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Review: On the Bowery

4.0

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On the Bowery
Photo: Milestone Films

Vividly capturing a vanished New York milieu and a persistent human phenomenon, Lionel Rogosin’s landmark, independently produced On the Bowery retains its “semi-documentary” qualifier on mostly academic terms. If other films shot on location with nonprofessional actors meet the standard of soulful nonfiction, few have approached On the Bowery‘s achievement: empathy without sentimentality, craft without contrivance, and an unflinching eye that sees individuals striving for dignity to neutralize everyday pain. Beyond mere grit, it catches the joys and camaraderie of a skid-row drinking life as well as the daily bitterness, betrayals, and humiliations. Little wonder that it stoked young John Cassavetes’s desire to put raw, messy life on the movie screen (and Rogosin succeeded more completely in this, his first film, than that pioneering actor-auteur did in much of his work).

Infinitely less compromised than the “problem pictures” ostentatiously produced, then and now, by Hollywood, Rogosin and his team entered the Bowery’s social realm and produced a fugue on its ignored, isolated population, its stark, beautiful black-and-white images more reminiscent of photojournalism than the newsreel. Though possessing a loose plot concocted by Rogosin with cinematographer Richard Bagley and writer Mark Sufrin, the film’s defining strength is its barfly-on-the-wall subjective camera, established in its opening location sequence. Men sprawl in doorways and on curbsides, some filthy, others clad in vests and sweaters that seem inadequate remnants of respectability; a bench-sleeper is rousted, and led into a police wagon with other indigents beneath the tracks of the Third Avenue El. Halting steps, bent fedoras, wobbly tavern habitués on canes and crutches—this vérité montage fixes the setting’s character and aura in the first three minutes, before Ray Salyer, a Bowery dweller playing a character with his own name, enters carrying a suitcase, his eyes sharing the view of Rogosin’s lens.

For the three days of the narrative, the tall, fortysomething Salyer lingers in the neighborhood gin mills, coming off a stint as a railroad worker in New Jersey, and quickly burning through the cash in his pocket as one drink leads to another, his first bender ending in a sidewalk blackout. He is befriended, after a fashion, by Gorman (Gorman Hendricks), also known as Doc for his claim of a medical degree, a pot-bellied, grizzled fixture on the street who provides fellowship and advice but also absconds with Ray’s case to use it as collateral for a couple nights’ stay in a flophouse. Gorman is of the Bowery so indelibly he carries a stock of pure survival instinct behind his affable words, and whether he will prove an ally or nemesis to Ray is the closest the scenario comes to providing a cliffhanger. (The cirrhotic Hendricks, Rogosin’s primary guide through Bowery life in the pre-production period, suspended his alcohol use during shooting; he died from his first bout afterward, with the filmmaker paying for his burial and dedicating the movie to him.) The third principal, Frank Matthews, is a nautical-capped old-timer who collects rags and cardboard in a pushcart, and assures Gorman of his eventual escape to a South Seas isle. Frank’s solemnly stated plan is as remote as an Iceman Cometh pipedream; the only character ever seen outside the neighborhood is Gorman, panhandling shoppers on the midtown avenues.

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These weathered, forgotten white men—there are only a few women in their midst, and black males are only glimpsed as Ray’s competitors for day labor on trucks—and those in their orbit frequently speak in actorly, theatrical cadences, even in On the Bowery‘s most immediate, unstaged moments. When Ray attends a service at the Bowery Mission as the price of sleeping there one night, the superintendent’s sermon, imploring the men to escape the fate of “a drunkard’s grave,” is followed by an elfin staffer reading his nightly riot act of sobriety to those seeking a bed, bath, and shave: “Leave Sneaky Pete outside!” Gorman denies having “penny one” in his pocket, whether he’s flush or not, and one rummy shudders at his pal, “You mean you eat while yer drinkin’ wine? It’s against the law.”

