'Porgy and Bess' Musical Rare Screening + International Film Rarities

by Andre Soares

'Porgy and Bess': Rare movie version of George Gershwin musical New York screening

Porgy and Bess musical Dorothy Dandridge Sidney PoitierThe Samuel Goldwyn-produced, Otto Preminger-directed 1959 musical Porgy and Bess “was a much-touted, much-seen and in some quarters much-admired motion picture in its time,” writes Robert Osborne in The Hollywood Reporter, “with four Oscar nominations (and one win) to its credit and a cast filled with talented people who, if not yet icons, certainly became so in the years after: Sidney Poitier, Dorothy Dandridge, Pearl Bailey, Sammy Davis Jr. and Diahann Carroll.”

Unfortunately, as Osborne's goes on to explain, Porgy and Bess “has not – except in a few rare instances – rolled through a projector in decades but will again Sept. 26-27[, 2007] at the Ziegfeld in Manhattan amid much hoopla, all in conjunction with the publication of an extensive new biography on the film's director titled Otto Preminger: The Man Who Would Be King, written by Foster Hirsch, published by Knopf and headed for bookstores Oct. 21.”

Unseen 'Porgy and Bess': George Gershwin estate remains a stumbling block

Porgy and Bess, the legendary Samuel Goldwyn's last film production, has remained virtually unseen since its television showings in the early '70s. The estates of composers George and Ira Gershwin and lyricist DuBose Heyward currently hold the rights to the property, which has been criticized by some for its portrayal of blacks.

But if the film is so demeaning, why did Sidney Poitier, Dorothy Dandridge, Pearl Bailey, et al. agree to appear in it? And even if it were demeaning, should we ban from viewing every film or book or play or any work of art that some (inevitably) will find offensive?

Osborne quotes author Hirsch in his Otto Preminger book: “Whatever their objections, the estate has a moral responsibility to ensure that viewers have the opportunity to come to their own conclusions about this still contested work.”

'Porgy and Bess' remains hard to find

October 2013 update: Six years later, Porgy and Bess can be seen only on a region free DVD featuring an un-restored print of the film. For all it's worth, two years ago the final Samuel Goldwyn production was included in the Library of Congress' National Film Registry.

Dorothy Dandridge and Sidney Poitier Porgy and Bess image: Samuel Goldwyn / Columbia Pictures.

Joan Fontaine, Robert Ryan in Born to Be Bad
Joan Fontaine and Robert Ryan in Born to Be Bad.

UCLA's International Preservation Series

Beginning this weekend, the UCLA Film & Television Archive will present a series titled “International Preservation 2007,” in which a wide variety of restored films from the U.S., Europe, and Asia will be screened.

Among the highlights of the series – and there too many to list them all here – are:

Sergei Eisenstein's Bronenosets Potyomkin / Battleship Potemkin (top, 1925), considered by many one of the greatest – if not the greatest – motion picture ever made. According to the UCLA Archive website, “this print comprises the most accurate recreation of the Soviet premiere version to date, and includes Leon Trotsky's original introduction, excised by Stalinist censors.” The intertitles are in Russian, but a simultaneous translation will be provided. (Here's hoping they won't skip a title; that has happened before at UCLA and it got quite confusing.) Musical accompaniment by Michael Mortilla. Not to be missed.

Max Ophüls' Lola Montès (left, 1955) stars Martine Carol as the doomed courtesan in one of the most opulent films of the 1950s. Also in the cast, Peter Ustinov, Anton Walbrook, and Oskar Werner. After its initial release, Lola Montès ended up heavily edited, and usually only its mutilated versions have been made available. This is the reconstruction of the original German-language version of the film (which was also shot in French and English). Another restored classic that is not to be missed. (More information on the Journal of Film Preservation.)

I'd never heard of Finnish director (and former matinee idol) Teuvo Tulio, but I'm always ready to make new discoveries. Two Tulio films will be screened: the coming-of-age drama Laulu tulipunaisesta kukast / Song of the Scarlet Flower (1938) and the melodrama Rakkauden risti / The Cross of Love (1946), about a country bumpkin in the big city. (Now, I'm curious to watch his 1973 Sensuela.)

