Wednesday, July 8, 2015

New York times: Scorsese, MoMA, and The Third Man

I don’t know that I always appreciate my New York experience as much as I might, and that may be because my idea of going outdoors is to bury myself in a movie theater for two or three hours at a time. Every once in a while, though, events conspire to remind me I don’t live in just any city. I live in New York City. Thanks to Martin Scorsese, the Museum of Modern Art, and the Film Forum, yesterday was full of those events.

Scorsese is probably the highest-profile leader of the film preservation movement, spearheading The Film Foundation, which is dedicated to keeping the history of the medium alive in an ever-evolving landscape. The organization’s top priority has been the restoration of classic films shot on highly volatile nitrate film stock, but the movies themselves are not the only precious evidence of the art form.

In that vein, the New York Museum of Modern Art is hosting “Scorsese Collects,” an exhibit of 34 classic film posters from the Scorsese Poster Collection. The pieces run the gamut from Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s gorgeous The Red Shoes to John Ford’s The Searchers to Scorsese’s own Mean Streets. The beautiful collection is a tribute to an increasingly lost and marginalized art.

Though small, the exhibit is a must-see for any film fan. I was absolutely giddy with delight to be within inches of each well preserved artifact of film history. There were a number of highlights, including a dangerous, sexy one-sheet for Jacques Tourneur’s classic Cat People and a wonderfully impressionistic take on Elia Kazan’s Best Picture-winning On the Waterfront that foregrounds the violence and brutality of the film’s story. Perhaps, though, the most essential work is the simplest: the iconic “Veronica Lake’s on the take” poster for Preston Sturges’ Sullivan’s Travels, as perfect now as the day it was designed.

In the center of the room, there hangs a 6- or 7-foot tall poster for Carol Reed’s magnificent The Third Man, the imagery for which focuses on the stunning climactic foot chase through the Vienna sewer system. I have seen The Third Man five or six times, though never on the big screen, and while staring at the film’s promotional art, I remembered the NYC Film Forum was screening the film through the end of the week. That was all I needed, and I headed out the door of the museum, caught the train downtown, and settled in for two hours of one of the greatest mystery movies ever put to celluloid.

If pressed to name the top 10 films of all time, I would put The Third Man right there in the conversation, and its wonder only grows in proportion to the size of the screen showing it. The stark, Oscar-winning black-and-white cinematography still stuns, the writing is razor sharp, and Joseph Cotten and Orson Welles provide two of the great screen performances of the sound era. Welles, in particular, is just luminous, a true movie star, as commanding a presence today as he was when the film was released in 1949.

After the film, my girlfriend – kind enough to indulge me in a day of classic film nostalgia – and I strolled over to Washington Square Park, where to our surprise, the New York Jazzharmonic was giving its debut performance as part of the Washington Square Music Festival. All in all, I am not sure there was a more New York way to close out an art-filled day. It cannot happen every day for everyone, but sometimes, man, New York City really comes alive.

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