This Week in New York Insider's Guide to Arts & Culture in New York City Since 2001



Chiron (Alex Hibbert) looks out at a hard future in Barry Jenkins’s Oscar-winning Moonlight

MOONLIGHT (Barry Jenkins, 2016)
BAMcinématek, BAM Rose Cinemas
30 Lafayette Ave. between Ashland Pl. & St. Felix St.
Saturday, February 9, 7:00
Series runs February 6-14

BAM is paying tribute to controversial and innovative Texas-born filmmaker Marlon Riggs in conjunction with the twenty-fifth anniversary of his death with “Race, Sex & Cinema: The World of Marlon Riggs.” Riggs, who was gay and black, died in April 1994 at the age of thirty-seven from AIDS complications, leaving behind an important legacy of films, poetry, and essays. Many of his works had major impacts on the next generation of African American writers and directors, as evidenced by this program. On February 9, the series pairs Barry Jenkins’s Moonlight, which was nominated for eight Oscars and won three (Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor for Mahershala Ali, and Best Adapted Screenplay for Jenkins and Tarell Alvin McCraney), with Riggs’s ten-minute 1990 short, Affirmations, about the dreams and desires of gay black men. In Moonlight, Jenkins tells the powerful and moving story of Chiron, a shy, troubled boy growing up in Liberty City, Florida, in three chapters as Chiron goes from a young boy (Little, played by Alex Hibbert) to a teenager (Chiron, played by Ashton Sanders) to a twenty-seven-year-old man (Black, played by Trevante Rhodes). The semiautobiographical film is based on playwright and actor McCraney’s In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue and Jenkins’s own experiences; both men are from Liberty City but did not know each other there. In the first section, Little is chased by bullies and runs into an abandoned building, where he is found by Juan (Ali), a drug dealer who brings him home to his girlfriend, Teresa (Janelle Monáe). They become a kind of surrogate family, as Little’s mother, Paula (Naomie Harris), is a crack addict who will do just about anything for her next score. Little also finds solace in his friendship with Kevin (Jaden Piner, later played by Jharrel Jerome and André Holland). In the second chapter, Chiron is taunted and bullied by Terrel (Patrick Decile) while trying to come to terms with his sexual orientation. In the third section, the passage of time reveals how much has changed, although the film turns overly melodramatic at the end.

Marlon Riggs

Karen Everett’s I Shall Not Be Removed: The Life of Marlon Riggs is part of Riggs tribute at BAM

Taking its inspiration from the source material, Moonlight is beautifully photographed by James Laxton, who has previously shot Medicine for Melancholy and Jenkins’s 2003 shorts, My Josephine and Little Brown Boy, and 2011 “Remigration” episode of Futurestates, bathing the film in lush blues. Jenkins’s subtly paced style is accompanied by a gorgeous classical-inspired score by Nicholas Britell (The Big Short). Moonlight is anchored by superb performances by Emmy nominee Ali (House of Cards, Hidden Figures) as the cool and caring Juan; Harris (Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, 28 Days Later) as the drug-addicted Paula, who has lost control of her life; Monáe (Hidden Figures, The Electric Lady) as the sweet and understanding Teresa; and Sanders (The Retrieval) as the in-between Chiron, who feels overwhelmed by all the maelstrom swirling around him. Moonlight and Affirmations are screening at BAM February 9 at 7:00; “Race, Sex & Cinema: The World of Marlon Riggs” runs February 6-14 and includes such other evenings as Riggs’s Tongues Untied and Anthem with Isaac Julien’s The Attendant; a fifteenth-anniversary screening of Rodney Evans’s Brother to Brother, followed by a Q&A with Evans; Su Friedrich’s Hide and Seek and Cheryl Dunye’s Janine; and Lynn Hershman Leeson’s The Complete Electronic Diaries, Peter Rose’s The Man Who Could Not See Far Enough, and Jeanne C. Finley’s I Saw Jesus in a Tortilla.