Also, Sven Gade and Heinz Schall's 1921 transgendered version of Hamlet, with superstar Asta Nielsen in the title role; Giovanni Pastrone's 1914 epoch-making epic Cabiria, which introduced the Roman slave Maciste to the film world; the longer version of King Vidor's The Big Parade (1925), a moving – and extremely successful – war drama starring box office sensation John Gilbert (and with an outstanding Renée Adorée stealing the show); and Fred Zinnemann's The Search (1948), starring Montgomery Clift as an American army captain who helps out a young boy looking for his mother in war-devastated Europe. (This is no Les Jeux interdits / Forbidden Games, but it's definitely worth a look.)

And finally, Patrick Tam's slasher movie Love Massacre (1981); Nicholas Ray's Born to Be Bad (above, 1950), in which Joan Fontaine is quite good as the angelic-looking scheming bitch of the title (with able support from that most underrated of American actors, Robert Ryan, and Joan Leslie); and Holger-Madsen's Danish sci-fi adventure Himmelskibet / Trip to Mars (1918), starring a very young Nils Asther (best remembered as the Chinese general who drinks poisoned tea in Frank Capra's The Bitter Tea of General Yen).

International Preservation 2007 runs between Aug. 4-29.

Schedule from the UCLA Film & Television Archive website:

Saturday August 4 2007, 7:30PM

From the Deutsche Kinemathek
BATTLESHIP POTEMKIN
(BRONENOSETS POTYOMKIN)
(1925, Russia) Directed by Sergei Eisenstein

Eisenstein's masterful exercise in revolutionary propaganda and montage chronicles a 1905 naval mutiny that ignited a wave of rebellion against imperial Russia's Tsarist regime. The famous “Odessa steps” sequence remains a landmark of cinematic history. This print comprises the most accurate recreation of the Soviet premiere version to date, and includes Leon Trotsky's original introduction, excised by Stalinist censors.

Live musical accompaniment by Michael Mortilla. Simultaneous translation of intertitles will be provided.

Screenwriter: Nina Agadzhanova-Schutko. Cast: Aleksandr Antonov, Vladimir Barsky, Grigori Aleksandrov. with German subtitles. 35mm, silent, w/Russian Intertitles, 18 FPS, 70 min.

From the Danish Film Archive
A TRIP TO MARS
(HIMMELSKIBET)
(1918, Denmark) Directed by Holger-Madsen

This rare Danish foray into interplanetary travel follows the aptly-named Professor Planetarios and his crew from a horse-drawn carriage to the spaceship Excelsior (complete with propellers) to the lush evergreen pastures of the planet Mars. In this WWI-era pacifist allegory, Mars is inhabited by a race of blonde, pre-Raphaelite vegetarians who renounce all forms of violence, and instead spend their time staging ethereal dance pageants in praise of chastity. After purifying the invaders of their gun-toting ways, the Martians send the High Priest's lovely daughter Marya to earth where she will abolish war forever.

Live musical accompaniment by Michael Mortilla. Simultaneous translation of intertitles will be provided.

Screenwriter: Ole Olsen, Sophus Michaëlis. Cast: Nicolai Neiiendam, Gunnar Tolnæs, Zanny Petersen, Svend Kornbeck, Alf Blütecher, Frederik Jacobsen. 35mm, silent, w/ Danish Intertitles, 20 FPS, 92 min.

Sunday August 5 2007, 7:00PM

From the Munich Filmmuseum
LOLA MONTES
(1955, France/Western Germany) Directed by Max Ophüls

In Ophüls' ill-fated last film, Carol plays the titular Irish courtesan, exotic dancer, and adventurer, who in her short life brought down a monarch and stirred public scandal on three continents. Ustinov appears as ringmaster of a purgatorial circus where the humiliated and aging beauty has been consigned to expiate her sins.

This evening is dedicated to the memory of Dorothy and Carl Anderson, and recognizes Carl Anderson's lifetime commitment to motion picture art direction and design. It has been made possible by a gift from Renée and David Kaplan.

Scr.: Max Ophüls, Annette Wademant, Jacques Natanson. Cast: Martine Carol, Peter Ustinov, Anton Walbrook. Presented in German and English dialogue with English subtitles. 35mm, 113 min.

