Reflections on the Norman Rockwell exhibit “American Chronicles” began in the fall, with films featuring a little gentle satire, folksy humor and easily overcome obstacles. As the series continues into the winter, the cracks in the façade of the idyllic small town setting celebrated in Rockwell’s visual world begin to show, and secrets hidden behind closed doors emerge, finally erupting into the ripe corruption of David Lynch’s Blue Velvet.
February brings a series of Films Noir from Hollywood, Britain and France. Why is this genre so intriguing? In a straight detective story, the criminal is apprehended and societal order is restored. In film noir, everyone seems doomed from the beginning and each audience member has the satisfaction of knowing they would never make the same foolish mistakes. Or, would they?
The Winter Film Series concludes with our annual Silent Film tradition, this year featuring Clara Bow, the hottest jazz baby in the movies, in Mantrap, accompanied by NCMA favorite David Drazin. Next, demonstrating how sound changed the movie business, we’ll show an All Talking All Singing All Dancing musical from 1929, just three years later, in a fabulous restoration print courtesy of the Museum of Modern Art, our new archive partner. The final WFS film is a salute to the late Tony Curtis, one of the last of the grand, old style movie stars.
Norman Rockwell: Sunshine and Shadow
Bigger Than Life (1956) Directed by Nicolas Ray. James Mason, Barbara Rush, Walter Matthau (95 min)
Emotional spasms wrack a suburban paradise when a schoolteacher is prescribed the miracle drug cortisone for pain. His wife witnesses as (the tagline put it) “a handful of hope became a fistful of hell.” Rebel Without a Cause director Ray imagines “Father Knows Best reconfigured as Greek tragedy” (Scott Foundas, Village Voice). New Cinemascope print from Fox. Film notes for Bigger Than Life.
Make Way for Tomorrow (1937) Directed by Leo McCarey. Beulah Bondi, Victor Moore, Thomas Mitchell. (90 min).
A destitute elderly couple, their house foreclosed, and before the days of social security, must rely on the charity of their beastly children. Filled with sly humor and heart tugging melodrama, McCarey, renowned for his mastery of comedy and romance, crafts a simple tale that Orson Welles said, “…would make a stone cry.” Paramount Archive Print. Film Notes for Make Way...
Peyton Place (1958) Directed by Mark Robson. Lana Turner, Diane Varsi, Hope Lange. (150 min).
Behind the neat picket fences of a placid New England town lurk tawdry secrets. The shocking best seller revealed a picture perfect village, concealing adultery, rape, incest and murder, along with the more conventionally unruly passions. The censored film version only thinly veils subjects considered taboo in mid-century America. Fox Archive Print. Film notes for Peyton Place.
Blue Velvet (1986) Directed by David Lynch. Kyle MacLaughlan, Isabella Rosselini, Dennis Hopper, Dean Stockwell. Disturbing subject matter. No one under 18 admitted!
The New York Times once called Lynch a “sort of a psychopathic Norman Rockwell.” Here is his signature meditation on the small town of Lumberton (NC?) “…there were a lot of advertisements in magazines where you see a well-dressed woman bringing a pie out of an oven, and a certain smile on her face, or a couple smiling, walking together up to their house, with a picket fence. Those were pretty much all I saw...they’re strange smiles. They’re the smiles of the way the world should be or could be. They really made me dream like crazy” (David Lynch). Blue Velvet is “still a hilarious, red-hot poker to the brain” (Director Guy Maddin). Twenty Fifth Anniversary Celebration! Introduced by NC State Film Studies Professor Devin Orgeron. UNCS Archive print.
International Film Noir
Leave Her to Heaven (1945) Directed by John M. Stahl. Gene Tierney, Cornel Wilde, Jeanne Crain, Darryl Hickman (107 min)
“I’ll never let you go, never, never,” says Ellen to the man she loves. Her possessiveness becomes terrifyingly psychotic in this dazzling Technicolor film noir; “…the new technology reached its astounding apogee in the lips of Gene Tierney, as red as a witch’s apple” (Anthony Lane The New Yorker). New Technicolor print from Fox. Film notes for Leave Her to Heaven.
Brighton Rock (1947) Directed by John Boulting. Richard Attenborough (92 min).
Pinky, a vicious hood, tries to cover up a gangland rival's murder in this British noir set in the seediest back alleys of the resort town of Brighton. Adapted by Graham Greene from his novel, “Richard Attenborough will scare the bejesus out of you” (Michael Sragow The Baltimore Sun). Restored print from Rialto Pictures. Film Notes for Brighton Rock.
Criss Cross (1949) Directed by Robert Siodmak. Burt Lancaster, Yvonne de Carlo, Dan Duryea. (88 min).
A chump (Lancaster in one of his earliest films) and a temptress, divorced but still passionately entwined, become entrapped in a security truck robbery doomed by a double, double cross. Working class Los Angeles is the setting for “the most underrated noir of the classic era” (Rough Guide to Film Noir). Universal Studios archive print. Film Notes for Criss Cross.
Quai des Orfevres (1947) Written and Directed by Henri-Georges Clouzot. Louis Jouvet, Suzy Delair, Bernard Blier, Simone Renant (106 min).
A sultry music hall coquette has a rendezvous with a sleazy promoter, and when he winds up trés mort, her long suffering hubby is suspect #1. Clouzot (Diabolique) explores the shadows of Paris “a knockout …you can almost smell the cigarette smoke drifting over rain-drenched streets.” (Kenneth Turan LA Times) Restored print from Rialto Pictures. Film Notes for Quai.
The Icing on the Cake
Mantrap (1926) Directed by Victor Fleming. Clara Bow, Ernest Torrence, Percy Marmot (86 min)
Alverna (saucy Bow) married to a backwoods he-man, flirts with a vacationing divorce lawyer who’s sworn off the fair sex. “Clara Bow lit up the screen as much as—if not more than—any other star in movie history” (Jeanine Basinger). Also, the comedy short “Dog Shy” starring Charley Chase. Archive prints from the Library of Congress. Live music by maestro David Drazin. Film Notes for Mantrap.
Sunny Side Up (1929) Directed by David Butler. Janet Gaynor, Charles Farrell, El Brendel, Marjorie White (120 min).
Silent screen sweethearts Gaynor and Farrell take the musical plunge in this Cinderella story from the dawn of sound. Broadway tunesmiths De Sylva, Brown and Henderson provide the showstopping production number “Turn Up the Heat” which “can, with Spartan restraint, only be termed a lulu” (Richard Barrios). Preserved by The Museum of Modern Art with support from The Film Foundation and The Franco American Cultural Fund. Film Notes for Sunny Side Up.
Sweet Smell of Success (1957) Directed by Alexander Mackendrick. Burt Lancaster, Tony Curtis, Susan Harrison, Martin Milner (96 min).
“I love this dirty town.” Icy hearted gossip columnist J.J. Hunsecker (Lancaster) dispatches fawning press agent Sidney Falco (Curtis) to do his dirty work. Arguably Curtis’ greatest dramatic performance, it boasts dialogue by Clifford Odets and jazz by Chico Hamilton. “The film is a masterpiece, intelligent Hollywood cinema at its best” (Guardian UK). Film Notes for SSof S.
All films are shown in 35mm and begin Fridays at 8:00 pm
The galleries and Iris Restaurant will be open prior to screenings
Box Office: (919) 715-5923
Tickets: $5.00/$3.50 NCMA Members
Series Passes $35/$25 NCMA Members
Introductions are by Film Curator Laura Boyes unless otherwise noted.
For more information about the NC Museum of Art: ncartmuseum.org