Bringing to light some of the wonders that film history had lost or forgotten, and returning celebrated works to a revelatory freshness, The Museum of Modern Art presents the 12th edition of its annual festival of newly preserved and restored films, To Save and Project, from October 24 through November 22, 2014. To Save and Project is organized by festival cofounder Joshua Siegel, Curator, and Dave Kehr, Adjunct Curator, with Sophie Cavoulacos, Curatorial Assistant, Department of Film, The Museum of Modern Art.
This year’s festival showcases the work of an international roster of preservationists— studios, distributors, foundations, independent filmmakers, and archives, including MoMA and every other major U.S. archive—and ranges across a wide range of discoveries, rediscoveries, and masterpieces made new. The more than 80 feature films and shorts from 14 countries include superproductions from the silent era, 3-D animations, dance films, important documents of African and African American culture, works of the avant-garde, the earliest professional film by Orson Welles, and more. Events during the festival will include onstage appearances by notable filmmakers, special musical performances, presentations by archivists about the films they have restored, and a 1980s New York indie scene reunion.
“In To Save and Project, we try to awaken a sense of excitement about film history as a territory that is still surprising and largely unexplored,” Joshua Siegel states. “Every year, MoMA and its colleagues around the world bring back astonishing films that we thought were lost, or never even knew existed.”
Dave Kehr adds, “Even the best-known films in To Save and Project are revelations, because for decades they’ve been little more than shadows of themselves. Even if you think you’ve seen the film, now you can actually see it.”
Opening the festival on Friday, October 24, is the North American premiere of MoMA’s restoration of Allan Dwan’s 1929 The Iron Mask, a rousing swashbuckler starring Douglas Fairbanks that Dwan himself called “the last of the big silents.” In addition to being visually stunning, MoMA’s new print contains the entire original Vitaphone soundtrack—with music, sound effects, and three spoken sequences—which will be heard for the first time since the film’s original roadshow presentation.
Among the many highlights in this year’s To Save and Project festival are the first screening in New York City of the sequences that Orson Welles filmed but never used for the 1938 Mercury Theater production Too Much Johnson (George Eastman House); an uncompleted 1913 feature starring the pioneering African American comedian Bert Williams, recently discovered in MoMA’s collection of Biograph negatives; Another Man’s Poison (Cohen Film Collection), a 1951 Bette Davis barnburner, shot in Great Britain and virtually unseen for decades, that finds the legendary star in her highest All About Eve dudgeon; a newly identified film by Joseph Cornell, The Wool Collage (MoMA), presented by MoMA associate curator Anne Morra and filmmaker Ken Jacobs, together with a restoration of Jacobs’s own Perfect Film (MoMA); a program on John Cage and the avant-garde film score, introduced by Cindy Keefer, curator/archivist of the Center for Visual Music, featuring two recently discovered collaborations between Cage and the sculptor Richard Lippold: The Sun Film and their uncompleted The Sun, Variations with a Sphere no. 10 (both 1956, Center for Visual Music); Arch Oboler’s 1966 science-fiction fable The Bubble, in all its three-dimensional glory (3-D Film Archive); Laurel and Hardy’s The Music Box (UCLA), which hasn’t looked this good since it won the 1932 Academy Award for best short subject, comedy; and a superlative new full-color restoration of Robert Weine’s Expressionist classic The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (Murnau Foundation and Cineteca di Bologna), shown prior to a weeklong theatrical run at Film Forum courtesy of Kino Lorber.
The festival’s exceptional series of special guest appearances will begin on Sunday, October 26, when dance critic Debra Levine interviews the actor-singer-dancer George Chakiris, whose performance as Bernardo, the leader of the Sharks, in the 1961 film of West Side Story earned him a permanent place in the iconography of New York City. The conversation will be followed by a rare screening of Luigi Comencini’s 1964 Italian drama Bebo’s Girl, starring Mr. Chakiris and Claudia Cardinale. Mr. Chakiris will also be present on October 27 to introduce a digital restoration of Howard Hawks’s 1953 Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (Twentieth Century Fox). (Ms. Levine will also present a program on the Ballets Russes dancer Theodore Kosloff and his involvement with Cecil B. DeMille’s 1930 Madam Satan on Monday, October 27.)