Roy DeCarava, Couple Walking, gelatin silver print on paper, 1979 (© 2017 estate of Roy DeCarava)

Roy DeCarava, “Couple Walking,” gelatin silver print on paper, 1979 (© 2017 estate of Roy DeCarava)

Brooklyn Museum
200 Eastern Parkway at Washington St.
Saturday, February 2, free (some events require advance tickets), 5:00 - 11:00

The Brooklyn Museum honors Black History Month in the February edition of its free First Saturday program. There will be live performances by Winard Harper, YahZarah (“I’m Taking You Back”), and Toshi Reagon with violinist Juliette Jones and bassist, guitarist, and vocalist Ganessa James; curator tours of “Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power” and “Eric N. Mack: Lemme walk across the room” with Ashley James; a Learning Lesson discussion with artist Kameelah Janan Rasheed inspired by Octavia Butler’s idea of “primitive hypertext”; pop-up gallery talks of “Soul of a Nation” with teen apprentices; a screening of Mr. Soul (Melissa Haizlip & Samuel D. Pollard, 2018), introduced by the directors; a hands-on workshop in which participants can create wearable activist patches inspired by the messages of the Guerrilla Girls and AfriCOBRA; an artist talk featuring Shani Jamila’s new podcast, Lineage, with photographers Ming Smith and Russell Fredrick of the Kamoinge collective; “Soul of a Nation”–inspired poetry with Karisma Price, Naomi Extra, and Stephanie Jean of Cave Canem; an “Archives as Raw History” tour with archivist Molly Seegers; and Black Gotham Experience’s immersive Magnetic Resonance, consisting of a photo studio by Kamau Ware with styling by Charles Johnson, video collage by Kearaha Bryant, and music by GoodWill, P.U.D.G.E., and Rimarkable. In addition, the galleries will be open late so you can check out “Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power,” “Eric N. Mack: Lemme walk across the room,” “One: Do Ho Suh,” “Half the Picture: A Feminist Look at the Collection,” “Something to Say: Brooklyn Hi-Art! Machine, Deborah Kass, Kameelah Janan Rasheed, and Hank Willis Thomas,” “Rob Wynne: FLOAT,” “Infinite Blue,” “A Woman’s Afterlife: Gender Transformation in Ancient Egypt,” “Kwang Young Chun: Aggregations,” and more.


Sullivan (Sebastian Urzendowsky) and Camille (Lola Créton) experience the pleasure and pain of young romance in Goodbye First Love

7 Ludlow St. between Canal & Hester Sts.
Monday, February 4, 9:30

French filmmaker Mia Hansen-Løve will be at Metrograph on February 4 to introduce a special screening of her third film, an infuriating yet captivating tale that runs hot and cold. Goodbye First Love begins in Paris in 1999, as fifteen-year-old Camille (Lola Créton) frolics naked with Sullivan (Sebastian Urzendowsky), her slightly older boyfriend. While she professes her deep, undying love for him, he refuses to declare his total dedication to her, instead preparing to leave her and France for a long sojourn through South America. When Camille goes home and starts sobbing, her mother (Valérie Bonneton), who is not a big fan of Sullivan’s, asks why. “I cry because I’m melancholic,” Camille answers, as only a fifteen-year-old character in a French film would. As the years pass, Camille grows into a fine young woman, studying architecture and dating a much older man (Magne-Håvard Brekke), but she can’t forget Sullivan, and when he eventually reenters her life, she has some hard choices to make. Créton (Bluebeard) evokes a young Isabelle Huppert as Camille, while Urzendowsky (The Way Back) is somewhat distant as the distant Sullivan. There is never any real passion between them; Hansen-Løve (All Is Forgiven, The Father of My Children) often skips over the more emotional, pivotal moments, instead concentrating on the after-effects and discussions. While that works at times, at others it feels as if something crucial was left out, and not necessarily with good reason. Still, Créton carries the film with her puppy-dog eyes, lithe body, and a graceful demeanor that will make you forgive her character’s increasingly frustrating decisions.



