Out of the Past
Did our filmgoing forebears know something that we don’t? I frequently pondered that question during the past several months as I perused scores of museum Bulletins, News & Calendars, and members magazines surveying the movies screened at the CMA throughout the past 100 years. I discovered that most of the films shown are still revived today at cinematheques, repertory theaters, and museums. However, some were completely unfamiliar to me. Others I knew only because I am a longtime film programmer and movie buff. But to most people, these neglected or forgotten works are also terra incognita.
I have decided to unearth some of these buried treasures and bring back one-time CMA favorites to the museum this fall. Among them are two comedies (Robert Youngson’s uproarious silent-movie compilation When Comedy Was King and the all-star British black farce The Wrong Box), René Clair’s French fantasy The Beauty and the Devil, Hans Richter’s experimental feature 8 x 8, and two nature documentaries (Arne Sucksdorff’s Swedish masterpiece The Great Adventure and the oft-shown The Adventures of Chico, shot in Mexico by Horace and Stacy Woodard). The New York Times said of this latter film, “If it is not the best animal picture ever made, we hope someone will tell us where to look for its equal.”
Our series also includes two features based on Rudyard Kipling stories, both screened multiple times at the CMA. Elephant Boy is a documentary-drama hybrid co-directed by Robert J. Flaherty and Zoltan Korda; it was not included in our January/February Flaherty series. Captains Courageous stars Spencer Tracy in his first Oscar-winning role. These two movies, along with the recent success of the remake of The Jungle Book, have inspired a concurrent September/October film series: “Kipling on Film.”
Curator of Film
In this coming-of-age adventure classic from the director of The Wizard of Oz and Gone with the Wind, a spoiled rich kid on a transatlantic cruise ship falls overboard and is rescued by a Portuguese-American fisherman.
Directed by Hans Richter, in cooperation with Yves Tanguy, Alexander Calder, Max Ernst, Jean Cocteau, et al. Some famed Surrealist/Dada artists collaborated on this playful avant-garde feature made up of dreamy, absurdist vignettes inspired by the game of chess.
Beauty and cruelty coexist in this poetic, painstakingly photographed nature film in which two young Swedish farm boys interact with foxes, lynx, otters, and other wild animals over four seasons. English narration.
Directed by Horace and Stacy Woodard. A Mexican boy without neighbors befriends the desert animals who live around him. “Tender, unaffected, and charming . . . If it is not the best animal picture ever made, we hope someone will tell us where to look for its equal”—NY Times.
Part adventure film, part ethnographic documentary (by the great Robert Flaherty no less), this film version of a story in Kipling’s The Jungle Book focuses on a young Indian boy who helps his mahout father round up a herd of wild elephants for the British government.
The second of several hilarious silent-film compilations made by Oscar-winning filmmaker Robert Youngson during the 1950s and 1960s features great screen clowns in choice clips.
Veteran comedy writers Larry Gelbart and Burt Shevelove (A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum) co-wrote this all-star black comedy, based on a Robert Louis Stevenson story and set in Victorian England, in which two estranged elderly brothers actively try to outlive the other and inherit a fortune.
Elderly Professor Henri Faust, who still has unanswered questions about life after 50 years of research, is granted renewed youth by Mephistopheles. But the young Faust proves more interested in women than in his scientific pursuits. Simon and Philipe play both roles in this clever variation on the famous legend.