You would think that after showing splendid restored versions of Gun Crazy and Man Trap last week, the folks at UCLA's Festival of Preservation, which runs through March 30, would have spent their wad, but it just ain't so. The beauty of this event is that it features anything from newsreels to propaganda war films, film noir to cartoons or independent cinema, and you never quite know what you'll see, just that chances are you'll never see it again.
This week runs the gamut from Different From the Others, the first (1919) film openly aimed at a gay audience in Weimar Germany, or anywhere, screening March 9, to Robert Frost: A Lover's Quarrel With the World (1963), an Oscar-winning documentary about the famed poet, screening March 14.
Here are some highlights to check out this week:
Thom Andersen's Eadweard Muybridge, Zoopraxographer (1975), March 9
Any beginning film student or animator will recognize the human and animal motion studies of photographer Eadweard Muybridge (1830-1904), but few know details of his biography or appreciate his influence on motion pictures. That's not the fault of filmmaker Thom Andersen — something of a local celebrity in the wake of his snarky, epic Los Angeles Plays Itself (2003) — whose first feature, Eadweard Muybridge, Zoopraxographer (1975) is a fascinating account of the cinematic pioneer.
Recently restored by UCLA Film & Television Archive's Ross Lipman, Andersen's documentary (largely composed of Muybridge's photos, often beautifully animated) highlights the English émigré's early experiments in 3-D stereoscopic photography, and his subjects, from pre-1906 San Francisco to one of the last battles in California between the U.S. government and Native Americans. By 1880, Muybridge specialized in photographing bodies in motion with a line of still cameras; he would later project the photos in sequence with a machine he called the zoopraxiscope, which, Andersen argues, definitively proved persistence of vision could be used to reconstruct time, and set the stage for celluloid movies.
The film shines a light on Muybridge's obsession for detail and progressive artistic values; though his many nude studies shocked Victorian morés, “Muybridge's objective gaze discovered not licentiousness and dissipation but naturalness and grace.” —Doug Cummings
Noir Double Feature The Chase and High Tide, March 10
On Sunday the festival presents two postwar indies, each one a gem in its own oddball way. The Chase was produced by Seymour Nebenzal, who gave us Fritz Lang's M (and its 1951 Bunker Hill remake). Peter Lorre is at his meanest, most blasé best as Steve Cochran's sidekick, but the latter also gives a witty turn as a sadistic gangster who gives a new meaning (no spoiler here) to backseat driving. Screenwriter Philip Yordan thrived on this sort of entertaining gimmick, even if he has to contend here with Cornell Woolrich's familiar amnesia malarkey (he wrote the novel). Noir fans do not like Bob Cummings, but his casting here is spot-on, as he plays the shell-shocked veteran who becomes Cochran's chauffeur and gets a bit too close to his trophy wife (played by Michèle Morgan) for comfort.
The story of High Tide, as befits its pulpish origins (short story by Raoul Whitfield), could be capsuled in the two-word title, as it tells the story of two men in a wrecked car on the Malibu waterline waiting to be engulfed by the Pacific Ocean. Lee Tracy (aged but still in motormouth form) is a cynical newspaper editor, Don Castle a ex-reporter turned P.I. We won't reveal the outcome, but let's just say you'll be engulfed in guilty pleasure. —Philippe Garnier
James Cagney Stars in Johnny Come Lately (1943), March 11
James Cagney's first self-produced indie was made during a bout of freedom from Jack Warner in 1943. Not surprisingly, he turned to fellow Irishman William K. Howard, a now-underrated director who was a powerhouse in his time, with a great feel for his native Midwest and Main Street America. Here Cagney is a drifting reporter trying to save a widow's newspaper — the antithesis of Billy Wilder's cynical Ace in the Hole. But those were gentler, more sentimental times, as in Howard's 1939 crime entry Back Door to Heaven, which was shown at this festival a while back. This seems to be the vocation of this unique event — to restore not only film prints but reputations as well. —Philippe Garnier
UCLA FESTIVAL OF PRESERVATION | UCLA Film & Television Archive at the Billy Wilder Theater | Hammer Museum, 10899 Wilshire Blvd., Wstwd. | cinema.ucla.edu | Through March 30