Film Theory

Tuesday, August 21 at 1:30pm


Charles Chaplin (U.S. 1931) 87 min. 35MM. With Chaplin, Virginia Cherrill, Florence Lee.

City Lights may be Chaplin’s most cherished Little Tramp film. The writer-director-star achieved new levels of grace, in both physical comedy and dramatic poignancy, with this tale of a lovable vagrant falling for a young blind woman who sells flowers on the street (Cherrill) and mistakes him for a millionaire. Though made after the advent of sound, Chaplin remained steadfast in his love for the expressive beauty of the pre-talkie form. The result was the crowning achievement of silent comedy. Playing with Begone Dull Care (Norman McLaren and Evelyn Lambart, Canada, 1949, 8 min.); and The Love Life of an Octopus (Geneviève Hamon and Jean Painlevé, France, 1965, 13 min.).


Tuesday, August 28 at 1:30pm


Louis Feuillade (France 1913) ~90 min. With René Navarre, Georges Melchior, Edmund Bréon. French with English intertitles.

Louis Feuillade’s outrageous, ambitious Fantômas series became the gold standard of espionage serials in pre-WWI Europe. René Navarre stars as the criminal lord of Paris, the master of disguise, the creeping assassin in black: Fantômas. Resourceful Inspector Juve (Bréon) and his friend, journalist Jerôme Fandor (Melchior), pursue him. We’ll screen The Murderous Corpse, the third feature of the 5 1/2-hour epic.

Playing with Alice Guy-Blaché’s early sound short Felix Mayol Performs “White Lilacs,” (France, 1905, 3 min., unsubtitled) and her silent role-reversal comedy The Consequences of Feminism (France, 1906, 7 min.). The pioneering Guy-Blaché was probably the only woman director in the earliest decade of cinema, and the producer of nearly 1000 films (only 350 of which survive).


Tuesday, September 4 at 1:30pm

SHOES – Restoration!

Lois Weber (U.S. 1916) 52 min. DCP. With Mary MacLaren, Mattie Witting, Harry Griffith and a score by Donald Sosin and Mimi Rabson.

Lois Weber was the most important and prolific American woman director of the silent era, well known in her time and now finally getting contemporary recognition thanks to recent restorations by Milestone Films and the EYE Filmmuseum in Amsterdam. Shoes, the story of a poor shop girl struggling to support her family, may be Weber’s finest film and one of the great feminist films in the history of cinema.

Playing with D.W. Griffith’s The House of Darkness (U.S. 1913, 17 min.), innovative director D.W. Griffith’s dramatic but sympathetic spotlight on the mentally ill.


Tuesday, September 11 at 1:30pm


Martin Scorsese (U.S. 2002) 167 min. 35MM. With Leonardo DiCaprio, Cameron Diaz, Daniel Day-Lewis.

Martin Scorsese’s ambitious epic uses the visual language of the American Western to tell a very urban story: the history of New York’s development in the wake of the Civil War. Leonardo DiCaprio is a young man bent on vengeance whose nemesis, the evil but seductive Bill the Butcher (Day-Lewis), leads the city’s anti-immigrant “nativist” movement (American Cinematheque notes).


Tuesday, September 18 at 1:30pm


Howard Hawks (U.S. 1946) 116 min. 35MM> With Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, John Ridgely.

A classic noir tale of crime, seduction, deception and murder, crafted by a dream team of talent. Raymond Chandler’s acidic novel begat the second of the Bacall-Bogart-Hawks collaborations, a feast packed with quotables from Chandler and screenwriters William Faulkner, Leigh Brackett and Jules Furthman.

Playing with the Bugs Bunny Looney Tunes cartoon The Big Snooze (Bob Clampett, U.S. 1946, 7 min.).


Tuesday, September 25 at 1:30pm

GOLD DIGGERS OF 1933 – Preservation Print!

Mervyn LeRoy and Busby Berkeley (U.S. 1933) 96 min. 35MM. With Joan Blondell, Ruby Keeler, Dick Powell.

Despite his benign reputation as an entertainer, dance designer Busby Berkeley’s imagination was truly bizarre, provocatively mischievous if you were paying attention – and there’s no reason to think people in 1933 were not. Ginger Rogers sings “We’re In the Money” in pig Latin, backed by chorines wearing coins over their private parts; in “Pettin in the Park,” Berkeley cuts to a caged chimpanzee on a cookie box, a voyeuristic midget and women’s metallic bathing suits – which men pry open with can openers. It’s the Depression, and it’s a jungle out there, as the working-girls plot of Gold Diggers of 1933 cynically demonstrates (PFA program notes). Preserved by the Library of Congress.


Tuesday, October 2 at 1:30pm


Josef von Sternberg (1932) 97 min. 35MM. With Marlene Dietrich, Herbert Marshall, Cary Grant.

A sweeping melodrama about motherly devotion, Blonde Venus tells the story of Helen (Dietrich), once a German chanteuse, now an American housewife, who resurrects her stage career after her husband (Marshall) falls ill; she then becomes the mistress of a millionaire (Grant), sliding from loving martyr to dishonored woman. Von Sternberg’s baroque visual style shines, in a parade of visionary costumes he designed with Dietrich’s longtime collaborator Travis Banton.

Playing with The Meeting of Two Queens (Cecilia Barriga, Spain, 1991, 14 min.)