Archive: Winter 2007
Fifty Years of Janus Films
After World War II, many of the American films that had been forbidden in France throughout the occupation flooded into the country. This torrent of “foreign cinema” was one of the major factors contributing to the birth of the French New Wave. By the same token, the films from Europe and Asia that were unveiled to curious American eyes in the 50s and 60s had an incalculable effect on our movies.
Janus Films was founded in 1956 to distribute the explosion of independent films that ensued.To celebrate their 50th Anniversary, Janus Films has released a selection of titles from their extraordinary collection, all in brand-new or pristine 35mm prints. The Film and Video Center will be featuring Jules and Jim, La Strada, The Seven Samurai and Cleo From 5 to 7. (film notes from Janus Films)
All four of these special screenings feature newly restored 35mm prints
Jules and Jim
The film is an adaptation of the first of two novels by journalist and art collector Henri-Pierre Roché, which was based on his ménage à trios with Marcel Duchamp and artist Beatrice Wood, the “Mama of Dada.” Because of the nature of the material, Truffaut was worried about censorship (the film was restricted to 18 and older in Paris and it was initially banned outright in Rome). When Truffaut arrived in New York to premiere the film, he was feted as a conquering hero, and when the film opened on the 25th of April, the acclaim was almost universal. As Roger Ebert put it, “Although a case can be made for Godard’s Breathless (based on a story by Truffaut), Jules and Jim was perhaps the most influential and arguably the best of those first astonishing films that broke with the past. There is joy in the filmmaking that feels fresh today and felt audacious at the time.”
Directed by François Truffaut. 1962, France • 105 minutes • 35mm
Federico Fellini, known as one of the top screenwriters in Italian cinema and a promising young director, poured everything he had into this film, physically and psychologically, and in the process created what he called “the complete catalogue of my entire mythological world.” When La Strada premiered in Venice, it was celebrated by Catholic critics and subsequently scourged by leftists as a betrayal of Neorealism, edging it over the precipice and into magic realism. Was this tale of the simple Gelsomina (Giuletta Masina) sold to a traveling strongman (Anthony Quinn) an end to Neorealism or an evolution? André Bazin’s eloquent argument for the second alternative aside, the question is impossible to answer–and irrelevant when compared to the galvanic effect this movie had on viewers. In essence, Fellini–with a great deal of help from his
Directed by Federico Fellini. 1954, Italy • 108 minutes •35mm
If you had to find one word to describe Kurosawa’s awe-inspiring epic, it might be: undeniable. This movie sent shockwaves across the world, inspiring generations of filmmakers and rousing generations of filmgoers with its dynamic action, density of detail, moral clarity, diamond-sharp pictorialism and intricate design. Without its example, one of the basic dramatic templates of post-war moviemaking – the disreputable team sent on an impossible mission – would never have seen the light of day, and scores of moviemakers, from Sam Peckinpah to Francis Ford Coppola, would have taken very different paths. Kurosawa’s intention was to give Japanese cinema a shot of adrenalin, but he wound up delivering it to world cinema, and the effect has yet to wear off.
Directed by Akira Kurosawa. 1954, Japan • 207 minutes • 35mm
Agnès Varda’s feature film debut injected an unprecedented woman’s perspective into the all-male world of the nouvelle vague, its lighter-than-air tone making the gravity beneath the surface all the more deeply felt. We are with a pop singer with the stage name of Cléo Victorie (Corinne Marchand), and we stay with her for 90 minutes of almost real time as she awaits the results of a doctor’s test for cancer. Varda’s Cléo is an exhilarating and deeply penetrating film: just beyond the beguiling surface, the spectre of mortality is always waiting. “Through an arresting use of Paris as both visual centerpiece and reflection of a woman’s inner journey,” writes Molly Haskell, “Varda paints an enduring portrait of a woman’s evolution from a shallow and superstitious child-woman to a person who can feel and express shock and anguish and finally empathy. In the process, the director adroitly uses the camera’s addiction to beautiful female faces to subtly question the consequences of that fascination–on us, on them.”
Directed by Agnès Varda. 1961, France/Italy • 90 minutes • 35mm