For nine years running, MoMA organizes an exhibition entitled To Save and Project honoring restorations of formerly deteriorating prints. This year’s festival opened under the prowess of Associate Curator Joshua Siegel of MoMA’s Film Department. Contributions by Associate Curators Anne Morra and Ron Magliozzi roundout this celebration by incorporating selections from Dutch film distributor Jean Desmet and works from the Women’s Film Preservation Fund (founded by MoMA & New York Women in Film and Television in 1995). Co-chair of WFPF Drake Stutesman equally guided the process with Ms. Morra.
Siegel launched this series on Friday with a spotlight on Joe Dante. During last night’s introduction, Siegel expressed envy at learning of Dante’s inclusion in other programs and brought together a program that could demonstrate the satirical macabre implicit in Dante’s projects. After his presence was announced, Dante introduced his self-directed Twilight Zone episode “It’s A Good Life” and his mentor Roger Corman’s The Intruder starring a comparatively nubile William Shatner. Dante acknowledged his adoration to the series and how the classic episode “Wish You Into the Cornfield” inspired his TZ composition. Transitioning to the main feature, Dante recounted the racial tensions that drew concerns for the crew filming. Crowds were shoot while Shatner espoused one conservative speech then the real speech would be captured later. Editors spliced the film together. These unpaid, and formerly unknowing participants, learned of the maneuver thus causing death threat pronouncements. Regarding Shatner’s role, Dante lauded Shatner’s first film performance. From Star Trek viewings and discussions, I knew of Shatner’s extensive theatrical experience prior to his canonical Captain Kirk role, so I did not doubt his capability. The screenplay for The Intruder was based on Charles Beaumont‘s novel of the same title. Dante touched upon Corman’s reputation for rebellion against studio restrictions, but the enjoyment of Corman’s films derives from qualities that encapsulate his nickname “The King of the Cult Film.” Here though, Corman bravely frames prejudice with strong acting and music that mimics horror films except that fears truly ignited murderous lust in ordinary citizens.
A coolly sun-glassed and smarmy Adam Cramer (William Shatner) rides a bus into fictitious Caxton, MI. His slimly manners immediately put spectators into suspicion, yet townsfolk want to embrace this handsome man during his temporary stay. Cramer’s aim is to incite resentment that integration of the Negro population has become law. To this resignation, Cramer insidiously asks,”Whose law?” Corman allows the n-word to lace this film in a frequency that instinctively causes subconscious flinches for contemporary viewers. Only look to recent discussions of Rick Perry’s hunting ground for proof. Cramer preys upon on all age ranges of women with an assurance of having already won. A lone salesman Sam Griffin (Leo Gordon) crushes the veneer of Cramer’s facade following his wife’s sudden departure. Corman reminds viewers how much of integration opposition is based upon ignorance and how people cannot be controlled. Cramer aspires to lead without recognizing his command has run amok. Sights of Klu Klux Klan outfits driving through the African American neighborhood to burn a cross at night highlights Corman’s balance of tracking camera views and weary generations of blacks to this hate. Before beatings and insults, the characters loom largely in the frame. Their compositional weight drags audiences into trapped states of each victim. Matches already lit, dynamite explodes proverbially when a young white girl Ella McDaniel falsely claims one black student Joey Greene (Charles Barnes) attempted to rape her.
Oppressive atmospheres and compassionate glimmers give this film closure that is not fully satisfactory, which is partially the point. Cramer will move onto the next town to foment more hate. Corman asks people whether they can face themselves. The Venice Film Festival appreciated this film; however, scant success greeted it in the States. Film enthusiasts thank Corman anyway.
Additional films and screenings within To Save and Project may be found here. Festival wraps-up on November 19th.