Alfred Chamberlain (Elliott Gould) takes a break in Alan Arkin’s Little Murders

LITTLE MURDERS (Alan Arkin, 1971)
Film Forum
209 West Houston St.
Thursday, January 31, 4:20
Friday, February 1 2:40, 7:00
Series runs through February 14

Alan Arkin’s directorial debut is a hysterically absurdist foray into the urban paranoia that haunted a lawless New York City in the late 1960s and 1970s. Based on Jules Feiffer’s first play, which was a Broadway flop in 1969 but became a hit in London and off Broadway, Little Murders centers on the offbeat relationship between the determined and domineering Patsy Newquist (Marcia Rodd) and the calm, easygoing Alfred Chamberlain (Elliott Gould). They first meet when Patsy tries to save him from getting beaten up yet again by a group of thugs, but he doesn’t want any help; he never fights back, instead letting them tire themselves out. A former successful commercial photographer, Alfred now spends his time taking artistic pictures of feces he finds on the filthy streets. He and Patsy sort of start dating, but Alfred, who regularly says, “I don’t know what love is,” is too passive for Patsy, who makes it her project to mold him into a stronger man, as if he were one of her interior design projects. The black comedy reaches new heights when Alfred meets Patsy’s rather eccentric family, played by the three actors who originated the roles on the stage. Vincent Gardenia is her high-strung father who laments what has become of the city, Elizabeth Wilson is her prim and proper mother who only sees what she wants to see, and Jon Korkes is deliciously funny as her crazy brother, who finds humor in just about everything. Meanwhile, wherever Patsy goes, a heavy-breathing phone caller follows.

Donald Sutherland, Elliott Gould, and Alan Arkin discuss the wacky wedding scene in LITTLE MURDERS

Donald Sutherland, Elliott Gould, and Alan Arkin discuss the wacky wedding scene in Little Murders

Little Murders is one of the great unsung films of the 1970s, a wickedly funny, at times manic examination of love, fear, family, faith, and violence. The story is highlighted by several riotous monologues about the state of the world, including an epic rant delivered by Lou Jacobi as an angry judge and an oddball hippie speech by Donald Sutherland (Gould’s M*A*S*H costar) as an alternative minister. Arkin also appears as Lt. Practice, a cop stuttering about how many unsolved murders there have been in the past six months. The film is shot in a beautifully subdued, lurid palette by Gordon Willis, who photographed such other seminal New York–set ’70s pics as The Landlord, Klute, The Godfather I and II, Annie Hall, and Manhattan. A genuine underground cult classic, Little Murders is screening January 31 and February 1 in the Film Forum series “Far-Out in the 70s: A New Wave of Comedy, 1969–1979,” which continues through February 14 with such other period comedies as Hal Ashby’s Being There, Milos Forman’s Taking Off, a double feature of Art Carney in The Late Show and Harry and Tonto, and Brian De Palma’s Hi, Mom! in addition to The Landlord and a double feature of Annie Hall and Manhattan.



Lee Chang-dong’s Burning is first South Korean movie to make Oscar shortlist for Best Foreign Language Film

MoMA Film, Museum of Modern Art
11 West 53rd St. between Fifth & Sixth Aves.
February 1–9