Tuesday August 7 2007, 7:30PM

2 from the Finnish Film Archive
SONG OF THE SCARLET FLOWER
(LAULU TULIPUNAISESTA KUKASTA)
(1938, Finland) Directed by Teuvo Tulio

After working as an actor in silent film (dubbed “the Valentino of Finland”), Teuvo Tulio became a leading Finnish director in the 1930s and 1940s. This, Tulio's earliest surviving film, is his version of a classic coming-of-age novel filmed several other times, notably by Swede Mauritz Stiller. The tale of a young cad coming to face his social and sexual responsibilities is set against stunning natural vistas, captured by Tulio's camera in luminous cinematography reminiscent of the classic Scandinavian cinema of the 1920s.

Screenwriter: Yrjö Kivimies. Cast: Kaarlo Oksanen, Rakel Linnanheimo, Mirjami Kuosmanen. Presented in Finnish dialogue with English subtitles. 35mm, 99 min.

THE CROSS OF LOVE
(RAKKAUDEN RISTI)
(1946, Finland) Directed by Teuvo Tulio

The Cross of Love revisits the oft-told tale of the innocent country lass (here played by Finnish star Regina Linnanheimo) coming to grief in the big city. Tulio's style darkened in the 1940s, as this example shows. The sexual frankness of his films and their limpid Scandinavian naturalism were overlaid with a mannered expressionistic touch, and the films accordingly turned from touching morality tales to lurid melodrama, reminiscent (to an American viewer) of a mixture of Stroheim, Sternberg and Cecil B. DeMille.

Scr.: Nisse Him. Cast: Regina Linnanheimo, Oscar Tengström, Ville Salminen. Presented in Finnish dialogue with English subtitles. 35mm, 98 min.

Wednesday August 8 2007, 7:30PM

From the National Museum of Cinema, Turin
CABIRIA
(1914, Italy) Directed by Giovanni Pastrone

This genre-defining epic dazzled audiences around the world and put Italian cinema on the map with its spectacular sets and innovative camera technique. The story follows Cabiria, an aristocratic Roman child who is kidnapped and taken to Carthage. Fulvius Axilla, a Roman soldier, and his slave Maciste pursue her into enemy territory.

In person: Stefano Boni, National Museum of Cinema, Turin

Live musical accompaniment by Michael Mortilla. Simultaneous translation of the Italian intertitles will be provided.

Scr.: Giovanni Pastrone, Gabriele D'Annunzio. Cast: Lydia Quaranta, Umberto Mozzato, Bartolomeo Pagano. 35mm, silent, w/ Italian Intertitles, 16 FPS, 180 min.

Friday August 10 2007, 7:30PM

From the Academy Film Archive
FILMS OF STAN BRAKHAGE
(United States) Directed by Stan Brakhage

In 2005, the Academy Film Archive began a long-term, comprehensive restoration project on the films of avant-garde legend Stan Brakhage. With up to 400 films included, this is no minor undertaking, and numerous unexpected challenges have presented themselves. This program will feature newly restored prints of classics like Murder Psalm (1981), The Riddle of Lumen(1972) and Blue Moses (1962), as well as a selection of rarities that have seldom been seen. Preservationist Mark Toscano will will also speak about the restoration project, and present some photos showing Brakhage's utterly unique approach to constructing his films, and discuss the preservation complications that arise as a result.

In person: Mark Toscano, Academy Film Archive

16mm, approx. 100 min.

Saturday August 11 2007, 7:30PM

Please note that this screening will take place at UCLA's James Bridges Theater.

From the British Film Institute
THE SPY IN BLACK
(1939, United Kingdom) Directed by Michael Powell

The first of twenty-two collaborations between Powell and Pressburger, this World War I espionage thriller follows a German U-boat captain (Veidt) dispatched to the Scottish coast on a potentially suicidal mission to cripple the British fleet. The lives of captain and crew are further endangered when he falls for his contact, the local schoolmistress (Hobson).

Scr.: Emeric Pressburger, Roland Pertwee. Cast: Conrad Veidt, Sebastian Shaw, Valerie Hobson. 35mm, 82 min.

