Picturing Fame: Moving Pictures

Date Film Time
1/25 2 pm
2/7 The Emperor Jones 7 pm
2/14 Grand Hotel 7 pm
2/21 King Kong 7 pm
2/28 7 pm
3/7 City Streets 7 pm
This film series takes its name from the winter exhibition, Steichen|Warhol: Picturing Fame, which examines the legacies of both artists through their groundbreaking portraits of celebrities of their day. Last February the Block Museum was the recipient of a major gift—49 vintage photographs by the great photographer Edward Steichen. These stunning portraits include many luminaries from the early 20th century—artists, models, dancers, socialites, and prominent actors of both stage and screen. To celebrate the donation, this film series presents several of the glamorous portrait sitters featured in the Steichen collection in a different light: illuminating the screen in iconic film performances. The stars include Evelyn Brent, Clara Bow, Paul Robeson, Greta Garbo, John Barrymore, Fay Wray, Judith Anderson, and Sylvia Sidney.

DOUBLE FEATURE: Underworld & It

Saturday, January 25, 2014 2:00 PM


(Josef von Sternberg, 1927, USA, 35mm, 81 min.)

Underworld was Austrian émigré Josef von Sternberg’s breakthrough American film. A silent masterwork, it’s a gritty depiction of Chicago’s mob world and those caught in its tangled web. Shocking in its day, the film is widely considered to have inspired the gangster film genre. Underworld co-stars Evelyn Brent as “Feathers,” a gangster’s moll who comes between two kingpins. A leading player in the 1920s, Brent remains largely forgotten today. Sternberg cast her in three films, and her unique beauty was also captured by Steichen in a stunning portrait of her made the same year the film was released.

Followed by: 


(Clarence Badger, 1927, USA, 35mm, 72 min).

Clara Bow may be best remembered as a cultural icon—the celebrated “It” girl of the 1920s—but, as demonstrated in this, her “namesake” film, she was also a talented performer with deft comedic skill. She did, of course, really have “it”—a magnetic presence and sex appeal—which are taken full advantage of in this entertaining romantic comedy. The story—about a department store salesgirl who has her sights set on the boss—is simple, but allows for a series of misunderstandings that complicates and threatens their relationship even before it can begin. Director Clarence Badger keeps things moving with a brisk pace and plenty of humor. But the film is ultimately a showcase for Bow, whose beauty, moxie, and charm all shine through.
Live musical accompaniment for both films by Dave Drazin.

The Emperor Jones

Friday, February 7, 2014 7:00 PM
(Dudley Murphy, 1933, USA, 35mm, 105 min.)

For this screen adaptation of Eugene O’Neill’s 1920 play, actor/singer/civil rights activist Paul Robeson reprises his star-making role as Brutus Jones from the London stage. Robeson is electrifying here as a Pullman porter who descends into a life of vice and crime, eventually escaping to a Caribbean island where he becomes the corrupt “emperor.” It’s a powerhouse performance, and an unusually complex role for an African-American early in the century (note that the film does frequently and controversially use a racial slur, though). O’Neill and Murphy chart Jones’ emotional and psychological transformation, leading to a devastating conclusion.

Preserved by the Library of Congress.

Grand Hotel

Friday, February 14, 2014 7:00 PM
(Edmund Goulding, 1932, USA, 35mm, 112 min.)
Winner of the 1932 Academy Award for Best Picture, Grand Hotel is one of MGM’s most lavish early sound productions. Set in an opulent Berlin hotel, the film follows the intersecting lives of several of the establishment’s residents, guests, and employees. Greta Garbo stars in a legendary performance (in which she utters the classic line “I want to be alone”), as the weary Russian ballerina Grusinskaya. John Barrymore is The Baron, her would-be suitor, whose fortunes have fallen. Lionel Barrymore and Joan Crawford also appear. This sharply-drawn and moving melodrama presents two of Steichen’s subjects, Garbo and John Barrymore, in their best light.
35mm print courtesy of the Academy Film Archive.

King Kong

Friday, February 21, 2014 7:00 PM
(Merian C. Cooper & Ernest B. Schoedsack, 1933, USA, 35mm, 100 min.)
If you’ve seen King Kong you already know why you should see it in 35mm on a big screen. If you haven’t seen King Kong—really?—then you are in for a treat. There are reasons this iconic film still enthralls, eighty years on. Cooper and Schoedsack were uniquely positioned to make Kong, with the combination of ethnographic documentary experience and their rousing adventure-thriller The Most Dangerous Game, made the year before. Willis H. O’Brien’s revolutionary, remarkable stop-motion animation and effects set the standard for decades to come. And, not least, lead actress Fay Wray, the beauty for the beast, brought not only her famous scream but also a believably sensitive performance that humanizes Kong and allows for the emotional and tragic ending.
35mm print courtesy of the Library of Congress.


Friday, February 28, 2014 7:00 PM
(Alfred Hitchcock, 1940, USA, 35mm, 130 min.)
Hitchcock’s first American film, Rebecca was also his only film to win an Oscar for Best Picture. Based on the novel by Daphne du Maurier, this gripping Gothic thriller tells the story of the second wife (Joan Fontaine) of the recently widowed aristocrat Max de Winter (Laurence Olivier). The new bride lives in the shadow of her husband’s first wife, Rebecca, who died a mysterious death. The sinister housekeeper Mrs. Danvers (Judith Anderson) torments the second Mrs. de Winter to the brink of madness. Australian-born actress Anderson (seen in a Steichen portrait with fellow thespian John Gielgud) spent a majority of her career on stage, but she still gave a number of memorable performances in classic films, including her Oscar-nominated role in Rebecca.

City Streets

Friday, March 7, 2014 7:00 PM
(Rouben Mamoulian, 1931, USA, 35mm, 83 min.)
City Streets is a Prohibition-era tale (from a story by Maltese Falcon author Dashiell Hammett) about Nan (Sylvia Sidney), a gangster’s stepdaughter, and The Kid (Gary Cooper), a displaced cowboy working at a carnival sideshow. Nan wants The Kid to leave his small-potatoes job and join the mob so they can get married. A murder, Nan’s arrest, and a lecherous mob boss stand in their way. Cooper’s early aw-shucks reserve transforms into cool-headed determination. Sidney, glamorous and spunky, is captivating in her first major role. Director Rouben Mamoulian (Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, The Mark of Zorro) was one of the great innovators of early sound cinema, and his dynamic visual style is on full display in this crackling crime film.