Since his debut as a writer and director with 1997’s Green Fish, South Korean auteur has Lee Chang-dong has made only six feature films, which might actually add to his growing international reputation, especially with the success of his first film since 2010, Burning. MoMA will be screening all six works in the series “Cinema of Trauma: The Films of Lee Chang-dong,” running February 1-9, with Lee on hand for two postscreening discussions and one introduction. Based on the short story “Barn Burning” by Japanese author Haruki Murakami, Burning — the first South Korean film to be shortlisted for a Best Foreign Language Oscar — is a long psychological thriller, cowritten by Oh Jung-mi, about a wannabe young writer and slacker, Lee Jong-su (Yoo Ah-in), who bumps into an old classmate, Shin Hae-mi (Jeon Jong-seo), and starts up a new friendship with her, including taking care of her cat when she’s away. Lee is none too happy when she later shows up with Ben (Steven Yeun), who Jong-su thinks is wrong for her. Ben shares with Jong-su his penchant for burning down greenhouses, which only furthers Jong-su’s distrust of Ben, which does not please Hae-mi. At two and a half hours, Burning is long and slow moving, but it is also lushly photographed by Hong Kyung-pyo and deeply meditative, with a powerful ending that is worth waiting around for. Burning is showing February 1 at 6:30, followed by a Q&A with the sixty-four-year-old director, a former Minister of Culture and Tourism in South Korea, and again on February 9 at 7:00.

Secret Sunshine

Lee Shin-ae (Jeon Do-yeon) reexamines her life in Secret Sunshine

SECRET SUNSHINE (MILYANG) (Lee Chang-dong, 2007)
Saturday, February 2, 3:30, followed by a discussion with the filmmaker
Monday, February 4, 6:30

Lee Chang-dong’s fourth film — and his first since 2002’s Oh Ah Shisoo (Oasis) — is a harrowing examination of immeasurable grief. After losing her husband, Lee Shin-ae (Jeon Do-yeon) decides to move with her young son, Jun (Seon Jeong-yeob), to Milyang, her late husband’s hometown. Milyang, which means “secret sunshine,” is a typical South Korean small town, where everyone knows everybody. Restarting her life, Shin-ae gets help from Kim Jong-chan (Song Kang-ho), a local mechanic who takes an immediate liking to her. But Shin-ae is more concerned with settling down with her son and giving piano lessons. But when a horrific tragedy strikes, she begins to unravel, refusing help from anyone until she turns to religion, but even that does not save her from her ever-darkening sadness. Cannes Best Actress winner Jeon gives a remarkable, devastating performance, holding nothing back as she fights for her sanity. Song, best known for his starring role in THE HOST, is charming as Jong-chan, a friendly man who is a little too simple to understand the depth of what is happening to Shin-ae. Don’t let the nearly two-and-a-half-hour running time scare you away; Secret Sunshine is an extraordinary film that does not feel nearly that long. Secret Sunshine will be showing at 3:30 on February 2, with Lee present for a postscreening discussion, and 6:30 on February 4 in MoMA’s “Cinema of Trauma: The Films of Lee Chang-Dong” series.

Yun Jung-hee returns to the screen for the first time in sixteen years in moving Poetry

Yun Jung-hee returns to the screen for the first time in sixteen years in moving Poetry

POETRY (SHI) (Lee Chang-dong, 2010)
Sunday, February 3, 4:30
Wednesday, February 6, 7:00

Returning to the screen for the first time in sixteen years, legendary Korean actress Yun Jung-hee is mesmerizing in Lee Chang-dong’s beautiful, bittersweet, and poetic Poetry. Yun stars as Mija, a lovely but simple woman raising her teenage grandson, Wook (Lee David), and working as a maid for Mr. Kang (Kim Hi-ra), a Viagra-taking old man debilitated from a stroke. When she is told that Wook is involved in the tragic suicide of a classmate (Han Su-young), Mija essentially goes about her business as usual, not outwardly reacting while clearly deeply troubled inside. As the complications in her life grow, she turns to a community poetry class for solace, determined to finish a poem before the memory loss that is causing her to forget certain basic words overwhelms her. Winner of the Best Screenplay award at the 2010 Cannes Film Festival, Poetry is a gorgeously understated work, a visual, emotional poem that never drifts from its slow, steady pace. Writer-director Lee (Peppermint Candy, Secret Sunshine) occasionally treads a little too close to clichéd melodrama, but he always gets back on track, sharing the moving story of an unforgettable character. Throughout the film he offers no easy answers, leaving lots of room for interpretation, like poems themselves. Poetry will be showing at 4:30 on February 3 and 7:00 on February 6 in MoMA’s “Cinema of Trauma: The Films of Lee Chang-Dong” series.


