• Dusty and Sweets McGee

    Dusty and Sweets McGee

    Pam and Larry, Tip, Kit Ryder, Dusty, Sweets, Armen and Bobby Graham are real people, they are not actors. So begins, with this disclaimer, Floyd Mutrux’s first film, one of the very few works in the series to be distributed by a major Hollywood studio (Warner Bros. released the film, briefly, in the summer of 1971). An impressionistic study of the loaded life in Los Angeles starring actual heroin addicts, Dusty and Sweets McGee captures the languorous rhythms of scoring…

  • Naked Childhood

    Naked Childhood

    Maurice Pialat was already in his early forties when he made his epochal debut about a troubled, aggressive foster child bounced from home to home. Michel Terrazon, who plays 10-year-old François with a riveting combination of violence, sullenness, and tenderness, was a nonprofessional called upon to play a childhood quite different from the more stable one he had. Other figures in the film more or less played themselves: the elderly couple who takes him in; the shopkeeper who sells him…

  • Punishment Park

    Punishment Park

    Shot in a documentary style, with non-actors cast partly according to their political sympathies, Punishment Park imagines a near-future where due process in America has been suspended as a response to increasing civil unrest, and the fates of political dissidents are instead determined by tribunal. Otherwise facing lengthy prison terms, the newly convicted opt for three days in Bear Mountain National Punishment Park, in which they must traverse a pitiless desert terrain to win their freedom, while outmaneuvering cops and…

  • The Exiles

    The Exiles

    Neglected for decades prior to its re-release in 2008 as a co-presentation of writer Sherman Alexie and filmmaker Charles Burnett, Kent Mackenzie’s The Exiles recounts a day in the life of a group of Native American twentysomethings who have migrated from Arizona to Los Angeles. Set in Bunker Hill, or rather a version of the neighborhood that has long since vanished, the picture drifts from story to story, from bar to rooming house to streets humming with neon, and what…

  • October (Ten Days that Shook the World)

    October (Ten Days that Shook the World)

    Eisenstein’s grandly orchestrated film about the Russian Revolution, commissioned for its 10th anniversary, was one of his most ambitious attempts to find a form for his theories of montage. If there is a star of October, it is the mass, the collective protagonist. This film, Eisenstein noted, “is pure ‘typage,’” a reference to the notion that a performer’s role was not to convey a psychological situation, but rather to telegraph a type, a set of moral or political associations, through…

  • Three Movie Queens

    Three Movie Queens

    Throughout the 1930s, Margaret Cram directed the same film again and again. An itinerant filmmaker based in Boston, she made her living by traveling to cities across New England and producing her Movie Queen scenarios with the people who lived there. In each iteration, the eponymous character is a Hollywood star returning to her hometown and visiting nearby businesses, the drama emerging when the Movie Queen becomes the target of a comic kidnapping plot and is ultimately rescued by a…

  • Jaguar

    Jaguar

    In Rouch’s first sustained experiment in the kind of “ethno-fictions” that would prove influential to so many filmmakers, three young men from Niger decide to emigrate to Ghana: each is descended from warriors, but the more immediate challenge is finding decent jobs. After an arduous journey, all three make it across the border into Ghana, at which point they separate. Ilo, who had worked as a fisherman, heads to the coast; lam, who herded cattle, tries his luck as a…

  • Othon

    Othon

    Straub-Huillet’s first color film, Othon (Les yeux ne veulent pas en tout temps se fermer, ou Peut-être qu’un jour Rome se permettra de choisir à son tour) adapts a lesser-known Corneille tragedy from 1664, which in turn was based on an episode of imperial court intrigue chronicled in Tacitus’s Histories. The costuming is classical, and the toga-clad, nonprofessional cast performs the drama’s original French text amid the ruins of Rome’s Palatine Hill while the noise of contemporary urban life hums…

  • Germany Year Zero

    Germany Year Zero

    In 1947, Roberto Rossellini was searching Berlin for a nonprofessional German adolescent to play the central character in this grim vision of a young boy adrift in the city’s postwar ruins. One night he visited the circus on a lark (“he was curious to see the trick-playing elephants,” his biographer wrote) and saw Edmund Meschke, “a real circus boy” who’d been raised by “a clown and a riding master.” He resolved to audition him—not least because he bore a striking…

  • A Brighter Summer Day

    A Brighter Summer Day

    A deeply personal epic comparable in scope and impact to the Godfather movies and Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in America, Yang’s extraordinary memory film stretches tautly over four hours of screen time and more than 100 speaking parts. Set in the early 1960s (Yang’s own teenage years) and inspired by the true story of Taiwan’s first juvenile homicide case, the film follows rebellious teenager Xiao Si’r (the debut role of Chen Chang, years before appearing in Happy Together

  • Born in Flames

    Born in Flames

    A feminist sci-fi cult classic, Born in Flames is set on the 10th anniversary of a socialist revolution in America, but whereas Eisenstein’s October celebrated the decennial of 1917 by striking a note of triumph, Borden’s film imagines a world in which the promises of a new society have yet to be fulfilled. We hear reports of riots erupting across the city as party organs preach incrementalism and state authorities closely surveil counterrevolutionary activity. Meanwhile an underground network known as…

  • Il Posto

    Il Posto

    As with the earlier Italian neorealists, Ermanno Olmi generally opted to work with non-actors and frequently shot on location, but such strategies are here used to depict life during the era of rapid economic expansion following the postwar recovery. The film follows wide-eyed protagonist Domenico as he journeys to Milan to interview for his first job. There, he becomes smitten with a young woman, Antonietta, applying for a position at the same company, a blush of romantic longing counterposed with…