From the Cinémathèque Française
THE SEARCH
(1948, Switzerland/United States) Directed by Fred Zinnemann

In this gripping postwar drama, Clift plays kind-hearted US Army captain Ralph “Steve” Stevenson, who sifts through the human and physical rubble of Berlin to reunite a Czech boy and his mother. While the young Auschwitz survivor escapes Berlin's crowded orphanages and learns English under the American's care, his grief-stricken parent searches frantically for news of her missing son.

Scr.: Richard Schweizer, David Wechsler, Paul Jarrico. Cast: Montgomery Clift, Jarmila Novotna, Ivan Jandl. Presented in English dialogue with French subtitles. 35mm, 104 min.

The James Bridges Theater in located in Melnitz Hall on the UCLA campus.

Wednesday August 15 2007, 7:30PM

From the Cineteca di Bologna
ON THE BOWERY
(1957, United States) Directed by Lionel Rogosin

Rogosin's innovative docu-drama, compiled from scripted and unscripted takes, chronicles three desperate days in the then-impoverished lower Manhattan neighborhood. A young transplant (Salyer, playing himself) makes the mistake of drinking until he blacks out on his first night in the city, then awakes the next morning to discover that his suitcase has been stolen. What seems like the set-up for a mundane mystery transforms into something else entirely when the thief becomes the closest thing to a friend that the youth will find in his trek through an uncaring urban jungle.

Scr.: Lionel Rogosin, Richard Bagley, Mark Sufrin. Cast: Gorman Hendricks, Frank Matthews, Ray Salyer. 35mm, 65 min.

From the Cineteca di Bologna
DOCUMENTARIES BY VITTORIO DE SETA
(Italy) Directed by Vittorio De Seta

Between 1954 and 1958, Italian filmmaker Vittorio De Seta shot ten short films in Sicily. Using widescreen cinematography and eschewing voice-over commentary, filming people at work (fishermen, miners, shepherds), at play and at rest, De Seta documented a way of life that would be gone within a few years, due to Italy's rapid modernization in the 1950s and '60s. The resulting documentaries bridge the gap between the neorealism of La Terra Trema and Bitter Rice and the films of Pasolini.

Presented in Italian dialogue with English subtitles. 35mm, 113 min.

Friday August 17 2007, 7:30PM

Preserved by the George Eastman House with funds from Warner Brothers
THE BIG PARADE
(1925) Directed by King Vidor

This groundbreaking silent film follows a privileged young man (John Gilbert) who, caught up in the patriotic fervor upon America's entry into World War I, enlists in the Army. He is soon tossed headfirst into the horrors of trench combat in France, finding peace only in the arms of a local woman (Renée Adorée). Director Vidor's unflinching examination of war's human and emotional costs became the second highest grossing silent film of all time, and influenced such later works as Lewis' Milestone's 1930 adaptation of All Quiet on the Western Front.

MGM. Based on the play by Joseph Farnham. Scenario: Harry Behn, Laurence Stallings. Cinematographer: John Arnold, Charles Van Enger. Editor: Hugh Wynn. Cast: John Gilbert, Renee Adoree, Hobart Bosworth, Karl Dane. with English subtitles. 35mm, silent, (20 fps), 150 min.

Preserved by the George Eastman House with funds from The Film Foundation
BORN TO BE BAD
(1950, United States) Directed by Nicholas Ray

Director Ray's melodramatic potboiler pits a pair of outgunned gents against seductress Christabel Caine, played by Joan Fontaine as a modern-day Lucrezia Borgia. After stealing her cousin's wealthy fiancé, Curtis (Scott), Christabel decides to spend her new life as one of the idle rich pursuing masculine novelist Nick Bradley (Ryan) on the side.

Scr.: Charles Schnee, Edith R. Sommer, George Oppenheimer, Robert Soderberg. Cast: Joan Fontaine, Robert Ryan, Zachary Scott. 35mm, 90 min.

Sunday August 19 2007, 7:00PM

2 from the Academy Film Archive
THE COWARD
(KAPURUSH)
(1965, India) Directed by Satyajit Ray

Based on a short story by Premendra Mitra, Kapurush tells the story of an urbane young screenwriter from Calcutta whose car breaks down on a research trip in the Bengali countryside. He accepts the hospitality of a passing tea planter, only to discover he will be spending the night in the home of his former lover, now the tea planter's wife. With his mastery of visual metaphor and the subtlest shadings of human emotion, Ray turns a simple love triangle into a poignant choreography of glances, wordless accusation, and tangible erotic desire.

