War has provided numerous opportunities for cinematic reinvention. Of the major international conflicts, World War I has been subject to the widest range of interpretations, from the "war is hell" buddy stories of the 1920s to more jingoistic readings in the 1940s to pacifistic revisions in more recent years.
Special thanks to Despina Kakoudaki.
October 11 (Tuesday) 9 pm
Directed by Howard Hughes
US, 1930, B&W, 90 min.
With Ben Lyon, James Hall, Jean Harlow
At the outbreak of World War I, two brothers attending Oxford leave their educational pursuits aside to join the RAF. Their competitive relationship is challenged by each man's feelings for a morally questionable young woman, played by a pre-code Harlow, who made her big break delivering her signature line: "Would you be shocked if I put on something more comfortable?" Regarded as a producer and presenter of numerous Hollywood films, Hughes went through several noted filmmakers including Howard Hawks and James Whale before taking the helm himself. The result is a compelling war drama featuring spectacular aerial dogfights and Zeppelin raids, as well as one of the costliest budgets of its time.
October 17 (Monday) 9 pm
Directed by Jean Renoir
France, 1937, B&W, 117 min.
With Jean Gabin, Marcel Dalio, Erich von Stroheim
English, French, German, and Russian with English subtitles
Set during World War I, the film takes place mostly in a German prisoner of war camp for officers, including Frenchmen, who have been captured on the front. Through the relationships between the prisoners and their jailers, Renoir explores confinement and humanity's essential longing for freedom; male friendship and its erotic overtones; and class and racial ties. With The Grand Illusion, Renoir broke new ground in spontaneity and freedom of performance and shooting style, attaining a warmth and compassion for people and their suffering. Unfortunately, he failed at his main objective: he hoped that the film would persuade the Germans not to precipitate World War II.
November 6 (Sunday) 7 pm - Live piano accompaniment by Yakov Gubanov
Directed by William A. Wellman
US, 1927, B&W, silent, 141 min.
With Clara Bow, Charles ‘Buddy’ Rogers, Richard Arlen
"It Girl" Clara Bow stars as Mary, the love interest of two best friends - and rivals - Jack (Rogers) and David (Arlen). Both men enlist in the Army Air Corps when World War I breaks out, and Mary contributes to the cause as an ambulance driver. Based in part on director Wellman's own war experiences, the film features unbelievable aerial photography that captures the spectacular dogfights and airborne battle scenes for which the film has justifiably remained famous. Wings won the first Best Picture Oscar, and (briefly) features Gary Cooper in one of his earliest film appearances.
November 7 (Monday) 7 pm
Directed by Lewis Milestone
US, 1930, B&W, 131 min.
With Louis Wolheim, Lew Ayres, John Wray
All Quiet on the Western Front is a poignant and realistic adaptation of Erich Maria Remarque's persuasive anti-war novel about seven young German soldiers facing suffering and death on the battlefields of World War I. The film focuses on one of the soldiers (Lew Ayers) and follows his transformation from idealistic and patriotic schoolboy to shattered and disillusioned war veteran. Unforgettable and astonishingly graphic in its honest portrayal of horrifying subject matter, the film was met with controversy in both the United States and Germany when first released, but nevertheless garnered both Best Picture and Best Director Oscars.
November 8 (Tuesday) 9 pm
Directed by Howard Hawks
US, 1941, B&W, 134 min.
With Gary Cooper, Walter Brennan, Joan Leslie
Based on the true story of Alvin York, a Tennessee hellraiser turned bible-thumper (by a lightning strike, no less) who, after being drafted in 1917, applied for conscientious objector status on religious grounds and was refused. He went on to become the most decorated soldier of the first World War, single-handedly killing twenty-five German soldiers and taking over one hundred prisoners. York refused to let his story be turned into a movie unless he would be portrayed by Gary Cooper, who won his first Academy Award for his role in the film.
November 9 (Wednesday) 9 pm
Directed by Charles Chaplin
USA, 1918, B&W, silent, 46 min.