John Boorman, a British filmmaker whose career has transcended nationalities, will introduce his too-little-seen urban allegory of 1970, Leo the Last, starring Marcello Mastroianni, on Friday, November 14, and his classic 1981 adaptation of the Arthurian legend, Excalibur, on Saturday, November 15. The filmmaker will also be present with his daughter, Katrine Boorman, for a screening of Me and Me Dad, her 2012 documentary about the Boorman family. Mr. Boorman’s new film Queen and Country will be shown on November 16 in another MoMA series, The Contenders 2014.
A program on Thursday, October 30, will reunite members of the cast and crew of The Golden Boat, a celebrated but rarely shown 1990 film by the late Raul Ruiz that drew together a wildly diverse group of talents from the New York indie scene. Hosted by the producer James Schamus, the conversation will include producers Scott Macaulay and Jordi Torrent and assistant director Christine Vachon.
In other special presentations, the acclaimed animation historian John Canemaker will re-create Winsor McCay's original live presentation of the pioneering 1909 animated film Genie the Dinosaur on Friday, November 7. On Tuesday, November 11—Veterans' Day—Mark Harris, the author of Five Came Back: A Story of Hollywood and the Second World War, will present a selection of war documentaries from the National Archive, including works by John Ford and John Huston. The French archivist Serge Bromberg will present the latest edition of his celebrated Retour de Flamme program—a surprise package of rarities backed by Mr. Bromberg's ebullient piano accompaniment—as well as a program of the latest short comedies restored through the Chaplin Project, both on Saturday, November IS. Ben Model, the gifted pianist who frequently accompanies silent comedies at MoMA and elsewhere, will offer an insightful lesson on the use of varying camera speeds to accentuate movement and create emotion in silent slapstick comedy with an illustrated lecture on Saturday, November 22.
On Monday, November 17, Kathryn Bigelow and Michael Oblowitz will introduce films from Cine Virus, a program they organized in 1978 to coincide with the publication of Schizo-Culture, a widely influential special issue of the journal Semiotext(e). And on Tuesday, November 18, Dan Streible, the director of the NYU Orphan Film Symposium (dedicated to the study of neglected films from outside the commercial mainstream), and Katie Trainor, MoMA’s Film Collections Manager, will inaugurate a new annual program in To Save and Project, “Orphans at MoMA.” This year, they present an eclectic and entertaining selection of amateur films made from 1926 to 1976, including Robbins Barstow’s newly preserved The Abbakadabba Coopno (1941), featuring “the Newark Kid-Stars in their real-life drama of Christian farm work.” (Barstow’s celebrated Disneyland Dreams, elected to The Library of Congress’s National Film Registry as arguably the greatest home movie ever made, was a highlight of a previous edition of To Save and Project.)
The festival’s rich selection of silent films will include MoMA’s restoration of Shark Monroe, a neglected William S. Hart feature from 1918; two films featuring the child star Baby Peggy (who, as Diana Serra Cary, is today a vigorous 94): William A. Seiter’s 1924 family drama The Family Secret and the comedy short Miles of Smiles; and The Library of Congress’s pictorially stunning restoration of Edwin Carewe’s 1928 Ramona, starring Dolores Del Rio in Old California, torn between Spanish and native American cultures.
One of several rediscovered Asian treasures in this year’s program, the 1927 silent Chinese fantasy Pan si Dong (The Cave of the Silken Web), recently found and restored by the National Library of Norway, will screen on Tuesday, November 18, and Wednesday, November 19. Kenji Mizoguchi’s 1935 drama Gubijinso (Poppy) will be screened on Friday, October 31, and Tuesday, November 4, for the first time in New York in a new print struck from the original nitrate negative by the National Film Center, Tokyo. Its companion piece is the curious crime film/martial arts spectacle Miss Okichi, also from 1935, directed by Tatsunosuke Takashima under Mizoguchi’s “supervision.” With its faded color restored by the Shanghai International Film Festival, Xie Jin’s lush Maoist melodrama Stage Sisters, set in the decadent Shanghai of the 1930s, returns to New York on Sunday, October 25, and Wednesday, November 19.