306 Hollywood

Siblings Elan and Jonathan Bogarín use a dollhouse re-creation of their beloved grandmother’s home in excavating her life in 306 Hollywood

306 HOLLYWOOD (Elan and Jonathan Bogarín, 2018)
Museum of the Moving Image
35th Ave. at 36th St., Astoria
Saturday, February 2, $15 (includes museum admission), 6:30
Festival runs February 1-3

Psychoanalysts Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung both used the metaphor of a house to represent the whole of a person and his or her psyche. Siblings Elan and Jonathan Bogarín explore that concept in 306 Hollywood, an imaginative documentary in which they seek to define who their beloved late grandmother was — and where she is after her death. In 2011, Annette Ontell passed away at the age of ninety-three. In her will, she left her home of sixty-seven years, a relatively basic suburban house at 306 Hollywood Ave. in Hillside, New Jersey, to Elan and Jonathan, who at first were encouraged by their mother, Marilyn Ontell, to sell it. But after funeral director Sherry Anthony tells the siblings that it is believed that following a death, the soul of the deceased hovers around its home for nearly a year, they changed their mind. “You have eleven months to make your grandmother tangible again,” she explains. And the Bogaríns take that time to turn the house into an archaeological dig, excavating through physical items that spur memories of the past to celebrate the life of their beloved grandmother. “As far as we knew, the house was her world,” Jonathan says. “When you lose someone you love, you start to look for new ways to understand the world,” Elan adds.

306 Hollywood

Imaginative documentary by her grandchildren explores the life and times of Annette Ontell

Elan and Jonathan use re-creations, home movies, family photographs, and filmed interviews they made with Annette, a fashion designer who was married to an accountant named Herman, every year from 2001 to 2011, in which she honestly and entertainingly shares her thoughts about her long life, including discussions of death. The siblings, who employ a visual sense of humor and magical realism akin to that of a Wes Anderson movie combined with the documentary style of Chantal Akerman and Agnès Varda, speak with their mother, Annette’s daughter, Marilyn Ontell, as well as fashion conservator Nicole Bloomfield; Rockefeller archivist Robert Clark; Biblioteca Casanatense librarian Isabella Ceccopieri and director Rita Fioravanti; archaeologist Jan Gadeyne; and MIT physicist and novelist Alan Lightman, who all offer views about interpreting physical and psychological aspects of a person’s life, from items they collected to papers they saved to the clothes they wore. Two of the most compelling scenes involve clothing; Elan and Jonathan film their grandmother trying to put on dresses, with the help of her daughter, that she made more than half a century before. Annette sits in a chair in her bra and panties, her aging body mostly exposed to the camera, as she insists she won’t fit into the chic clothes. Later, Bloomfield performs a forensics-like investigation on the dresses, offering yet more information about Annette.

Elan and Jonathan also have a precise miniature version of the house made by Rick Maccione of Dollhouse Mansions and often film inside it, playing with the scale of history, time, and memory and the role of the camera in recording the past. “It was plain to me that the house represented a kind of image of the psyche,” Jung wrote. But as Jonathan notes at one point, “Grandma’s house isn’t a home anymore. It’s a ruin.” And finally, Lightman asks, “Where is she?,” declaring that question to be the “great mystery of existence.” After watching 306 Hollywood, which the Bogaríns directed, produced with Judit Stalter, edited with Nyneve Laura Minnear and composer Troy Herion, and photographed with Alejandro Mejía, you’ll have a very clear picture of who Annette Ontell was — and you’ll wonder about who your own late relatives were, in addition to where they might be at this very moment. A hit at Sundance and winner of a Special Mention as Best U.S. Latino Film at the 2018 Cinema Tropical Awards, 306 Hollywood is screening February 2 at 6:30 in the Museum of the Moving Image series “2019 Cinema Tropical Festival,” which runs February 1-3 and also includes Rudy Valdez’s The Sentence, Juliana Antunes’s Baronesa, Lucrecia Martel’s Zama, and Juliana Rojas’s Good Manners.