The pungent vernacular sounds like bravado, not Runyonesque patter, in the context of the purgatorial, smoke-filled taverns and mean nocturnal streets that the filmmakers immersed themselves in to birth this authentic document of mania and despair. (Bagley’s prodigious nightly drinking awed Rogosin and Salyer; he died a few years later of alcoholism at 41.) On the Bowery builds to a frenzied scene envisioned by Rogosin as “Dante’s Inferno,” a raucous barroom night of clumsy physical skirmishes, finger-pointing, thrust-out jaws, solitary mumbles, accusations, and flirtations, a tour de force by editor Carl Lerner. The brief possibility of sexual comfort offered to Ray by a woman he gets tight with is abruptly dismissed, in an exterior long shot, when he roughly shoves her away, open hand to head. Ending on a very measured note of hope, where one man’s departure to begin anew is dismissed by a skeptic with “He’ll be back,” Rogosin’s enduring slice of hard life runs little more than an hour but its grace, humor, and melancholy have the heft of eternal truths.

Cast: Ray Salyer, Gorman Hendricks, Frank Matthews Director: Lionel Rogosin Screenwriter: Richard Bagley, Lionel Rogosin, Mark Sufrin Distributor: Milestone Films Running Time: 67 min Rating: NR Year: 1956 Buy: Video

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2019 Oscar Nominations: The Favourite and Roma Lead Field, Bradley Cooper Snubbed for Director, & Cold War Surprises

Nominations for the 91st Academy Awards were announced today and The Favourite and Roma led the way.

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The Favourite
Photo: Fox Searchlight Pictures

Nominations for the 91st Academy Awards were announced Tuesday morning. Yorgos Lanthimos’s The Favourite and Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma led the nomination count with 10, followed by Adam McKay’s Vice and Bradley Cooper’s A Star Is Born with eight, Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther with seven, and Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman with six.

Cold War made a strong showing, with Pawel Pawlikowski claiming his first nomination for best director. Notably snubbed in the category was Bradley Cooper and Peter Farrelly, whose Green Book is considered the favorite to win best picture after its victory at the Producers Guild Awards. Elsewhere, Timothée Chalamet (Beautiful Boy) had to make way for Sam Elliott (A Star Is Born) in best supporting actor, while Willem Dafoe (At Eternity’s Gate) snagged a spot in the best actor race thought to be reserved for John David Washington (BlacKkKlansman).

See below for a full list of the nominations.

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Best Picture
BlacKkKlansman
Black Panther
Bohemian Rhapsody
The Favourite
Green Book
Roma
A Star Is Born
Vice

Best Director
Alfonso Cuarón (Roma)
Yorgos Lanthimos (The Favourite)
Spike Lee (BlacKkKlansman)
Adam McKay (Vice)
Pawel Pawlikowski (Cold War)

Best Actress
Yalitza Aparicio (Roma)
Glenn Close (The Wife)
Olivia Colman (The Favourite)
Lady Gaga (A Star Is Born)
Melissa McCarthy (Can You Ever Forgive Me?)

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Best Actor
Christian Bale (Vice)
Bradley Cooper (A Star Is Born)
Willem Dafoe (At Eternity’s Gate)
Rami Malek (Bohemian Rhapsody)
Viggo Mortensen (Green Book)

Best Actress in a Supporting Role
Amy Adams (Vice)
Marina de Tavira (Roma)
Regina King (If Beale Street Could Talk)
Emma Stone (The Favourite)
Rachel Weisz (The Favourite)

Best Actor in a Supporting Role
Mahershala Ali (Green Book)
Adam Driver (BlacKkKlansman)
Sam Elliott (A Star Is Born)
Richard E. Grant (Can You Ever Forgive Me?)
Sam Rockwell (Vice)

Best Costume Design
Mary Zophres, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
Ruth E. Carter, Black Panther
Sandy Powell, The Favourite
Sandy Powell, Mary Poppins Returns
Alexandra Byrne, Mary Queen of Scots

Best Sound Editing
Black Panther
Bohemian Rhapsody
First Man
A Quiet Place
Roma

Best Sound Mixing
Black Panther
Bohemian Rhapsody
First Man
Roma
A Star Is Born

Best Animated Short
Animal Behaviour
Bao
Late Afternoon
One Small Step
Weekends

Best Live-Action Short
Detainment
Fauve
Marguerite
Mother
Skin

Best Film Editing
Barry Alexander Brown, BlacKkKlansman
John Ottman, Bohemian Rhapsody
Yorgos Mavropsaridis, The Favourite
Patrick J. Don Vito, Green Book
Hank Corwin, Vice

Best Original Score
Ludwig Goransson, Black Panther
Terence Blanchard, BlacKkKlansman
Nicholas Britell, If Beale Street Could Talk
Alexandre Desplat, Isle of Dogs
Marc Shaiman, Mary Poppins Returns

Best Documentary Feature
Free Solo
Hale County This Morning, This Evening
Minding the Gap
Of Fathers and Sons
RBG

Best Documentary Short Subject
Black Sheep
End Game
Lifeboat
A Night at the Garden
Period. End of Sentence.