Among the nonfiction films in this year’s festival are David Perlov’s Memories of the Eichmann Trial, produced for Israeli television in 1979 (showing on Monday, November 3, and Friday, November 7), and The White Game, a political film documenting the 1968 demonstrations against the Davis Cup match between Sweden and Rhodesia, made by Grupp 13, a collective of Swedish filmmakers that included Roy Andersson and Bo Widerberg (showing on Thursday, November 13, and Wednesday, November 19).
This year’s edition of To Save and Project offers the opportunity to meet archivists from several leading institutions, including MoMA itself. On Saturday, November 8, Ron Magliozzi, Associate Curator, and Peter Williamson, Film Conservator, will present their research on MoMA’s discovery of a 101-year-old, black-cast feature film starring Bert Williams. (The Williams footage is also the subject of the exhibition 100 Years in Post-Production, opening on October 24 in MoMA's Titus galleries.)
Paolo Cherchi Usai, Senior Curator, George Eastman House, will lead a tour of Orson Welles's unfinished Too Much Johnson footage on Saturday, October 25. A new 4K digital restoration of the groundbreaking Sergio Leone-Clint Eastwood Western A Fistful of Dollars will be presented on Thursday, November 6. Valerie Cervantes and George Willemann of The Library of Congress will discuss the history and preservation of Ramona on Sunday, November 9; and )an-Christopher Horak, Director of the UCLA Film & Television Archive, will contextualize UCLA's glimmering restoration of Edgar G. Ulmer's Poverty Row melodrama Her Sister's Secret ;1946) on Wednesday, November 12. On Thursday, November 20, Nikolay Borodachev, director of Russia's national film archive Gosfilmofund, and Peter Bagrov, its chief curator, will introduce The Fate of a Man, a 1959 Soviet war epic directed by and starring Sergei Bondarchuk, who after this promising feature debut went on to make a spectacular and grandiose adaptation of War and Peace.
A festival subsection dedicated to 3-D filmmaking will begin with Arch Oboler’s The Bubble on Friday, November 7, and Sunday, November 9. A second 3-D program, on Thursday, November 20, and Friday, November 21, will draw on the field of stereoscopic animation, combining Norman McLaren’s four 3-D animations of the early 1950s, restored by the National Film Board of Canada, with a selection of 3-D actualities and educational films from the same era produced in the Soviet Union and restored by Gosfilmofond.
Louis de Witt’s 1971 Joe Bullet (Saturday, November 8, and Thursday, November 13) exemplifies a little-known but historically significant group of films that are in danger of extinction: black-cast action movies shot in 16mm in South Africa during apartheid. Clearly modeled on American Blaxploitation films, Joe Bullet stars Ken Gampu as a martial arts expert who comes to the aid of a soccer team. Banned on its first release, Joe Bullet has been rescued by Gravel Road Entertainment Group’s Retro Afrika Bioscope initiative.
From the BFI in London come refurbished prints of two highly influential films by Derek Jarman, Sebastiane (1976) and Caravaggio (1986), both screening on Saturday, November 1, and Thursday, November 6. From UCLA comes a selection of shorts from the archive’s ongoing Laurel and Hardy reclamation program—including The Music Box (Saturday, November 8)—and a remarkable rediscovery from Poverty Row, Alfred Werker’s Repeat Performance, a film noir with a Twilight Zone twist (Wednesday, November 12, and Friday, November 14). From Cineteca di Bologna and the Museo Nazionale del Cinema di Torino comes a digital restoration of Elio Petri’s ferocious 1976 political satire Todo Modo. In addition to the other films coming from MoMA, the Museum’s archive will also be represented by To the Last Man, a 1933 Western by Henry Hathaway (True Grit), starring Randolph Scott, restored from the original camera negative (screening on October 28 and November 2).
The closing night of To Save and Project 2014, presented in conjunction with MoMA’s Discovering Georgian Cinema series, is the 1929 comedy My Grandmother, a daring satire on the Soviet Union’s growing bureaucracy, directed with total abandon by Kote Mikaberidze. Combining several layers of stylization—eccentric acting, expressionistic sets, crazy camera angles, frenzied cutting, and animation both stop-motion and drawn—the film is one of the genuine UFOs of the movies, and will be shown on Saturday, November 22, with an equally inventive score composed by Beth Custer and performed by the Beth Custer Ensemble.