Modern Matinees

Iris Barry’s History of Film

Oct 21–Dec 31, 2019


Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans. 1927. USA. Directed by F. W. Murnau. Courtesy Fox Film Corporation/Photofest
  • MoMA, Floor T2/T1, Film Center The Debra and Leon Black Family Film Center

The founding of the MoMA Film Library (now the Department of Film) on June 25, 1935, was a catalyst for the study of the motion picture as art in the United States. The function of the Film Library, according to Iris Barry, its first curator, was to “trace, catalog, assemble, exhibit and circulate to museums and colleges single films or programs of films.” These are methodologies the Department adheres to more than 80 years after its establishment.

Using Barry’s 1935 publication Film Notes as a guidepost, Iris Barry’s History of Film endeavors to reconstruct a range of those earliest film programs, which were originally organized in six thematic series and three monographic compilations. This broad reconsideration of those films Barry regarded as key for their “pervasive social effect…and as the only new art-form of modern times” commences with the devastating A Fool There Was (1915), explores the dawn of sound with The Jazz Singer (1927), and includes the animation classic Steamboat Willie (1928). Each of the titles in this series also became early acquisitions, making them the building blocks of MoMA’s film collection.

Screening descriptions are excerpted from Barry’s Film Notes.

Organized by Anne Morra, Associate Curator, Department of Film.

Support for the exhibition is provided by the Annual Film Fund. Leadership support for the Annual Film Fund is provided by Steven Tisch, with major contributions from Jo Carole and Ronald S. Lauder, Association of Independent Commercial Producers (AICP), The Brown Foundation, Inc., of Houston, Marlene Hess and James D. Zirin, Karen and Gary Winnick, and The Junior Associates of The Museum of Modern Art.



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