Thank you, Geoff, for asking me to recommend a few of the films screening at Cinema Reborn 2019. First and foremost, congratulations to you and the team for a stellar program. Secondly, since you kindly allowed me to write the programme note for Nicholas Ray’s thrilling noir In A Lonely Place, let me reduntantly recommend that screening. The film is amongst the smartest and most provocative of films noir, and I can’t wait to see Burnett Guffey’s crystalline black and white cinematography in the new 4K restoration. You can read my notes if you Click on this link.
As far as colour restorations go, do try and catch Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s magnificent romantic fantasy A Matter of Life and Death. “One is starved for Technicolor up there,” says Conductor 71 (Marius Goring) upon transiting from the afterlife (never called Heaven) to wartime England to claim airman Peter Carter (David Niven). He’s still alive due to a celestial clerical error after bailing from a burning bomber and has fallen in love with American radio operator (Kim Hunter) who consoled him prior to his leap. (Click on this link to read David Hare’s program note.)
A Matter of Life and Death was made at the suggestion of the British Information Ministry to encourage fraternisation between Britain and the United States. Curiously, the film was renamed Stairway to Heaven in America, apparently at the direction of then-new distributor Arthur Krim, who maintained that no film with the word “death” in the title had ever made money (perhaps apocryphally, Krim, told that Mitchell Leisen’s 1934 fantasy Death Takes a Holiday—later remade with Brad Pitt as Meet Joe Black—had been a box office success, said something to the effect that the title made it evident that death had, indeed, taken a vacation and audiences knew that coming in so the example didn’t count).
This was the great cinematographer Jack Cardiff’s first collaboration with Powell and Pressburger, to be followed the next year by the equally breathtaking Black Narcissus (for which he won an Oscar). Back in the day, we used to get 35mm nitrate prints of both to show at the old American Film Institute Theater at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. They remain the two greatest Technicolor prints it has ever been my pleasure to view on the big screen, and I can only imagine how beautiful the 4K restoration of A Matter of Life and Death will be. After all, we’re all starved for Technicolor.
And speaking of the AFI, I remember seeing Barbara Loden’s Wanda there as part of a traveling program of American independent features at some point in the late 1980s. The film was, and is, a revelation of its time. The film was shot on what can charitably called a shoestring budget in the eastern Pennsylvania of 1970, the same state and decade that later served as the hardscrabble backdrop for last year’s Cinema Reborn special event The Deer Hunter. On a personal note, I’m familiar with this time and place from my teenage years, and Loden’s utterly selfless performance as the rudderless yet proudly determined drifter of the title is a key harbinger of the blue collar cinema that defined the 1970s. (Click on this link to read the wonderful program note by Adrian Martin and Cristina Alvarez Lopez.)
Finally, I’m keen to see director Jacques Becker’s Le Trou (literally, The Hole, or, as it was known in America, The Night Watch) for the first time on the big screen. The terse tale of a quartet of inmates who plan to break out of Paris’ La Santé prison in 1947 but have a fifth confederate at the last minute, the film was photographed in a hard-edged black and white by Ghislain Cloquet, who later married Becker’s daughter and shot films for, among others, Becker’s son Jean, Jacques Demy (The Young Girls of Rochefort), Woody Allen (Love and Death), Roman Polanski (Tess) and Arthur Penn (the unclassifiable Mickey One and the elegiac Four Friends). Tragically, Becker died less than a month before Le Trou’s release, and this 4K restoration should be a revelation as well as a testament to one of France’s greatest filmmakers. (To read Mark Pierce’s Program Note Click on this link.)
I can hardly wait, and you shouldn’t either: book your tickets now and I’ll see you there.