With Charles Chaplin, Edna Purviance
Directed by Charles Chaplin
USA, 1918, B&W, silent, 5 min.
With Charles Chaplin, Edna Purviance
November 11 (Friday) 7 pm - Live piano accompaniment by Yakov Gubanov
Directed by King Vidor
US, 1925, B&W, silent, 118 min.
With John Gilbert, Renée Adorée, Hobart Bosworth
Vidor's stunning antiwar film is one of the classics of silent cinema. Containing realistic, remarkably staged battle sequences and moments of powerful drama, the film follows the enlistment and service of an American soldier (silent-screen great Gilbert) who fights in France in World War I. Though the film was made in the early years of American filmmaking, Vidor has a superior command of the medium, creating scenes that are not only brilliantly constructed but achingly intimate and disturbing.
November 11 (Friday) 9 pm - Live piano accompaniment by Yakov Gubanov
Directed by Raoul Walsh
US, 1926, B&W, silent, 125 min.
With Edmund Lowe, Victor McLaglen, Dolores del Rio
An odd mix of harsh melodrama and bawdy comedy, this early silent from Raoul Walsh proudly wears the marks of masculine rivalry, which the director would explore throughout his career. Two soldiers spar for the love of a woman until the grim realities of World War I change their fate. Featuring graphically terrifying battle sequences, the film gained much of its notoriety from the coarse interplay between Lowe and McLaglen, who were given free rein to improvise profanities which escaped the discretion of the silent-era Hollywood censors who only responded to printed obscenity.
November 13 (Sunday) 7 pm - Live piano accompaniment by Yakov Gubanov
Directed by Rex Ingram
US, 1921, B&W, 134 min.
With Rudolph Valentino, Pomeroy Cannon, Josef Swickard
Based on a novel by Vicente Blasco-Ibanez, The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse and its famous tango scene helped make Valentino a silent film star. Valentino is Julio, an Argentine artist living a lazy life in France until he is convinced to enlist in the French military during World War I. Though Julio proves to be a capable solider, some of his relatives are fighting on the side of the Germans, and the war eventually splits the family apart with heartbreaking results. The spectacular imagery of the The Four Horsemen helps underline the film's anti-war message.
November 14 (Monday) 9 pm
Directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet
France/US, 2004, Color, 134 min.
With Audrey Tatou, Gaspard Ulliel, Jodie Foster
French with English Subtitles
Following their international success with Amelie, director Jeunet and star Tatou reteamed for a much darker look at love and destiny. Set in World War I-era France, the film tells the story of Manech and Mathilde, young lovers who are torn apart when Manech is called to the front lines of the war. Seeking escape from the trenches, Manech and four other men injure themselves, but they are court-marshalled and sentenced to be abandoned in "no man's land," where they are presumably killed by the enemy. Three years later, Mathilde obsessively tries to prove that Manech has survived. As she investigates the events of the still-recent past, flashbacks reveal the action from differing perspectives. In its depiction of the delicate relationship between Mathilde's hopes, people's interpretations of the past, and the objective question of Manech's survival, the film becomes a meditation on the obscurity of history and the irrationality of war.
November 15 (Tuesday) 9:15 pm
Directed by John Ford
US, 1934, B&W, 66 min.
With Boris Karloff, Victor McLaglen, Wallace Ford
A World War I-era British regiment finds itself stranded in the Mesopotamian desert when its commanding officer—the only one who knows where they are going—is killed by a sniper. Surrounded by bandits, the men hole up in an abandoned mosque to fend off their attackers and wait for reinforcements. Remade numerous times, the film has had enormous influnce on many later war films, especially in its deft handling of the wartime interplay between the personal, the political, and the religious. Highlights include Max Steiner's score (elements of which were incorporated into his later score for Michael Curtiz's Casablanca), Ford's espressive direction, and Karloff's notorious freak-out as a religious zealot driven insane by the situation.
November 21 (Monday) 9 pm
Directed by Stanley Kubrick
US, 1957, B&W, 87 min.
