50 Years of Janus Films
Kent Jones’s ringing introduction to this series can be found online. The series runs Sept. 30-Oct. 26, 2006 at Lincoln Center.
Bryant Haliday and Cyrus Harvey were Harvard friends who introduced Janus after their foreign film series at the Brattle Theater in Cambridge was a huge success beginning in 1953. Janus dates from 1956 with Fellini’s White Sheik and I Vitelloni. The series at Lincoln Center includes Jules and Jim, The Rules of the Game, The Seventh Seal, Children of Paradise, Beauty; and the Beast, The 400 Blows, La Strada, Wild Strawberries, The Seven Samurai, and L’Avventura, Janus has made a staggering list of foreign cinematic classics available in the US.
William Becker and Saul Turrell took over Janus in 1965 and in the decades that have followed has focused primarily not on presenting new films but on acquiring classics, preserving them, and disseminating them through theatrical and TV release and home-use formats. The Criterion Collection is also connected with Janus. Jones concludes: "American film culture without Janus Films is unthinkable. We’re celebrating their 50th birthday with a selection of titles from their extraordinary collection, all in brand-new or pristine 35mm prints. Janus Films is truly one of our national treasures. Here’s your chance to celebrate their achievements, and to be dazzled all over again by highlights from their incomparable collection.”
The Janus series runs from the end of September to the end of October at Lincoln Center. All thirty classics are in new prints. Judging by the two shown at press screenings, Polanski’s Knife in the Water and Ingmar Bergman’s Monika/Summer with Moinika (1953), the images are perhaps more pristine and beautiful than they even were when the films were first shown in theaters.
Knife in the Water (1962), Polanski’s feature debut, made when he was twenty-nine, is a tense overnight sailing trip taken by a man with his younger wife and a young drifter they find hitchhiking on their drive to the boat. The action is claustrophobic and fraught with menace – the two men are in conflict from the moment they first meet – and a cool jazz score gives the film a contemporary air. The young man carries a long knife of the switch-blade type. Does the old rule apply, that a weapon, once introduced in a story, has to be used?
Ingmar Bergman’s Summer with Monika (1953) is the story of two Stockholm teenagers, stock boy Harry (Lars Ekborg) and voluptuous, impulsive Mokika (Harriet Andersson), who meet and fall in love and run away for a summer on a motorboat on the Stockholm archipelago escaping from work and all responsibility. Monika becomes pregnant and they return to the city and marry – but things turn bad. This first powerful feature by the Swedish master is simple and sweet but nonetheless rich in emotional wrenching events. The film, which depicts teenage unwed sex, was shockingly sensual for its time. The intensity of Harriet Andersson’s uninhibited performance is still impressive.
The pristine look of both these new prints is astonishing and beautiful, particularly Gunnar Fisher’s cinematography in Monika depicting the fresh faces of the young lovers and the intense Swedish summer landscape.
©2006 Chris Knipp