Revivals and Anniversaries

Rosalind Russell and Cary Grant in Howard Hawks’s His Girl Friday (1940)

As Amy M. Davis and Helen Haswell note in the new issue of Alphaville, two major studios turned one hundred last year, and Disney made a whole lot more noise about it than Warner Bros. did. This year sees the hundredth anniversaries of the founding of MGM and Columbia, and once again, one of them, having been absorbed into what is now known as Amazon MGM Studios, is keeping relatively quiet about it. Columbia, though, now a subsidiary of the Sony Group, is celebrating with class and flair.

Naturally, there’s a coffee-table book, but there was also an exhibition in Cannes during the festival in May. We, too, are currently feting Columbia’s golden era and classic screwball comedies in two programs on the Criterion Channel. The festivities will really kick into gear next month when Locarno (August 7 through 17) presents its retrospective, The Lady with the Torch: The Centenary of Columbia Pictures. The title refers to Miss Columbia, a sort of female counterpart to Uncle Sam, seen in the Columbia Pictures logo holding up a lit torch and looking very much like the Statue of Liberty made flesh.

Ehsan Khoshbakht, who has curated the retrospective, notes that “Sony’s generosity means we will bring to Locarno new restorations of films by John Ford and Phil Karlson, among many other gems,” including films by Howard Hawks, Frank Borzage, Dorothy Arzner, Fritz Lang, and George Stevens—forty-four films in all, most of them screening from 35 mm prints. The festival will also launch a new book, The Lady with the Torch: Columbia Pictures 1929–1959, a collection edited by Khoshbakht and featuring essays by nineteen contributors, including Geoffrey O’Brien, Jonathan Rosenbaum, Imogen Sara Smith, Haden Guest, and Chris Fujiwara.

The studio will also be saluted in Venice (August 28 through September 7). Two of the eighteen restorations slated to premiere in the Venice Classics program are Columbia pictures. His Girl Friday (1940) “reflected the Olympian genius of Howard Hawks,” writes Farran Smith Nehme, and for Notebook contributor Duncan Gray, The Big Heat (1953) is Fritz Lang’s “American masterpiece and one of the greatest of all post-war noirs.”

More Anniversaries . . .

Announcing the Venice Classics lineup last Friday, artistic director Alberto Barbera noted that the festival will be commemorating more than Columbia’s anniversary. “First and foremost,” noted Barbera, 2024 marks “the centennial of the birth of Marcello Mastroianni, the most beloved and celebrated Italian actor in the world.”

In Michelangelo Antonioni’s La notte (1961), Mastroianni plays Giovanni, a novelist whose marriage to Lidia (Jeanne Moreau) is on shaky ground when they attend a lavish party in Milan. “Antonioni has Mastroianni and Moreau restrain themselves,” wrote Richard Brody in 2013. “Giovanni passes through the world with a withholding temperament that presumably feeds a keen and discerning sense of observation but that also results in a peculiar passivity—he goes where he’s invited, he yields almost somnolently to seduction in grotesquely inappropriate situations—as a result of which his handsome and finely set features seem as featureless as a mirror. Meanwhile, Lidia, a capable, sensitive, intelligent, and worldly woman, is emptied out by her subordination to Giovanni’s existence; her own intellectual life has become merely a reflection of his—a reflection of a reflection.”

The screening of The Gold of Naples (1954) on the day before the festival opens will mark the seventieth anniversary of the film as well as the fiftieth anniversary of the death of director Vittorio De Sica. Eduardo De Filippo, Sophia Loren, Silvana Mangano, Totò, and De Sica himself each appear in one of six Neapolitan episodes. Discussing The Gold of Naples in My Voyage to Italy (1999), Martin Scorsese noted that it “offered a wonderful range of comic styles and incorporated something that I greatly appreciate in Italian cinema: the way it effortlessly moves between comedy and tragedy.”

The Mahabharata (1989), Peter Brook’s three-hour version of his nine-hour stage adaptation of the Hindu epic pitting two bands of brothers against each other, turns thirty-five this year. “It’s a series of ripping interrelated yarns,” wrote Joe Brown in the Washington Post at the time, and it “successfully sketches an allegory about man’s endless and creative capacity for self-destruction.”

. . . And More Venice Classics

The Film Heritage Foundation, led by archivist and filmmaker Shivendra Singh Dungarpur; Scorsese’s World Cinema Project; and the Hobson/Lucas Family Foundation have overseen the restoration of The Ritual (1977), Girish Kasaravalli’s debut feature and one of the key works of the Indian New Wave. Centering on two outsiders, The Ritual “plays out like a tragedy in which every attempt to break out of a rigid system of rules is put down and all discursive entities that could undermine the integrity of the system are absorbed into the mainstream,” writes Srikanth Srinivasan. “Kasaravalli uses his actors remarkably—almost in a Bressonian manner—pruning down superfluous elements of performance and expression,” and “his command of his images is equally noteworthy, with sharp, beautiful monochrome photography.”

The Yasuzo Masumura revival that Farran Smith Nehme wrote about a couple of weeks ago carries on with the presentation of Manji (1964), which Electric Sheep’s Virginie Sélavy describes as “a feverish tale of obsessive lesbian love, adultery, and manipulation.” Masumura’s direction is “vibrant with desire, burning with the same passion as the characters’, and it is through the tactile beauty it creates that it communicates its most subversive ideas and intense emotions.”

The program includes Nagisa Oshima’s The Man Who Left His Will on Film (1970), François Truffaut’s The Soft Skin (1964), and Anthony Mann’s Bend of the River (1952). Arguing the case for Rouben Mamoulian as “a preeminent figure of pure cinema,” Shawn Glinis points us to Jessica Kiang’s Film Comment report on last year’s Il Cinema Ritrovato: “In the torrid toreador yarn Blood and Sand (1941), saintly Linda Darnell vies with Rita Hayworth’s vamp for the callow attentions of Tyrone Power’s bullfighter. The melodrama is ripe Manchego, but the painterly Technicolor is glorious.”

With Frederick Wiseman’s Model (1980) in the lineup, Glinis and his Wiseman Podcast cohost Arlin Golden have a timely conversation with colorist Jane Tolmachyov about the new restorations of thirty-three of Wiseman’s films. Model is the only nonfiction film in the program so far, but the full lineup that Venice will announce on July 23 will include new documentaries about cinema.

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