John Schaefer “Silent Films / Live Music” series returns to Brookfield Place this week

John Schaefer’s “Silent Films / Live Music” series returns to Brookfield Place this week

Brookfield Place
230 Vesey St.
January 30 - February 1, free, 7:30

In a 2011 twi-ny talk about his “Silent Films / Live Music” series at the World Financial Center Winter Garden, in which he selects silent movies to be accompanied by live scores, WNYC’s John Schaefer said, “The films seem less like period pieces themselves and more like a still-living art form.” After a hiatus, the program is back at Arts Brookfield, with Schaefer again running the show, reenergizing black-and-white silent cinema. On three successive nights, January 30 to February 1, Schaefer will present classic films with live accompaniment, beginning Wednesday with Marc Ribot performing to Charles Chaplin’s The Kid, followed Thursday by F. W. Murnau’s Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror with music by Irene and Linda Buckley, and concluding Friday with series favorite Alloy Orchestra playing to Josef von Sternberg’s Underworld. Each screening begins at 7:30; admission is free.


A Tramp (Charlie Chaplin) and an abandoned child (Jackie Coogan) form a family in The Kid

THE KID (Charles Chaplin, 1921)
Wednesday, January 30, free, 7:30

Charlie Chaplin’s first feature, The Kid, was a breakthrough for the British-born silent-film star, a touching and tender sixty-eight-minute triumph about a poor soul getting a second chance at life. When a baby arrives at his doorstep, a Tramp (Chaplin) first tries to ditch the boy, but he ends up taking him to his ramshackle apartment and raising him as if he were his own flesh and blood. Although he has so little, the Tramp makes sure the child, eventually played by Jackie Coogan, has food to eat, clothes to wear, and books to read. Meanwhile, the mother (Edna Purviance, Chaplin’s former lover), who has become a big star, regrets her earlier decision and wonders where her son is, setting up a heartbreaking finale. In addition to playing the starring role, Chaplin wrote, produced, directed, and edited the film and composed the score for his company, First National, wonderfully blending slapstick comedy, including a hysterical street fight with an angry neighbor, with touching melodrama as he examines poverty in post-WWI America, especially as seen through the eyes of the orphan boy, played beautifully by Coogan, who went on to marry Betty Grable, among others, and star as Uncle Fester in The Addams Family. Chaplin’s innate ability to tell a moving story primarily through images reveals his understanding of cinema’s possibilities, and The Kid holds up as one of his finest, alongside such other silent classics as 1925’s The Gold Rush and 1931’s City Lights. At Brookfield Place, Ribot will perform his 2010 score, which was commissioned for the New York Guitar Festival.


F. W. Murnau’s 1922 version of Nosferatu is a German expressionist classic

Thursday, January 31, free, 7:30

In F. W. Murnau’s classic horror film, Max Schreck stars as Count Orlok, a creepy, inhuman-looking Transylvanian who is meeting with real estate agent Thomas Hutter (Gustav von Wangenheim) in order to buy a house in Germany. Hutter soon learns that the count has a taste for blood, as well as lust for his wife, Ellen (Greta Schröder), whom he has left behind in Germany. When Count Orlok, a bunch of rats, and a group of coffins filled with Transylvanian earth head out on a ship bound for Wisborg, the race is on to save Ellen, and Germany. Murnau’s Nosferatu is set in an expressionist world of liminal shadows and fear, as he and cinematographers Fritz Arno Wagner and Günther Krampf continually place the menacing Orlok in oddly shaped doorways that help exaggerate his long, spiny fingers and pointed nose and ears. Unable to acquire the rights from Bram Stoker’s estate to adapt the Gothic horror novel Dracula into a film, writer Henrik Galeen (The Golem, The Student of Prague) and director Murnau (Sunrise, The Last Laugh) instead made Nosferatu, paring down the Dracula legend, changing the names of the characters, and tweaking the story in various parts. Upon its 1922 release, they were sued anyway, and all prints were destroyed except for one, ensuring the survival of what became a defining genre standard-bearer. In 1979, German auteur Werner Herzog (Woyzeck, Fitzcarraldo) paid tribute to the earlier film with Nosferatu the Vampyre, a near scene-by-scene homage to Murnau’s original but with Stoker’s character names restored, as the book was by then in the public domain. Hans Erdmann’s complete score no longer exists, so numerous musical compositions have accompanied screenings and DVD/VHS releases over the years; at Brookfield Place, Irene and Linda Buckley will present the US premiere of their score.


