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September 18 - November 27

Melodrama Mondays

September 18 (Monday) 7 pm

All That Heaven Allows

Directed by Douglas Sirk
US 1955, 35mm, color, 89 min.
With Jane Wyman, Rock Hudson, Agnes Moorehead

With her husband dead and her children off at college, it seems that Cary Scott (Wyman) will resign herself to the quiet, dignified life of the lonely New England widow—that is, until she encounters the virile young workman who tends her landscaping (Hudson). Scandal ensues. As much as the plot line is bound by the conventions of 1950s Hollywood "women’s pictures," under Sirk’s direction the film delivers an unusually perceptive critique of small-town social prejudice and the power it wields over the lives of individuals. As testament to the film’s enduring appeal, All That Heaven Allows has inspired two highly acclaimed adaptations, R. W. Fassbinder’s Ali, Fear Eats the Soul (1973) and, more recently, Todd Haynes’s Far From Heaven (2002).

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September 18 (Monday) 8:45 pm

Far From Heaven

Directed by Todd Haynes
US 2002, video, color, 107 min.
With Julianne Moore, Dennis Haysbert, Dennis Quaid

Far from Heaven stars Julianne Moore as Cathy Whitaker, a bourgeois housewife from West Hartford, CT, who discovers that her husband (Quaid) is gay. In the wake of this domestic turmoil, she begins to forge an intimate connection with her African-American gardener (Haysbert), much to the dismay of her judgmental community. Director Todd Haynes attacks racism, homophobia and suburban banality in 1950s America with stylishly rich color, evocative angles, and ornate lighting which compare to Sirk at his best.

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September 25 (Monday) 7 pm

The Lonely Villa

Directed by D.W. Griffith
US 1909, 16mm, silent, b/w, 8 min.
With David Miles, Marion Leonard, Mary Pickford
Live Piano Accompaniment

A mother and her hysterical daughters are under siege by nasty burglars.  Will her husband get home in time to save them? This classic example of Griffith’s crosscutting technique stars a teenage Mary Pickford.

The Painted Lady

Directed by D.W. Griffith
US 1912, 16mm, silent, b/w, 12 min.
With Blanche Sweet, Madge Kirby, Charles Hill Mailes
Live Piano Accompaniment

 

Blanche Sweet stars as the shy, unpopular daughter of a wealthy man who draws the attention of a man only interested in her father’s fortunes. Sweet emerged as one of Griffith’s more endearing leading ladies in this short.

A Corner In Wheat

Directed by D.W. Griffith
US 1909, 16mm, silent, b/w, 14 min.
With Frank Powell, Grace Henderson, James Kirkwood
Live Piano Accompaniment

An early example of Griffith’s social problem films, A Corner in Wheat tells the story of a tycoon who corners the market on wheat, destroying the lives of many grain farmers. The wheat suffocating scene is another classic example of Griffith’s crosscutting.

Way Down East 

Directed by D.W. Griffith
US 1920, 16mm, silent, b/w, 149 min.
With Lillian Gish, Richard Barthelmess, Lowell Sherman
Live Piano Accompaniment

One of the finest of Griffith’s later films and a phenomenal commercial success, Way Down East is a classic Victorian melodrama vividly adapted to the screen. The story takes place in New England and revolves around a naive young woman (Gish) who is seduced and abandoned by a city slicker (Sherman). Legendary as much for its expense as for its action, the film builds up to a famous climax with Gish drifting away on the ice floes.

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October 2 (Monday) 7 pm

The Jazz Singer

Directed by Alan Crosland
US 1927, 35mm, b/w, 88 min.
With Al Jolson, May McAvoy, Warner Oland

With Al Jolson’s famous “You ain’t heard nothing yet!” the feature-length sound film revolution was announced.  Lauded as the first “talking picture,” the box-office hit of the Jazz Age was a technological sensation showcasing Western Electric’s new Vitaphone sound system.  In the tradition of the immigrant generational-conflict film and based on the life of Jolson, The Jazz Singer is the story of musically gifted Jackie Rabinowitz, whose secular aspirations are rejected by his cantor father.  Jackie changes his name to Jack Robin, leaves home to pursue his dreams of the vaudeville stage, becomes involved with a gentile dancing girl, and eventually becomes a popular success.  In the end, he must choose between family duty and Broadway aspirations.  The ambivalence of the ending is matched by the uneasiness of the blackface performance of “My Mammy” that concludes the film.