Cast: Madhabi Mukherjee, Soumitra Chatterjee, Haradhan Bannerjee. Presented in Bengali dialogue with English subtitles. 35mm, 65 min.

THE HOLY MAN
(MAHAPURUSH)
(1965, India) Directed by Satyajit Ray

Often shown as a companion to Kapurush, Mahapurush reveals Ray's little-known gift for satire and outright slapstick farce. Ghosh is hilarious as a charlatan guru who, despite his preposterous claims to have consorted with Jesus and instructed Einstein that E=mc², still manages to get himself installed as the in-house spiritual advisor to a rich attorney he meets on a train. Mayhem ensues when the attorney's daughter enlists a band of chess-playing friends to debunk the false baba, culminating in a showdown that leaves no world religion unskewered.

Screenwriter: Satyajit Ray. Cast: Charuprakash Ghosh, Prasad Mukherjee, Gitali Roy. Presented in Bengali dialogue with English subtitles. 35mm, 65 min.

Wednesday August 22 2007, 7:30PM

From the British Film Institute
THE OPEN ROAD
(1926, United Kingdom) Directed by Claude Friese-Greene

Early British documentary filmmaker Friese-Greene filmed this 26-part travelogue through England using an early two-color process of his own creation. Though some of the episodes have been lost to time, the remaining pieces paint a landscape of a bygone England in captivating fragments of farm, forest, sea, and people of all ages at work and play.

Live musical accompaniment by Michael Mortilla

35mm, silent, 24 FPS, 65 min.

From the Swedish Film Institute
SYMPHONY OF A CITY
(MÄNNISKOR I STAD)
(1948, Sweden) Directed by Arne Sucksdorff

Not to be confused with Walter Ruttmann's Berlin, Symphony of a City (1927), this Oscar-winning short revisits the “city symphony” documentary in a surprisingly anti-urban key. A gloomy flaneur wanders the streets of Stockholm, dismayed by the expressionistic clamor of traffic and industry, and then delighted when an ersatz waterfall in a shop window is trumped by a sudden thunderstorm that bathes the city in glorious, shimmering light. Best known for his nature documentaries, Arne Sucksdorff here subtly proffers modern man's estrangement from the natural world as a cause of postwar malaise.

35mm, 20 min.

Saturday August 25 2007, 7:30PM

FILMS FROM THE ANTHOLOGY FILM ARCHIVES

This program of films from both New York and Los Angeles will include such landmarks as Saul Levine's New Left Note (1968-82) and Paul Sharits' T,O,U,C,H,I,N,G. The evening will be anchored by the work of Wallace Berman, including screenings of Aleph (1956-66) and Artifactual: Films from the Wallace Berman Collection.

In person: Tosh Berman

16mm, 35mm, 100 min.

Sunday August 26 2007, 7:00PM

From the German Film Institute
HAMLET
(1921, Germany) Directed by Sven Gade and Heinz Schall

Copenhagen-born silent siren Asta Nielsen reinvents the doomed Danish prince as a proto-flapper in this loose adaptation of the Shakespeare classic, which finds Queen Gertrude (Mathilde Brandt) raising her daughter as a boy to secure succession to the throne. Long seen only in black-and-white, this print, struck by the German Film Institute and ZDF in cooperation with ARTE, restores the original tint German-language-distribution version of the film.

Live musical accompaniment by Michael Mortilla

Scr.: Erwin Gepard. Cast: Asta Nielsen, Paul Conradi, Mathilde Brandt. with English subtitles. 35mm, silent, w/ German Intertitles, 18 FPS, 110 min.

From the Netherlands Filmmuseum
THE FLOOR BELOW
(1918, United States) Directed by Clarence G. Badger

Queen of Slapstick Mabel Normand gets to play detective in this Cinderella story about a hardworking but hapless newspaper copygirl who goes hunting for a burglar only to find her Prince Charming. One of only three surviving features Normand made for Sam Goldwyn (after her scandalous departure from fiancé Mack Sennett's Keystone Studios), the film reveals Normand's knack for infusing slapstick with witty and nuanced character detail not possible in the breakneck capers she made for Sennett.

