How to See Film: An Anthology

In these selections from our video series, curators introduce favorite film subjects, from Westerns and silents to Kung Fu and Frankenstein.
Sean Yetter Mar 25, 2020

Since so many of us are stuck inside watching, well, whatever we can get our hands on, we wanted to share some of our collaborations with MoMA’s Department of Film, as curators share the stories behind the films and genres you love...or have yet to discover.

How to See the First Movies

“We live in an environment where there are moving images constantly around us. But in 1897, this was startling and new and completely revolutionary. It was a different way of looking at the world.”

In 1939, MoMA acquired a treasure trove of 36 reels of 68mm nitrate prints and negatives made in cinema’s first years. Everything that survived of the Biograph film company lives on those reels, including a rare bit of moving image footage of Queen Victoria. We visited MoMA’s film archives in Hamlin, Pennsylvania, to learn more about the incredible quality and clarity of this newly discovered 19th-century movie, and the efforts archivists make to preserve such irreplaceable snapshots of history. Curator Dave Kehr joins the discussion to help us look at the early film with the same awe-inspired, expanded view of the world as its first audiences.

How to See B Movies

The term “B movie” has come to mean low-budget films, but it meant something very specific during the Golden Age of Hollywood. Although the films were never designed to break the box office or win Oscars, there are many enjoyable and stylistically sophisticated filmmaking techniques to reclaim from this era. In this video, Dave Kehr explores films from the Republic Pictures Library, which were recently restored by Martin Scorsese and Paramount.

How to See Kung Fu Films

What makes a true kung fu film? Many directors and actors have been associated with the genre, Hong Kong cinema’s most unique creation, but no one compares to Lau Kar-leung (1937–2013) as a purist of the genre and the kung fu form.

Curator La Frances Hui explores the history of the kung fu film, the actors and filmmakers associated with the genre, like Bruce Lee, Gordon Liu, and Jackie Chan, and why Lau Kar-leung has been hailed as the grandmaster of kung fu cinema.

How to See Westerns

Explore the narrative elements of an all-time classic genre: the Western. What exactly is a Western? Who were the key directors and stars? And is the Western dead? Dave Kehr takes a close look at films like Stagecoach and Once Upon a Time in the West, and filmmakers John Ford, Sergio Leone, and Clint Eastwood.

How to See Silent Films

It is estimated that over 90% of silent films have been lost, and of those that do survive, many exist only in poor copies. Ernst Lubitsch’s first American film, Rosita, starring Mary Pickford, has come down to us only in a badly damaged print discovered in the Soviet archives and repatriated by The Museum of Modern Art in the 1970s. Nearly 50 years later, new digital tools have made it possible to restore Rosita to something close to its original appearance. Dave Kehr explains what went into the three-year-long restoration of Rosita, the story of why Pickford turned against the film in the years after its release, and how audiences and filmmakers today still have much to learn from silent films.

How to See Andy Warhol’s Films

Andy Warhol once declared, “I’ve stopped painting. I’m now making movies.” Explore the pop artist’s 1966 double-screen film The Chelsea Girls with Greg Pierce, associate curator of Film and Video at the Andy Warhol Museum. “Even if you watch the film two or three times, your focus is going to change, so it’s always going to have a different narrative,” explains Pierce. “It’s dealing with a scene that no one in the mainstream basically ever gets to look into.”

The Chelsea Girls © 2020 The Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh, PA, A Museum of Carnegie Institute. All rights reserved

How to See Hammer Horror

Who is the real monster in the story of Frankenstein? And why do filmmakers return to it again and again? Anne Morra examines the roles of the doctor and the creature through cinema history, with a focus on Hammer studios’ Frankenstein series. (For more on the good doctor and his monster, check out our “User’s Guide to Frankenstein.”)

Glamour, snubs, surprises, tears, laughter—emotions and stakes run high at the Academy Awards. Now the exclamation point at the end of a long awards season, the Oscars have represented the pinnacle of achievement in the American film industry for over 90 years. The ups and downs the Academy faces in our broad cultural consciousness demand that we take a step back to reexamine what the Academy Awards are and why they still resonate as a symbol of artistic excellence.

MoMA’s chief film curator, Rajendra Roy, and the Academy’s director of New York programs and member relations, Patrick Harrison, detail the history of the awards, reveal some of their favorite moments and disappointments from ceremonies past, and examine how the Academy must respond to cultural reckonings of today.