With Kirk Douglas, Adolph Mejou, George Macready
English and German with English subtitles
During World War I, a French general (Macready) orders his men on a suicidal charge; when they fail, he picks three of them to be tried and executed for cowardice. An extraordinarily effective film showing the insanity of war, Paths of Glory is more genuinely pacifist than either Saving Private Ryan or The Thin Red Line. The screenplay is written by Kubrick with two of his favorite novelists, Calder Willingham and Jim Thompson.
November 22 (Tuesday) 9 pm
Directed by Joseph Losey
UK, 1964, B&W, 86 min.
With Dirk Bogarde, Tom Courtenay, Leo McKern
Private Arthur Hamp (Courtenay), frustrated with three long years of trench warfare and shell-shocked after a particularly brutal attack, elects to walk home to England from the front. He is subsequently court-martialed; his assigned defender, Captain Hargreaves (Bogarde), slowly begins to understand the helplessness of Hamp and other enlisted men. Losey's characteristically subtle touches play on the "roles" assigned by the British class system (the film is a stage adaptation), employing a mildly Brechtian emphasis on theatrical artifice and reflexivity.
November 27 (Sunday) 7 pm - Live piano accompaniment by Yakov Gubanov
Directed by D.W. Griffith
US, 1924, B&W, silent, 115 min.
With Carol Dempster, Neil Hamilton, Erville Alderson
Filmed in post-Versailles Germany, this tough-times drama sees Griffith examining the hardships that prevail in war's aftermath, utilizing a gritty style that some have taken as a precursor to the Italian neo-realism that followed the second World War. Polish orphan Inga (Dempster) struggles to hold together the family that has taken her in while hoping to marry Paul (Hamilton), who returns from the front suffering from gas poisoning. The potato garden he secretly tends at his shipyard job serves as a poignant, if sentimental, symbol of the young couple's shared hopes for the future in this classic love-conquers-all tale.
November 27 (Sunday) 9:15 pm - Live piano accompaniment by Yakov Gubanov
Directed by D.W. Griffith
US, 1918, B&W, silent, 118 min.
With Lillian Gish, Robert Harron, Dorothy Gish
Following the success of Intolerance, Griffith was commissioned by the British government to craft a film which would encourage U.S. entry into World War I. Hearts of the World follows the travails of two American families living in France who are drawn into the horrors of battle when Germany invades France and bombards their once-tranquil village. Lillian Gish stars as Marie, the plucky daughter who falls for Douglas, her neighbor. The idealistic couple is forced to postpone their planned nuptials when he volunteers for the French army and risks his life battling the Germans. More than mere propaganda, the film ranks as one of Griffith's greatest achievements thanks to his honest depiction of war and its toll.
November 28 (Monday) 8:45 pm
Directed by Richard Attenborough
UK, 1969, Color, 144 min.
With Maggie Smith, John Mills, Laurence Olivier
Attenborough's directorial debut is a satirical musical history of WWI, adapted from Joan Littlewood's stage play and told mostly through soldiers' marching songs (with sarcastic revisions intact). The war is promoted as an exciting boardwalk amusement; death tolls are displayed on a cricket scoreboard; generals play leapfrog. Monty Python-esque touches notwithstanding, the devastating ironies and absurdities of large-scale conflict are driven home via a decidedly black sense of humor. Featuring all-star English thespian cameos from Olivier, Michael Redgrave, Smith, and others.
November 29 (Tuesday) 9 pm
Directed by Peter Weir
Australia, 1981, Color, 110 min.
With Mark Lee, Mel Gibson, Bill Hunter
Partially inspired by Weir's visit to the infamous battle site on the Turkish coast, this historical epic focuses on the individual journeys of two young Australian sprinters—wide-eyed country boy Archy (Lee) and street-smart Frank (Gibson)—who become friends and join the army. Their reasons for enlisting are similarly opposite: naïve Archy holds vague visions of glory, while pragmatic Frank figures he might return an officer. As much a study of the Australian psyche circa WWI as an anti-war screed, the film examines how camaraderie and the sporting mindset translate to the theater of war.