Restorative Powers


MOMA’s second annual festival of film preservation is a dizzyingly promiscuous potpourri of 70 pictures of all sorts and lengths, periods and provenances: features, docs, talkies, silents, cartoons, serials, and pioneering trick flicks, Hungarian commercials from the ’30s and Austrian avant-gardies from the ’60s, Satyajit Ray and martial arts, Stan Brakhage and W.C. Fields, Jean Vigo’s unedited L’Atalante rushes and Jean Grémillon’s Spanish zarzuela. A good number of New York premieres are in the mix. One of these, The New Lot (1943), Carol Reed’s wartime morale booster for new army recruits, was co-written with Peter Ustinov, who makes a winsome screen debut as a frightened young soldier. Familiar stuff, but clearly put together by a master craftsman.

Post-war Rome and its film industry at Cinecittà are surveyed with a cold and clinical eye in Michelangelo Antonioni’s least known feature, The Lady Without Camelias (1953), the cautionary tale of a beautiful shop girl (Lucia Bosé) who rises to stardom but is exploited by all the men in her life. Another rarity, Paul Wendkos’s first directorial effort, The Burglar (1957), a quirky heist thriller and the only American noir in the series, is stuffed with self-consciously Wellesian imagery, down to a fun house inspired by The Lady From Shanghai.

The roster of silent features is an impressive one. F.W. Murnau made his international reputation with The Last Laugh (1924), the first major silent told in visual terms through brilliant use of the moving camera, without any titles. This print is Murnau’s American version, which hasn’t been seen here since its original release. Allan Dwan’s Stage Struck (1925) stars Gloria Swanson in the most buoyant film of her career—audiences who know her primarily as the deluded ex-diva Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard will be boffed by her merry jinks as a nimble slapstick comedienne.

Jean Renoir called Nana (1926) “my first film worth talking about.” It’s the great man’s finest silent picture, strongly influenced by Stroheim, and unlike any other French film of the period—for the first time Renoir began to mix genres, and the same mélange of tragedy and comedy that was to culminate in Rules of the Game is already present. Nana is on view in a tinted print that approximates the original version.

Hardly a household word today, Raymond Bernard was a superb pictorialist. His lyrical and luxurious pageant, The Miracle of the Wolves (1924) contains staggering battle scenes and often compares favorably to its model, Griffith’s Intolerance. It was first released in New York at its original two-hour length, and when revived in 1930, had been whittled down to 73 minutes. MOMA is presenting both the complete silent version and a synchronized sound version new to this country. The Miracle of the Wolves has not been seen here in any version since 1978—it’s the forgotten masterpiece of the series.