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Cinema A to Z: Treasures from the Harvard Film Archive 

Film Titles from U to Z


July 26 (Wednesday) 7 pm

Under the Brooklyn Bridge

Directed by Rudy Burckhardt
US 1955, 16 mm, b/w, 15 min.

Artist and filmmaker Rudy Burckhardt spent a lifetime capturing the world around him in an improvised, highly personal style. Among his most beautiful studies is this simple portrait of children swimming under the Brooklyn Bridge.

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January 5 (Friday) 9:15 pm
January 6 (Saturday) 6:30 pm

Under the Roofs of Paris (Sous les toits de Paris)

Directed by René Clair
France 1930, 35mm, b/w, 92 min.
With Albert Préjean, Pola Illery, Edmond T. Gréville
French with English subtitles

The street life of Paris in the 1920s provides an exceptionally vivid backdrop to this lyrical story of a love triangle between a street singer, his best friend, and the woman they both love. From the graceful opening pan across the (studio-recreated) rooftops of the title to the multiple variations of its memorable theme song, the enchantment of Clair’s first talkie has remained intact. Even the slight awkwardness of the semi-synchronized soundtrack, as scratchy as if played on a wind-up phonograph, complements its nostalgic, almost anachronistic visuals. That, plus Lazare Meerson’s elegantly spare sets, Armand Bernard’s jingly score, and the naïve but affecting performances, make for a miniaturist masterpiece.

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July 26 (Wednesday) 9 pm

The Unbelievable Truth

Directed by Hal Hartley
US 1989, 35mm, color, 90 min.
With Adrienne Shelley, Robert Burke, Christopher Cooke

The first feature by independent filmmaker Hal Hartley (Trust, Simple Men, Amateur), The Unbelievable Truth is the story of a small town disrupted by the return of an alleged murderer, now a mild-mannered mechanic (Burke), and his unlikely liaison with a high-school cynic turned model (Shelley). Shot in a mere eleven days, The Unbelievable Truth contains many of the attributes that have come to be associated with Hartley’s work: a wry and decidedly off-beat sense of humor; a predominantly young cast creating colorful, quirky characters; and a sensuous awareness of how to render color, movement, and space into cinematic expression (an awareness gleaned no doubt in part through Hartley’s devotion to the work of Jean-Luc Godard). This affectionate satire on the shortcomings of small-town life reflects on how hearsay and bias can shape a community’s sense of reality.


July 27 (Thursday) 7 pm

Vertigo

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
US 1958, 35mm, color, 128 min.
With James Stewart, Kim Novak, Barbara Bel Geddes

Perhaps the most masterful achievement of a highly celebrated career, Vertigo (the director’s personal favorite) is a multi-layered summary of Hitchcock’s prime obsessions: the fear of physical and psychological intimacy and of mortality. Set in San Francisco, the film stars James Stewart as a retired police detective suffering from a severe fear of heights who is hired by an old friend to keep an eye on his wife (Novak). In the process, he becomes obsessively attached to his ward and is drawn further and further into a web of guilt and deception. One of Hitchcock’s most poetic films, Vertigo opens onto questions of identity and illusions as it weaves a powerful visual document of psychological states. The film’s technical innovations include a startling opening sequence in which the viewer is exposed to the vertiginous point of view.

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July 27 (Thursday) 9:15 pm

Viridiana

Directed by Luis Buñuel
Spain/Mexico 1961, 35mm, b/w, 91 min.
With Silvia Pinal, Francisco Rabal, Fernando Rey

After years of exile that saw him working in the U.S., France, and principally Mexico, Luis Buñuel returned to his native Spain to make this dark account of corruption. Viridiana was produced with the blessings of the Spanish government and under the scrutiny of its censors, but only after its release did Franco’s regime realize the film’s meaning; they promptly banned it. Viridiana, like the priest in Buñuel’s Nazarin, is a "saint" whose virtues lead to terrible misfortunes, not only for herself but for others. Sylvia Pinal gives a superb performance as the young novitiate, full of charity, kindness, and idealistic illusions about humanity, who visits her uncle (a closet transvestite) and tries to help some local peasants and beggars. The final beggars’ orgy—a black parody of the Last Supper, performed to the ethereal strains of Handel’s "Messiah"—is one of the director’s most memorably disturbing, wickedly humorous scenes. Winner of the Palme d’Or at the 1961 Cannes Film Festival, Viridiana welcomed Buñuel back to the center stage of world cinema.

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July 28 (Friday) 7 pm

Water and Power

Directed by Pat O’Neill
US 1989, 16mm, color, 58 min.

California-based artist Pat O’Neill is a photographer and sculptor who turned to filmmaking in the 1960s, where his interest in space and imagery took on the kinetic shape of cinematic experimentation. Water and Power is a study of O’Neill’s native Los Angeles, brilliantly transformed through layers of imagery, superimposition, optical printing, and a wry spirit. O’Neill has explained that "Water and Power was made over a period of years, without a script, relying on the chance confluence of places, people and conditions. It turned out to be very much about water, in all of its physical states, and about cyclic motions. . . . Stories and progressions rose up out of the material, the written texts appeared, and the ending became the beginning––several times."