Best Foreign-Language Film
Capernaum (Lebanon)
Cold War (Poland)
Never Look Away (Germany)
Roma (Mexico)
Shoplifters (Japan)

Best Production Design
Hannah Beachler and Jay Hart, Black Panther
Fiona Crombie and Alice Felton, The Favourite
Nathan Crowley and Kathy Lucas, First Man
John Myhre and Gordon Sim, Mary Poppins Returns
Eugenio Caballero and Barbara Enriquez, Roma

Best Visual Effects
Avengers: Infinity War
Christopher Robin
First Man
Ready Player One
Solo: A Star Wars Story

Best Cinematography
Robbie Ryan, The Favourite
Caleb Deschanel, Never Look Away
Alfonso Cuarón, Roma
Matty Libatique, A Star Is Born
Lukasz Zal, Cold War

Best Makeup and Hairstyling
Border
Mary Queen of Scots
Vice

Best Animated Feature
Incredibles 2
Isle of Dogs
Mirai
Ralph Breaks the Internet
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

Best Adapted Screenplay
Bradley Cooper, Will Fetters, and Eric Roth, A Star Is Born
Joel Coen and Ethan Coen, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
Spike Lee, David Rabinowitz, Charlie Wachtel and Kevin Willmott, BlacKkKlansman
Barry Jenkins, If Beale Street Could Talk
Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty, Can You Ever Forgive Me?

Best Original Screenplay
Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara, The Favourite
Paul Schrader, First Reformed
Brian Hayes Currie, Peter Farrelly, and Nick Vallelonga, Green Book
Alfonso Cuarón, Roma
Adam McKay, Vice

Best Original Song
“All the Stars,” Black Panther
“I’ll Fight, RBG
“The Place Where Lost Things Go,” Mary Poppins Returns
“Shallow,” A Star Is Born
“When a Cowboy Trades His Spurs for Wings,” The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

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Review: Never Fear Is Driven by Its Maker’s Personal Demons

If the film ultimately seems to question Carol’s courage, there’s at least no doubt about Ida Lupino’s own.

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Never Fear
Photo: Eagle-Lion Films/Photofest

In a 1985 interview with DeeDee Halleck conducted at the Chelsea Hotel, filmmaker Shirley Clarke stated that she made films about African-Americans as a way of working through her own ambivalence about being a woman in a male-dominated culture: “I identified with black people because I couldn’t deal with the woman question and I transposed it. I could understand very easily the black problems, and I somehow equated them to how I felt….I always felt alone, and on the outside of the culture that I was in.” One can detect a similar tendency in the work of Ida Lupino, whose independently produced dramas of the 1940s and ‘50s tackled hot-button issues such as rape, bigamy, and unwanted pregnancy. These films are no mere homilies on contemporary social problems, but complex and deeply personal explorations of what it means to be an independent woman in a world ruled by men.

Lupino’s pioneering work is suffused with a profound sense of alienation and self-doubt. Her films are about people whose conventional middle-class existence is suddenly, sometimes violently, upturned, causing them to feel completely unmoored. No longer sure of where they’re going in life or what they truly want, these people find respite away from their old life, in an unfamiliar place with a new potential lover. And Lupino tells these stories with an empathy that’s striking for its directness and lack of condescension.

