Sneak Preview: Beasts of the Southern Wild

Screening: Saturday, July 7th, 8 p.m., Rich Theatre. Free but seating is limited. Reserve tickets now at (404) 733-5000.

We couldn’t be more excited about hosting a sneak preview of the awe-inspiring film Beasts of the Southern Wild, which won the Camera d’Or at this year’s Cannes Film Festival and the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance. To get as excited as we are about this movie, read Amy Taubin’s review for Art Forum, Manohla Dargis’ glowing coverage for the New York Times, and a really charming piece by Jada Yuan at Vulture about the film’s 8-year-old protagonist.

Above all, be sure and watch the trailer:

Little Fugitive: Precursor to the French New Wave

Screening: Saturday, June 23, 8 p.m., Rich Theatre

As many critics have noted, Little Fugitive (1953) has–to put it mildly–a minimalist story: 7-year-old Joey (Richie Andrusco) is the butt of a cruel joke and goes on the lam believing he’s killed his older brother Lennie (Richard Brewster). He heads to Coney Island where he wanders around, stuffs himself full of carnival food, collects empty bottles for nickels, and rides a pony around a pitiful little race track about a hundred times. The narrative, however, is not what’s groundbreaking about this film.

As soon as Joey arrives at Coney Island, the story (its caricatures and all other trappings of the 1950s television-era) melts into the background. Shot with a concealed strap-on 35mm camera, what emerges from these bare narrative bones is a rare historical document of Coney Island–its beaches, hotdogs, lovers, ferris wheels, and its tens of thousands inhabitants all caught performing their minor roles in the chaos of their natural habitat.

Amidst the inherent overstimulation of Coney Island on a summer day, Morris Engle (who shot the film and also wrote and directed it along with Ray Ashley and Ruth Orkin) beats a path for his young protagonist. Joey weaves and darts among bigger bodies, squeezing by and bumping into them the way focused kids do when they are after a stray ball or have just found change for more sugar. The camera most often at waist height, Engle recognizes the inevitable slapstick of being little and the utter sweetness of demanding to be taken seriously anyway. So we can’t help but be endeared when Joey tackles a piece of watermelon so big it eclipses his entire upper-half or, in perhaps the best sequence of the film, swings a baseball bat so hard it turns him around and furrows his brow pitch after pitch.

And yet, as hilarious as these moments are, Little Fugitive also casts a sensitive gaze on what it’s like to be small and lost in a world that’s not built for you…turns out it’s a lonely and filthy reality where triumphs are hard-earned but fleeting and there’s no choice but to live moment by moment. This, perhaps, does not make a “good story” or so Bosley Crowther for the New York Times seemed to think when, upon the film’s 1953 release, he wrote, “there is little conception of drama in this trick, and the mere repetition of adventures tends eventually to grow dull” and “count it a photographer’s triumph with a limited theme.”

This “repetition of adventures” and “limited theme,” however, is what inspired Francois Truffaut’s The 400 Blows which kicked off the French New Wave. Little Fugitive‘s affective duration, the attention it grants to mere human existence, and its will to record a specific time and place was seen by cutting-edge French filmmakers and Neo-Realists around the world as a vital testament to humanity in all its everyday joys and tragedies. Luckily for us, there is an adorable pint-sized fugitive and a lot of over-sized snacks at the center of this “bad story” and landmark film.

Outdoor Screening of “East Side, West Side” (1927)

Screening: Saturday, June 16, 9 p.m., Outdoors on the High Museum’s Sifly Piazza and Accompanied by Distinguished Composer Dr. Philip Carli. Come at 8:15 p.m. for drinks and tunes from Brent Runnels, pianist and Executive & Artistic Director of Jazz Orchestra Atlanta.

A classic melodrama, East Side, West Side (1927) gives us a love story, a rags to riches tale with a heavy dose of the American dream, a subway catastrophe, and a sinking steamship spectacle. As if we needed more to pique our interest, the New York Times review gave its readers these salacious details upon the opening of the film in 1927: “There is in this production a tendency to cater to the movie mind by arraying the feminine characters in flashy costumes and in having John Breen go to a none too impressive saloon in evening clothes with white gloves and a flower in the lapel of his coat.” As much as we like to think our “movie minds” have changed over the last 85 years, ladies in “flashy costumes” and tough guys in “none too impressive saloons” remain the recipe for a crowd-pleaser.

What has changed is how we watch movies.

Manhattan’s Roxy Theatre at its Grand Opening in 1927.

