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'To Save and Project': MOMA's International Orgy of the Newly Preserved

The New York Film Festival ends and the city’s most hardcore cinephile celebration opens: Now in its eighth year, “To Save and Project,” the Museum of Modern Art’s annual international orgy of the newly preserved, is an eclectic and serendipitous survey, offering everything from primal Brit sci-fi (Day of the Triffids, 1962) to rediscovered agitprop (Henri Cartier-Bresson’s With the Abraham Lincoln Brigade in Spain, 1938) to Patrice Chéreau’s obscure debut The Flesh of the Orchid (1975), a Charlotte Rampling vehicle taken from a lurid thriller by paperback writer James Hadley Chase.

This month-long rummage through the celluloid lost and found opens with yet another restoration of Luchino Visconti’s The Leopard (1963)—this one involving seven institutions in three countries. (It is a stone masterpiece—any excuse to show it, I say.) Also this weekend are The Story of Temple Drake (1933), Paramount’s pre-Code adaptation of William Faulkner’s lascivious Sanctuary with Miriam Hopkins as the debauched Southern belle, and, following a single showing at the NYFF, Manoel de Oliveira’s Rite of Spring (1963), which, in documenting an annual outdoor passion play, anticipates Pasolini’s Gospel According to Saint Matthew.

As usual, avant-garde cinema is well-served. In addition to a program of Paul Sharits’s underground flicker films, “To Save and Project” is premiering restorations of two long-unseen Andy Warhol productions, Face (1965), with superstar Edie Sedgwick in the title role, and the hyper-kinetic rockumentary The Velvet Underground in Boston (1967); both are presented in honor of Callie Angell, the late world authority on cinema Warhol. The Brazilian transgendered transgressor Mangue-Bangue (1971), made by Neville d’Almeida with help from artist Hélio Oiticica, was evidently banned on sight; MOMA’s now-preserved print is the only extant copy.

A scene from Day of the Triffids, above, and The Flesh of the Orchid.
A scene from Day of the Triffids, above, and The Flesh of the Orchid.

If the CinePhile had to pick one jewel in the series, it would be the The White Devil (1930), directed by Alexandre Volkoff from Leo Tolstoy’s memoir of the mid-19th-century Russian-Caucasian War. A lavish Russian émigré-stocked, German-produced “soundie,” The White Devil (1930) has no dialogue—just music, synchronized audio effects, and mishigas. This long-forgotten UFA spectacular—which stars pale-eyed, charismatic Ivan Mosjoukine and dancing fool Lil Dagover, plus, lurking somewhere in the vast sets, the young Peter Lorre—could be a new movie by Guy Maddin: Singing Russian soldiers break into a hot kazatski as the demons of the Caucasus let loose an avalanche on their heads.

 
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