Bull Weed (George Bancroft) offers Rolls Royce (Clive Brook) a new life in Josef von Sternberg’s Underworld

UNDERWORLD (Josef von Sternberg, 1927)
Friday, February 1, free, 7:30

The 2019 edition of “Silent Films / Live Music” has a grand finale February 1 with Alloy Orchestra performing to Josef von Sternberg’s 1927 silent black-and-white Underworld, generally considered the first modern gangster picture and a major influence on such films as William A. Wellman’s The Public Enemy and Mervyn LeRoy’s Little Caesar. Sternberg’s fourth film, Underworld is set in “a great city in the dead of night . . . streets lonely, moon-flooded . . . buildings empty as the cliff-dwellings of a forgotten age.” The opening shot is of a superimposed clock, emphasizing that it is two o’clock in the morning, a time when most are tucked safely in their bed at home. But not Bull Weed (George Bancroft), who has just pulled off a bank heist, only to be spotted by Rolls Royce (Clive Brook), a down-on-his-luck drunken bum. At Bull’s hangout, the Dreamland Café, his girl, Feathers (Evelyn Brent), enters, and a single strand from her extravagant getup floats down, the camera following it until it is grabbed by Rolls Royce, who is sweeping the floor. Bull’s main rival, Buck Mulligan (Fred Kohler), tries to get the attention of Feathers, upsetting his own moll, Meg (Helen Lynch). Walking out of the nightclub, Bull is greeted by an electronic billboard proclaiming, “The City Is Yours.” (Howard Hawks goes one better in his seminal 1932 film, Scarface, in which the title character, Antonio “Tony” Camonte, played by Paul Muni, is encouraged by an electronic sign that tells him, “The World Is Yours.”) Laughing, Bull playfully asks Feathers, “What’ll you have?” She scoffs at him, then Rolls Royce, a former lawyer, says, “Attila, the Hun, at the gates of Rome.” To which Bull replies, “Who’s Attila? The leader of some wop gang?” The stage has been set for the rest of the film, built around jealousy and envy as both Buck and Rolls Royce, who Bull decides to rehabilitate, fall hard for Feathers, but Bull is not about to just sit back and take it.


Bull Weed (George Bancroft) is protective of his moll, Feathers (Evelyn Brent), in classic gangster picture

Underworld is an expressionist noir melodrama that became the template for the gangster-film genre, launching many of the major tropes, from characterization to narrative development. It’s shot in shadowy glory by Bert Glennon (Lloyd’s of London, Rio Grande) from the dark streets to a glamorous annual armistice ball and a spectacular shootout finale. Journalist, novelist, and playwright Ben Hecht (Notorious, Wuthering Heights), who based Bull on real-life Chicago criminal “Terrible” Tommy O’Connor, won the Best Writing (Original Story) Academy Award at the first Oscars; Robert N. Lee wrote the screenplay, with the adaptation by Charles Furthmann and titles by George Marion Jr. Von Sternberg went on to make such classic sound films as The Blue Angel, Shanghai Express, Blonde Venus, and The Scarlett Empress with Marlene Dietrich. He directed only one full picture by himself after 1941, the 1953 Japanese war drama Anatahan; he died in Hollywood in 1969 at the age of seventy-five.