The lobby of the Roxy

Located off Times Square on 50th Street between 6th and 7th Avenues in Manhattan, the Roxy Theatre opened just five months before it screened East Side, West Side in October of 1927. The theater cost $12 million to build (yes, those are 1927 dollars) and sat 5,920 people. Its creators dreamed it to be the world’s largest and finest motion picture palace in the world, a formidable challenge given the hundreds of movie palaces being built each year between 1925 and 1930. Indeed, this was a momentous period in film history. At the height of the silent era and on the brink of sound, the Hollywood studio system that would dominate the industry and shape cinema’s future both at home and abroad was taking shape. It was a time when most people in the United States were going to the movies every week. Movie palaces like the Roxy harnessed the great energy of this new art form and made the average film-going citizen feel like royalty.

This Saturday night, we are lucky enough to have in East Side, West Side one of the relics from this paramount period in film history. We don’t have the palace this film deserves (and sadly, the Roxy doesn’t exist anymore either; it closed in 1960 to be replaced by a TGIFriday’s) but we are putting on quite the show anyhow. Accompanied by the renowned composer, scholar, and pianist Dr. Philip Carli, the film will be projected outdoors on the Sifly Piazza. We’ll start at 8:15 p.m. with a piano concert from Jazz Orchestra Atlanta’s Brent Runnels and have plenty of drinks and movie snacks to throw back during the film. Spread the word, bring your lawn chairs, and we’ll see you there.

“Gotham Shorts” Kicks off “Archival Gotham: NYC on Film”

Frame from Interior N.Y. Subway, 14th to 42nd Street (American Mutoscope and Biograph Company, 1905)

Screening: Saturday, June 9th, 8 p.m., Rich Theatre, High Museum of Art, introduced by Museum of Modern Art Associate Film Curator, Anne Morra.

This Saturday we kick off our summer series Archival Gotham: NYC on Film with a night of short films that span 60 years of the gritty city’s history. Landmark films like On the Waterfront (1954) and Taxi Driver (1976), which will be screened later in the series, bear canonical prestige and boast star-studded casts, but this first night of short films wraps the viewer into another, equally alluring texture of New York experience.

The cinematic eye that looks upon roofline buildings in Architectural Millinery (Sydney Peterson, 1952), manhole covers in the aptly named Manhole Covers (Ruth Cade, 1954), and subway tunnels in Interior N.Y. Subway, 14th to 42nd Street (1905) takes in the detail of the city’s visceral body. Images of the subway, in the case of this latter film, transform under the strange gaze of a 1905 camera. As the earliest footage of the New York Subway system and as a very early actuality, this four minute film is a historical document that marks a particularly nascent moment in both cinematic and subway history. But in the silent rhythms of shape and light, the film also becomes an abstract aesthetic experience. The image of the train and the glimpses we catch of early twentieth-century Americans scuttling aboard—these historically bound images recede into an endless progression of hexagons, shadow and light bursting and vanishing across the face of the image in a dynamic play of grays and whites and blacks.

Every one of the short films screening on Saturday offers up New York as this kind of historical/aesthetic marvel, and in this way these shorts speak most profoundly to the accompanying photography exhibition, Picturing New York: Photographs from The Museum of Modern Art. The exhibition presents 150 photographs from MoMA’s collection which similarly capture the detail and abstract beauty of the city. In addition to the study of the subway, roofline buildings, and manhole covers, the night of short films include John Hubley and Faith Elliott’s The Tender Game (1958), which gives us an image of New York love set to Ella Fitzgerald, while Joseph Cornell’s Flushing Meadows (1965) presents a particularly mournful image of Flushing, Queens. Finally, a nineteen year old Orson Welles and his classmate William Vance give us a Surrealist take on the ceaseless tolling of life’s bells and death’s frenzied grasp in The Hearts of Age (1934). If you’re any kind of Welles fan, you won’t want to miss this chance to see the origins of his wild-eyed performance style as well as a moment of sheer Wellesian depth of field of the sort that would one day make his Citizen Kane a masterpiece.

Welcome

Image

Ilse Bing, Self-Portrait in Mirrors, Paris, 1931, printed ca. 1941

Welcome to Screens on High, the new film and video blog from the High Museum of Art! The High has a rich film programming history, some of which has been covered here. As we continue our tradition of top-notch film exhibition, we are thrilled to have this new online space for film-related previews, reviews, interviews, and discussion. And hopefully along the way we will succeed in enlightening, titillating, provoking, and inspiring our readers as we cover all matters cinematic.

Looking out over this bright and shining summer of film and off into the distance where an autumn and winter of filmic treasures ready themselves, there will be no shortage of cinephilic fodder for this brand new blog. Young and old, High Museum of Art devotees and newcomers, film scholars and fledgling filmgoers—we hope you’ll grow fond of Screens on High and we look forward to seeing you at the movies.