A dyed-in-the-wool indie New York filmmaker, Manfred Kirchheimer (b. 1931) weds the aesthetic exuberance of modernist urban chroniclers like Walt Whitman, Joseph Stella, and Charles Mingus to the leftist populism of Studs Terkel and Jane Jacobs. His documentary (and quasi-fictional) films are intricate montages of sound and image that thrum with hard bop or proto-hip-hop energy. They are fanfares and requiems for New York’s immigrant working class and demimonde, its art and artists, buildings and builders, haves and have nots.
Kirchheimer’s relationship with MoMA goes back more than 50 years. In 1955, he collaborated with the film curator Jay Leyda in reconstituting footage from Sergei Eisenstein’s unfinished ¡Que Viva Mexico! into study reels. In 1968, his film Claw had its premiere in MoMA’s landmark exhibition The Machine as Seen at the End of the Mechanical Age. Discovery in a Painting (1968/2014), co-produced with his longtime collaborator and friend Leo Hurwitz, is a meditation on a painting in MoMA’s collection, Paul Cézanne’s Still Life with Apples. His Stations of the Elevated (1981), an indelible record of the city in wilder times, was presented at MoMA shortly after it debuted at the 1981 New York Film Festival and then spent three decades awaiting rediscovery. The Museum welcomes Kirchheimer home, then, for a selective, career-spanning retrospective of 13 films, from his rarely screened Colossus on the River (1963) to the world premiere of his latest feature, My Coffee with Jewish Friends (2017).
Organized by Joshua Siegel, Curator, Department of Film. Special thanks to Jake Perlin, Cinema Conservancy.