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October 2 (Monday) 9 pm

The Threepenny Opera

Directed by G. W. Pabst
Germany 1931, 35mm,  b/w, 112 min.
With Rudolf Forster, Carola Neher, Reinhold Schünzel
German with English subtitles

In 1929, Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill were engaged to adapt their successful transposition of John Gay’s The Beggar’s Opera to the screen. Brecht wanted to give the film more anti-bourgeois bite than the stage version. His changes proved too strong for his capitalist producers--Brecht sued them and lost. Also lost were some of the songs and the disenchanted irony which was replaced by charm. A mix of realism and stylized settings, the performances and wonderful score and lyrics nevertheless retain much of the pungency of the original.

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October 9 (Monday) 7 pm

Stella Dallas

Directed by Henry King
US 1925, 35mm, silent, b/w, 110 min.
With Ronald Colman, Belle Bennett, Alice Joyce, Douglas Fairbanks Jr.
Live Piano Accompaniment

Adapted by legendary screenwriter Frances Marion (whose many successful screenplays of the 20s and 30s showcase her ability to write strong female characters), Henry King’s Stella Dallas is the original film version of Olive Higgins Prouty’s 1923 bestseller.  The story follows Stella (Bennett), a small town girl who marries into a society that rejects her flamboyant character and taste for vulgar things, leading to her downfall.  But it is Stella’s love for her daughter Laurel (Moran)—so selfless that Stella will do anything to provide her child with the opportunities she never had, and the place in society she could not attain—and Laurel’s unconditional devotion and loyalty to her mother, that make give this tearjerker its heart.  A master Hollywood craftsman, King’s attention to “the minute behaviorisms that epitomize 'the motions of the spirit'” (Richard Griffith) provide the sentimental story with its soul.  Print Courtesy of The Museum of Modern Art.

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October 9 (Monday) 9 pm

Stella Dallas

Directed by King Vidor
US 1937, 16mm, b/w, 106 min.
With Barbara Stanwyck, John Boles, Anne Shirley

King Vidor’s beloved 1937 version of Stella Dallas stars Barbara Stanwyck as the vibrant, outrageous, narcissistic, and ultimately self-sacrificing Stella.  In an Oscar nominated performance praised for its courage Stanwyck alternately evokes defiance at the upper class society that shuns her and the deep pathos that gives the “weepie” its name.  Anne Shirley (also nominated by the Academy) plays Stella’s much-loved and devoted daughter with charm and sensitivity, and Vidor’s direction abounds with delicately constructed moments that “often [bring] tragedy and comedy very close” (Barbara Stanwyk).  The picture’s resulting emotional power—most notable in the memorably painful scene of a failed birthday party—cements Stella Dallas as one of the great family melodramas of the thirties.

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October 16 (Monday) 6:30 pm

Street of Shame (Akasen chitai)

Directed by Kenji Mizoguchi
Japan 1956, 35mm, b/w, 87 min.
With Machiko Kyo, Aiko Mimasu, Ayako Wakao
Japanese with English subtitles
Donald Richie In Person

In his last film, Mizoguchi once again sympathetically presents the problems of women struggling under the constraints of a patriarchal society. In Dreamland, a contemporary Tokyo brothel, prostitutes use different approaches to try to survive their difficult lives inside and outside the brothel, while the people around them debate whether or not politicians should pass anti-prostitution legislation. Though ultimately quite pessimistic, with an unforgettably tragic final shot, the film is credited in part with prompting the passing of an anti-prostitution bill in Japan.

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October 16 (Monday) 9 pm

A Ball at the Anjo House (Anjo-ke no butoukai)

Directed by Kozaburo Yoshimura
Japan 1947, b/w, 16mm, 88 min.
With Osamu Takizawa, Setsuko Hara, Masayuki Mori
Japanese with English subtitles

A family of noble lineage is stripped of its fortune and titles during the Allied Occupation's drive to democratize Japan in the aftermath of Japan's defeat in World War II. The Anjo family throws one last party the night before vacating their mansion, and family members, guests and servants all reflect on the changes they see pervading their homeland. Kozaburo Yoshimura's postwar masterpiece was recently featured in Susan Sontag’s touring program of Japanese film.

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October 23 (Monday) 7 pm

Camille

Directed by George Cukor
US 1936, 35mm, b/w, 109 min.
With Greta Garbo, Robert Taylor, Lionel Barrymore

George Cukor’s lavish adaptation of this story of doomed love in nineteenth-century Paris was the first sound version of the story by Alexander Dumas fils. In what is arguably Garbo’s finest performance and unquestionably one of her most popular, she provides a restrained turn as an ailing courtesan that meshes beautifully with the lavish and luxurious atmosphere of this golden-age MGM production. Marguerite (Garbo) falls in love with the promising young Armand (Taylor), but the young man’s father puts an end to their engagement in order to protect his son’s future. The tragic finale is a classic example of the power and magnetism of The Face.

