Saturday, February 7, 2009

Breadlines and Champagne: Depression-Era Films at Film Forum

What better way to wallow in our recessionary blues (or escape from them) than with Film Forum's Breadlines and Champagne series, a month's programming of some of the greatest Great Depression-era movies--classic and obscure; socially conscious and extravagant; screwball and pre-Code--along with cartoon shorts, vintage newsreels and, yes, bread.

The series kicked off Friday night with the salty I'm No Angel, starring husky-voiced femme fatale Mae West and a very young Carey Grant (a rather odd romantic pairing). Vintage-tinged jazz group Vince Giordano & His Nighthawks--snazzy in tuxes--played a set beforehand, which had everyone in the theater bopping their heads and tapping their toes. A newsreel from 1933 showed the highlights of that year and included the phrase "Joseph Stalin, Uncle Sam's new friend..." (the same segment about the USSR's and U.S.'s improved relations also included the incredibly obvious yet still hilarious pun "red letter day"). Employees handed out bread to famished cineasts waiting in line before the show (now, if only they had champagne), and--sweetest of all--the whole evening cost only 25 cents (35 for non-members).

While the rest of the films won't be quite as cheap (regular price: $11), practically every night is a double feature--with a rare triple thrown in. And with classics like My Man Godfrey, It Happened One Night and 42nd Street, as well as salacious pre-Code entertainments like Baby Face (starring Barbara Stanwyck) and leftist social-realist parables, such as the sublimely named Hallelujah, I'm a Bum, how can one go wrong?

*Mae West and Carey Grant in I'm No Angel; image from Film Forum website