As we begin to reflect back on an exciting year at the Library Foundation, in 2015 we celebrated the second anniversary of our series, “Lost & Found at the Movies,” which celebrates the art of cinema and the vitality of film culture. For John Nein, the series curator and also a senior programmer of the Sundance Film Festival, who watches over 600 movies every year, the true pleasure of cinema is often found in the unexpected. He first envisioned the series as an eclectic format with thematically linked segments, like a live onstage film magazine.
Thus far, the series has covered themes of love, adaptation, food, Homer, Los Angeles on film, and more, but the delight of each program is how these themes play out in surprising ways onstage—through guests, film clips, ephemera, show-and-tell, photos, and even rare gems pulled from film archives. “The key idea to me is that when you go to ‘Lost & Found,’ you have some program notes, maybe you know one of the guests, but you don’t know what to expect,” says Nein. “It’s about looking into the nooks and crannies of film culture and finding things for people to discover.” As Nein continues to scour rare archives, libraries, and interview film aficionados for future programs (check lfla.dev soon for details), we asked him to look back at some of his favorite moments from the series. Here are his top ten discoveries.
1. Los Angeles Public Library’s Collections
“There have been so many great discoveries, including photographs of Los Angeles’ glamorous movie palaces in their heyday and a rare, out-of-print book, The Human Nature of Playwriting by the remarkable screenwriter, Sampson Raphaelson. An unheralded, but spectacular look at the writing process, it’s an account of a class Raphaelson taught at the University of Illinois in 1948. A little interweb detective work revealed that two of his students were none other than Gene Shalit and Hugh Hefner.”
2. Buck Henry: The Musical
“In the course of talking about parody, adaptation and his own work, Buck Henry broke into song (a rendition from his own work, Beyond the Moon, a stage-musical written when he was in the army). Even better, his reaction when we played a clip from the non-classic Hercules, Samson and Ulysses, with young Ulysses yelling things like, “Watch out, Hercules!” As a struggling actor in 1950s New York, Henry dubbed the voice of Ulysses for the U.S. version of the Italian Hercules films.”
3. Archive Treasures
“The work of film archives doesn’t see the light of day often enough, so for each program we look for rare footage, including Hollywood home movies from famous couples from the Academy Film Archive—Bogart and Bacall together on their boat and the quirky, not entirely un-macabre Alfred and Alma Hitchcock (the earliest known color of footage of him).”
4. Love Is a Many Splendored Thing
“In a program dedicated to how we see love on screen, unscientific but diligently researched data dispelled the idea that the great romances of film history end happily. Of AFI’s Top 100 Love Films: 38% of the couples do not end up together in the end (and for 26% it’s because one or both are dead). Noteworthy is that in 7 of the top 10 films the couple does not end up together.”
5. The Female Curse
“Director Miguel Arteta looked at some of the great actresses and their memorable characters from movies of that Golden Age of Hollywood, and he astutely observed that if you got pregnant in an old Hollywood film…you had to die.”
6. Sword and Sandals
“In a look at the relationship between cinema and The Odyssey, we rolled out some of the rules of the ‘sword and sandals’ films as prescribed by Duccio Tessari, who wrote a bevy of mythical-historical peplum films like Last Days of Pompeii, Carthage in Flames, and Duel of the Titans. His 15 rules include: ‘#5. Don’t give the public time to ask why something has happened. After a crash, have a lion leaping onto the scene, then a duel, finally a fire.’”
7. Gods Among Men
“Alex Purves, Classics scholar at UCLA, wisely pointed out that how mythical Gods are portrayed in Hollywood films, in white togas or gleaming armor, strolling through clouds is just plain silly…and certainly not the ‘Gods of Homer,’ who were maybe more like the angels in Wings of Desire. The more interesting connections were not in the literal adaptations of Homer, but rather in the Coen brothers, Godard, and even Mad Men’s Don Draper.”
8. Surprising Film Recs
“In our look at Los Angeles in films, critic Kenneth Turan chose a lot of great films, from Bombshell to Chinatown, but the one that was no doubt a discovery for almost everybody in the room is the haunting, poetic, The Exiles, which follows a group of young Native American in 1960s Los Angeles.”
9. Movies on the Walls of the Library!
“Every event has clip reels galore. We have seen Los Angeles being destroyed on film, Hollywood’s Homer, and an ode to ‘love’ in the movies (which was actually a reel that played at my wedding). After each program, we screen these montages on the Library’s walls.”
10. And the Oscar Goes to…
“Three days before he won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film for Ida, we talked to Pawel Pawlikowsi about his serendipitous creative process. He typically shoots for a while, then takes a break to rewrite. But he couldn’t afford that luxury on Ida…that is until… a week before the end of filming, a terrible winter storm crippled Poland (and the production of Ida) for weeks. So Pawel got his creative break after all.”
Visit lfla.dev for the upcoming “Lost & Found at the Movies.” Free and open to the public at the Central Library.