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October 23 (Monday) 9 pm

Now Voyager

Directed by Irving Rapper
US 1942, 35mm, b/w, 117 min.
With Bette Davis, Claude Rains, Paul Henreid, Gladys Cooper

In this beautifully told and subtly subversive melodrama, Bette Davis plays Charlotte Vale, a damaged, neurotic, and introverted wallflower who voyages toward self-discovery and self-determination after being treated for a nervous breakdown. Freeing herself from her imperious mother's parochial influence, Charlotte finds love and adventure on the high seas--most specifically in the form of Paul Henreid's dashing, disarming, and unhappily married architect. Standing beside Rebecca, The Women and Dark Victory as the quintessential "women's film", Now Voyager offers a glimpse at a woman who transcends social conceptions of gender and propriety to make over her life exactly as she sees fit. And no one is better suited to this transformative role than Davis, who looks as stunning as a would-be spinster (with Frida Kahlo eyebrows) as she does a would-be socialite.

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November 6 (Monday) 7 pm

Gone With the Wind

Directed by Victor Fleming
US 1939, 35mm, color, 238 min.
With Vivien Leigh, Clark Gable, Olivia de Havilland

The ultimate American epic, producer David O. Selznick’s adaptation of Margaret Mitchell’s storied tale of the old South has yet to be matched in terms of its cultural impact. Vivien Leigh devours the screen as Scarlett O’Hara, the mischievous belle who strings along the roguish Rhett Butler (Gable) while pining for the sensitive, yet unavailable Ashley Wilkes. Set against the backdrop of the Civil War, the film has received its fair share of criticism for its problematic representation of race yet it still manages to astound audiences through multiple re-releases.

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November 13 (Monday) 7 pm

The Best Years of Our Lives

Directed by William Wyler
US 1946, 35mm, b/w, 165 min.
With Fredric March, Dana Andrews, Harold Russell, Myrna Loy, Teresa Wright.

Perhaps one of the finest male melodramas ever put on screen, William Wyler’s ambitious slice-of-life about returning veterans after WWII is stark and devastating. Three ex-servicemen return to their beloved Boone City after their stints overseas only to meet with heartache, unemployment, and disability.  Much like the noir films which would soon sweep B-Hollywood, this intimate tale offers a less-than-sunny appraisal of American masculinity after the war. Unlike the noir cycle, however, the film’s high profile cast and production values brought these realistic problems into the mainstream of the American public consciousness.  Cinematographer Gregg Toland (Citizen Kane) employs his trademark deep-focus photography throughout, allowing both the spatial and human relationships to gain dimension and complexity.

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November 20 (Monday) 7 pm

Mother India

Directed by Mehboob Khan
India 1957, 35mm, color, 172 min.
With Nargis, Sunil Dutt, Raaj Kumar
Hindi with English subtitles

The character of Radha, played by the Indian star Nargis, is at the center of this epic melodrama of family and deception in the newly independent nation-state on the brink of widespread social change. The peasant woman raises two sons amidst a series of crippling trials: one grows to be obedient while the other rebels against tradition and vows to avenge his family against Sukhilala, the malevolent moneylender who cheats them out of their crop and lusts after his mother. Ultimately, Radha must choose between her impassioned son and her community. Spectacularly filmed in Gevacolor and then transferred to Technicolor, Mother India is a cornerstone of classic Indian cinema, capturing the trials of a country in transition.

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November 27 (Monday) 7 pm

Lawrence of Arabia

Directed by David Lean
UK 1962, 35mm, color, 220 min.
With Peter O’Toole, Alec Guinness, Anthony Quinn, Omar Sharif

David Lean's Academy Award-wining masterpiece follows the larger-than-life British polymath T.E. Lawrence (O’Toole), who led the disparate Arab nation to battle against Turkey during WWI.  Produced during the waning years of the Classical Hollywood studio system, the film stands as both the finest example of the studio-era Hollywood epic as well as its swan song. Most impressive of all (perhaps even more so than the gargantuan scale of the film) is Lean and O’Toole’s refusal to pander to the allure of hagiography; Lawrence emerges not as a superheroic ubermensch, but rather as a series of contradictions—sensitive sadist, humanitarian exploiter, frail giant—which complicate the usually black and white moral atmosphere of the epic.

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