Like many of you, I’ve been spending more time at home than I used to. Turner Classic Movies presents a nonstop array of films from the past, including some I’ve managed to miss across the years. And I’m always happy to discover, or revisit, an old short subject from Vitaphone or MGM. Call it a leftover from the pandemic, but my wife and I need to nudge ourselves to go out these days. The availability of new movies at home—especially during awards season—for a journalist like myself is a virtual invitation to stay home. Even my favorite film of 2023, The Holdovers, is now available digitally and on Blu-ray.
Yet almost every trip to a theater serves as a reminder of how rewarding it is to see a film on a big screen, in the dark, without distractions. That includes oldies, and denizens of New York City and Chicago have golden opportunities awaiting them in the new year.
The Chicago Film Society never fails to impress me with its eclectic programming—and the savvy required to obtain 35mm prints from certain studios and a number of archives. No one else I know is showing Cleopatra Jones and Has Anybody Seen My Gal in the same season. Nothing is off-limits for this indomitable group, from silent films with live musical accompaniment (Frank Borzage’s Humoresque, Allan Dwan’s Padlocked) to Ozu’s Tokyo Story and Elvis Presley in Kid Galahad. For more information, click at https://www.chicagofilmsociety.org/calendar/current-season/
The Museum of Modern Art in Manhattan is marking the twentieth year of its annual series To Save and Project: The MoMA International Festival of Film Preservation. On opening night, film buff and filmmaker Alexander Payne introduced the long-awaited restoration of Douglas Fairbanks’ The Black Pirate, which was filmed in two-color Technicolor. To quote from the Museum’s press release, “Focused programs on music are introduced by the singer-songwriter Judy Collins and DEVO’s Gerald Casale. We also present the world premiere of John Ford’s Arrowsmith (1931) in its original theatrical release version, as well as Andy Warhol’s never-before-seen Bitch (1965), which screens in a special program with a newly struck 35mm print of Mike Nichols’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966). Other festival highlights include the North American premieres of films by Chantal Akerman, Agnieszka Holland, Kōzaburō Yoshimura, Idrissa Ouédraogo, Menelek Shabazz, Alain Tanner, Agnès Varda, and Wim Wenders, as well as Monta Bell’s Man, Woman and Sin ( 1927); Wong Tin-lam’s The Wild, Wild Rose (1960), a cosmopolitan retelling of Bizet’s Carmen starring Hong Kong’s “mambo girl,” Grace Chang; Aribam Syam Sharma’s The Chosen One (1990), which offers a rare glimpse of moviemaking in the Indian state of Manipur; and two Soviet documentaries from 1929 and 1930 by the Armenian pioneer Hamo Bek-Nazaryan. The New York premieres of William Worthington’s The Dragon Painter (1919), starring Sessue Hayakawa, and Richard Eichberg’s Weimar melodrama Pavement Butterfly (1929), starring Anna May Wong, are presented in tribute to two American actors who radically redefined the ways in which Asians were depicted in Hollywood cinema.”
And, following its unveiling here in Los Angeles late last year, all thirteen chapters of Universal’s Flash Gordon serial, which was painstakingly reassembled and rejuvenated from existing 35mm materials which were sitting all these years in the Hearst corporation’s vaults.
UCLA Film & Television Archive cinema.ucla.edu is always up to something. Right now you can see Greta Garbo films and the best of Alfred Hithccock’s television work…and its curators are preparing its annual celebration of restored films, which will unspool April 5-7. While you’re waiting for that, check out some spontaneous silent newsreel footage of Anna May Wong visiting Shanghai in 1937, courtesy of the Packard Humanities Institute and UCLA’s library of raw material from its vast newsreel archive: https://newsreels.net/v/1nmj18r