] ends up thrillingly shoving the our faces in the nihilistic and extremely bitter and paranoid culture of youth and politics on the island at the time.”

Renowned archivist Rick Prelinger will present two programs of sponsored films—long-form ads, educational shorts, and industrials—drawing on his own collection of prints. On January 27, Orphan Film Symposium director Dan Streible and a few colleagues will host a two-hour program of new 16 mm prints of eight short films of varying genres made between 1941 and 2011.

On closing night, February 3, To Save and Project will screen Jill Godmilow and Judy Collins’s Oscar-nominated Antonia: A Portrait of the Woman (1974), a documentary about conductor Antonia Brico, who was a mentor to singer-songwriter Collins, and Molly O’Brien’s The Only Girl in the Orchestra (2023), a portrait of double bassist Orin O’Brien, who became the first female musician to join the New York Philharmonic when Leonard Bernstein hired her in 1966.

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