Live musical accompaniment by Michael Mortilla

Prod.: Samuel Goldwyn. Screenwriter: Elaine Sterne. Cinematographer: Oliver T. Marsh. Cast: Mabel Normand, Tom Moore, Helen Dahl. 35mm, silent, 18 FPS, 82 min.

Tuesday August 28 2007, 7:30PM

Restored to its original release version by the Museum of Modern Art with funds from The Film Foundation
GANJA AND HESS
(1973, United States) Directed by Bill Gunn

Though praised at the 1973 Cannes Film Festival, Bill Gunn's independent production was aggressively recut and sold to the public as the next Blacula. Far from a horror-blaxpoitation variant, Gunn's film is an experimental narrative suffused with gothic decadence and ambient mysticism. Soon after his introduction to troubled minister-cum-chauffeur George Meda (Gunn), affluent anthropologist Hess Green (Duane Jones, the hero of Romero's original Night of the Living Dead) becomes infected with a vampiric bloodlust dating back to the ancient African tribe of Myrthia. When Meda's seductive wife Ganja (Marlene Clark) contacts Green in search of her mercurial husband, a tragic union of the undead is forged.

Cast: Duane Jones, Marlene Clark, Bill Gunn, Sam Waymon, Leonard Jackson, Richard Harrow. 35mm, 110 min.

From the Hong Kong Film Archive
LOVE MASSACRE
(1981, Hong Kong) Directed by Patrick Tam

Set in a surprisingly minimalist San Francisco, Patrick Tam's stylish slasher movie manages to evoke both Antonioni and Mario Bava in this tale of a ravishing young co-ed (Brigitte Lin) whose studly boyfriend (Chang Kuo-chu) turns into a demented stalker after the suicide of his sister. Culling together material from Mandarin and Cantonese dialect sources, this new print is the most complete version of this classic of Chinese New Wave formalism available in the West to date.

Scr.: Joyce Chan. Cast: Brigitte Lin, Charlie Chin, Chang Kuo-chu. Presented in Cantonese dialogue with English and Chinese subtitles. 35mm, 91 min.

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2 comments

TOM OLSON -

“WHEN RELEASED IN 1959, IN MOST MAJOR MARKETS THE MOVIE WAS RELEASED IN 70MM AND 6 TRACK STEREOPHONIC SOUND. ITS A SHAME THAT THOSE PRINTS AND THE MASTERED QUALITY OF THE MAGNETIC 6 TRACK SOUND WAS THERE AND NOW GONE. THE FILM ALSO HAD A FABULOUS OVERTURE BEFORE THE CREDITS STARTED AND IS NOW LOST FOREVER.

TO ENJOY THE QUALITY OF THE ORIGINAL SOUND TRACK AND INCLUDING THE MISSING OVERTURE CAN BE HEARD ON THE COLUMBIA RECORDS ORIGINAL FILM SOUNDTRACK WHICH IS A VINYL RECORDING.

I NEVER FELT THAT THIS STORY WAS EVER MEANT TO BE RACIEST OR DISCRIMINATORY. I WAS SO LUCKY TO GET TO SEE THE AS A10 YEAR OLD. i WAS SO IMPRESSED WITH THE ROADSHOW STYLE PRESENTATION AND TO HEAR GREAT MUSIC OF George and Ira Gershwin. THE GREATEST MEMORY FOR ME WAS TO SEE AND HEAR SOMME OF THE GREATEST ARTISTS OF THE TIME TO STAR IN THIS FABULOUS FILM. Dorthy Dandgidge, Sidney Poitier, Pearl Bailey, Sammy Davis Jr. and Diahann Carroll and more. This is Americana art at its best.
.3I have been in the Movie Theater business. Started as an usher then built movie theaters all over the world for 34 years. That is why this film will always have a special in my heart.

Another 70mm FILM LOST is RAINTREE COUNTY.

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Kay Westbrook -

Porgy and Bess was the first musical I saw on our colored tv, and being a senior voice major in college I was ecstatic. I loved “Porgy and Bess “.

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