Such is the case with the first film Lupino directed completely on her own, Never Fear, an emotionally complex drama about a young dancer, Carol (Sally Forrest), who seems to have it all, as she’s just gotten engaged to her partner, Guy (Keefe Brasselle), and their careers are on the verge of taking off. But then, all of sudden she’s stricken with polio, and everything changes. Carol, depressed and bitter, enters a rehab facility where she eventually makes strides toward walking again, thanks in part to the inspiration of a hunky fellow patient named Len (Hugh O’Brian). As Carol struggles with her own will to get better, she grows increasingly distant from Guy, urging him to keep pursuing his dancing career rather than settling down into a conventional job selling pre-fab “Happy Homes” as he waits around for her to recover.

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Free of the noir-ish inflections Lupino brought to her other films—most notably The Hitch-Hiker, and the rape sequence in OutrageNever Fear is directed in a simple, straightforward style that bears comparison to the stripped-down neorealism of Roberto Rossellini. Lupino is captivated by the process of physical rehabilitation, offering detailed observations of Carol’s stretching routine, swim therapy, art classes, and, in one show-stopping sequence, a square dance featuring lines of wheelchair-bound patients twirling each other around in consummately choreographed synchrony. Carol is clumsy and awkward as she struggles to operate her wheelchair, a marked contrast to the film’s opening scenes, in which Carol and Guy move together with lithe sophistication as they perform a romantic swashbuckling tango.

Never Fear’s subject matter was personal for Lupino, who survived polio after an attack in 1934. But the filmmaker isn’t merely interested in the physical ailment itself, but also in the complicated pressure that recovery places on Carol. There’s a tension in the film, which was released at the height of the U.S. polio outbreak, between what Carol wants and what the men in her life want for her. When Carol begins to reject her own treatment, it’s in part because she’s rebelling against the expectations that her doctor, her fellow patients, and especially Guy have placed on her. “Be a woman for me,” Guy asks of her, but the demand is counter-productive, as Carol can only truly recuperate when she decides to do it for herself.

In Carol’s dilemma, one can sense Lupino wrestling with her own artistic ambitions, coming to grips with the reality that as the only woman director working within the Hollywood studio system in the ‘50s, she too would have to accept the guidance of the men around her, and in so doing she would be forced to bear the weight of their expectations for her—their demands, hopes, dreams, and pity. Unfortunately, Never Fear closes with a cop-out, a last-minute reconciliation that cheapens Carol’s hard-fought struggle to learn to live on her own terms by suggesting she’s fundamentally lost without a man. Almost as if the film is embarrassed by its own denouement, the final screen assures us, “This is not THE END. It is just the beginning for all those of faith and courage.” If the film ultimately seems to question Carol’s courage, there’s at least no doubt about Lupino’s own. Never Fear wasn’t the end for her either, but merely the start of one of the most unique and pathbreaking directorial careers in Hollywood history.

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Cast: Sally Forrest, Keefe Brasselle, Hugh O’Brian, Eve Miller, Lawrence Dobkin, Rita Lupino, Herbert Butterfield, Kevin O’Morrison, Stanley Waxman, Jerry Hausner, John Franco Director: Ida Lupino Screenwriter: Ida Lupino, Collier Young Running Time: 82 min Rating: NR Year: 1950

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WATCH: Stylish Queer Short Film Stay Makes Its Online Premiere

Brandon Zuck’s sexy and stylish gay thriller Stay debuts for free online.

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Stay
Brandon Zuck

Writer-director Brandon Zuck’s sexy and stylish gay thriller Stay made its premiere on the film festival circuit back in 2013, but the L.A.-based filmmaker is finally debuting it for free online. The short film, which Zuck claims is loosely based on events from his past, follows Ash (Brandon Harris) and his ex-boyfriend, Jacks (Julian Brand), on a road trip to the Florida Keys where the pair get mixed up in a fatal drug deal.

“I think maybe I was holding onto the film because it’s such a part of me,” Zuck says about his decision to release Stay on YouTube, which has been criticized by queer creators and organizations like GLAAD for ever-changing content guidelines that appear to target content made by and for LGBT people.

“YouTube started age-restricting my other LGBT films and—to be totally honest—I got furious. YouTube is this faceless behemoth and there’s nothing someone like me can do to fight any of it directly. Really the only thing I could think of was just putting more queer content out there. And Stay was sitting right there on my desktop where it’s always been. So I just hit upload. And it got age-restricted. C’est la vie. Next.”

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Watch Stay below:

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