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Topics in Film - Classics of World Cinema

Live Piano Accompaniment by Martin Marks
September 23 (Monday) 7 pm

Paris Belongs to Us (Paris nous appartient)

Directed by D. W. Griffith
US 1919, 35mm, b/w, silent, 80 min.
With Lillian Gish, Richard Barthelmess

In contrast to such vast and epic Griffith productions as Intolerance and The Birth of a Nation, this intimate melodrama was shot in a mere eighteen days in the studio on a modest budget. Still, at least one critic considered it his “most perfect, and perhaps his most engaging” film. Set in the Limehouse district of London, the story concerns the undying devotion of a Chinese merchant (Barthelmess) for a young working-class waif (Gish) who is abused by her brutish father, a local boxer. Although the typical Griffith stereotyping of race and class is not absent from this production, the exquisite performances and memorable portraiture (especially the moment when the tragic Gish character forces a poignant smile by pushing the corners of her mouth up with her fingers) lend the story a touching beauty and emotional resonance.

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Live Piano Accompaniment by Yakov Gubanov
September 29 (Sunday) 7 pm
September 30 (Monday) 7 pm


Directed by F.W. Murnau
Germany 1922, 35mm, b/w, silent, 72 min.
With Max Schreck, Gustav von Wangenhiem

This film marked the first appearance on screen of Bram Stoker’s Dracula and remains arguably the eeriest and most magical of the many film versions of this famous supernatural tale. Murnau’s use of real locations instead of stylized studio sets to create atmosphere, his deployment of special effects such as negative exposure and fast-speed motion to suggest a ghostly ride, and his casting of Max Schreck in the gaunt, spectral figure of Dracula make this the first work of the director’s maturity and also one of his best.

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October 7 (Monday) 7 pm

Battleship Potemkin (Bronenosets Potyomkin)

Directed by Sergei Eisenstein
USSR 1925, 35mm, b/w, silent, 75 min.
With Grigori Alexandrov, Vladimir Barsky

Soviet silent film of the 1920s represented a great creative moment in the history of cinema, and Battleship Potemkin is often regarded as its supreme achievement. In rendering his account of the 1905 Black Sea mutiny and the sympathetic response it received from the people of Odessa, Eisenstein makes brilliant use of montage—the juxtaposition of individual shots—both to provide drama through subtle alterations of space and time and to create striking metaphoric relationships that bolster his political arguments. The film’s formal beauty is balanced by the stark power and humanity of its realist depiction of the uprising and its brutal suppression.

October 13 (Sunday) 7 pm
October 14 (Monday) 7 pm

Earth (Zemlya)

Directed by Alexander Dovzhenko
USSR 1930, 35mm, b/w, silent, 63 min.
With Semyon Svashenko, Yelana Maximova

This exquisitely beautiful film uses simple but powerful means to tell a story of collectivization on a Ukrainian farm as it sets out profound and universal themes: the fruitfulness of the earth, its annual rebirth, life, love, and death. When a local kulak refuses to divide his land for a collective, a young villager (Svashenko) takes it for the people by force and turns it into a success. Despite the tragedy that ensues, the people sing songs of renewal as rain promises another cycle of life for the earth. Filled with sensuality, joy, and pain, Dovzhenko’s classic remains a stunning example of cinematic expression.

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Live Piano Accompaniment by Yakov Gubanov
October 20 (Sunday) 7 pm
October 21 (Monday) 7 pm

The Man with the Movie Camera (Chelovek s kinoapparotom)

Directed by Dziga Vertov
USSR 1929, 35 mm, b/w, silent, 80 min.

Dziga Vertov’s experimental masterpiece cannily deploys the montage aesthetic of the Soviet avant-garde of the 1920s through its kinetic juxtaposition of individual shots and its sped-up and slowed-down motion. Using his own concept of the “kino eye”—the cinematic eye that illuminates the real world as not ordinarily seen—Vertov creates a city symphony depicting a day in the life of an urban metropolis.

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October 28 (Monday) 7 pm

M (Mörder unter uns)

Directed by Jacques Rivette
France 1976, 35mm, color, 145 min.
With Bernadette Lafont, Geraldine Chaplin, Kika Markham
English and French with English subtitles

Based on news accounts of an actual murder case in Düsseldorf, Lang’s landmark early-sound-era film was produced almost entirely in the studio. Eschewing his earlier expressionistic techniques, the director created a stylized realism to depict the growing agitation of a town in which a child murderer is on the loose. M captures the prevailing sense of despair and corruption of Germany in the early thirties in its portrayal of the pathetic killer (Brecht-trained actor Lorre, in his film debut) who is hounded by an odd alliance of pursuers: both the chief of police and the equally efficient criminal underworld.

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