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July 28 (Friday) 8:15 pm

Walkabout

Directed by Nicolas Roeg
Australia 1970, 35mm, color, 100 min.
With Jenny Agutter, Lucien John, David Gumpilil

A meditation on the corruption of civilization and the terrifying purity of wildness, Nicolas Roeg’s second film concerns two English children, a teenage girl and her six-year-old brother, abandoned in the Australian outback after their father commits suicide. In the course of their wanderings through the desert, the brother and sister encounter an aboriginal teenager who is on his "walkabout"—an initiation ritual involving months of solo survival. With no common language, the threesome begins a trek that slowly breaks down their cultural barriers. Employing a minimum of dialogue, Roeg exhibits his remarkable skills as both director and cameraman to create an aesthetically dazzling, near-mystical modern fable.

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July 29 (Saturday) 7 pm

Yeelen (Brightness/The Light)

Directed by Souleymane Cissé
Mali 1987, 35mm, color, 105 min.
With Issiaka Kane, Aoua Sangare, Niamanto Sanogo

Set in an indeterminate period among the Bambara people of director Cissé’s Mali homeland, in central northwest Africa, Yeelen focuses on a spiritual battle waged between a father and a son. Drawing his tale from the oral traditions of the Bambara, Cissé has fashioned an innovative narrative style that captures his people’s belief in "time as circular, not linear, always returning to that initial ’brightness’ which creates the world." Yeelen is a local drama with Oedipal overtones and elements of the coming-of-age story, but its theme of social responsibility is timelessly universal. It has been called "the most beautifully photographed African film ever."

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July 29 (Saturday) 9 pm

Yojimbo

Directed by Akira Kurosawa
Japan 1961, 35mm, b/w, 110 min.
With Toshiro Mifune, Eijiro Tono, Kamatari Fujiwara

Akira Kurosawa’s first "full-length comedy," Yojimbo is the story of a masterless samurai (played to perfection by the great Toshiro Mifune), who wanders into a country town where two rival factions are bent on destroying each other. Deciding to offer his services to the highest bidder, Yojimbo is hired first by one side, then another, eventually playing each against the other. Kurosawa conceived this light-hearted morality tale in an effort to overcome his sense of weakness in the face of such "senseless battles of bad against bad." In the end, however, it is the vitality of the Japanese master’s visual design and the humanity of his protagonist that have made this film a classic of modern cinema.

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July 30 (Sunday) 7 pm

Zagreb Bits

Directed by Dusan Vukotic, Milan Blazakovic, Rudolf Borosak
Yugoslavia 1960, 16mm, b/w and color, 8 min.

This sampler of brief bits by the celebrated Eastern European animator Dusan Vukotic (the first foreign animator to win an Oscar) and his colleagues showcases the satirical sensibility and innovative techniques characteristic of the "Zagreb School."

Zero for Conduct (Zéro de conduite)

Directed by Jean Vigo
France 1933, 35mm, b/w, 44 min.
With Louis Lefebvre, Gilbert Pruchon, Gérard de Bedarieux

Banned by the French censors until 1946 for its purportedly malicious attack on the French educational system, Zero for Conduct is certainly one of the masterpieces of the French cinema. Drawn from Vigo’s own childhood experiences, the film is situated at a dreadful boarding school in a Paris suburb. Fed up by the petty restrictions imposed on them, four schoolboys organize a revolt. With its blend of poetry and realism, its psychological depth, and its profound sense of anarchy, Zero for Conduct has exerted—and continues to exert—its influence on many directors, from François Truffaut and Lindsay Anderson to Philippe Garrel and Leos Carax. One of only four films made during Vigo’s brief career (he died of leukemia at age 29), Zero for Conduct remains one of the great subversive works of the cinema, an eloquent parable of freedom versus authority

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July 30 (Sunday) 8 pm

Z

Directed by Constantin Costa-Gavras
France/Algeria 1968, 35mm, color, 125 min.
With Yves Montand, Jean-Louis Trintignant, Jacques Perrin

Winner of the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film in 1969, this swiftly-moving and effective political thriller, shot in Algeria by the Greek-born Costa-Gavras, plainly points its finger at the Colonels’ regime in Greece. Despite its topicality and its somewhat simplified treatment of complicated issues, the film’s message and passion still communicate to an audience—for although the specifics have altered, the generality of totalitarian regimes has not. Based on a novel by Vassili Vassilikos, the film is set in an unidentified Mediterranean country where support is growing for ’Z’ (Montand), the leader of the pacifist opposition party. After he is killed by a passing van, the nvestigating magistrate (Trintignant) is led to suspect murder when he uncovers a secret organization supported by the government and the police. The film’s tremendous popularity and critical recognition rocketed Costa-Gavras into world prominence and enabled him to continue making the kind of political thrillers that mark his specialty.

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