Wednesday, January 19, 2022 at 7pm
Dimitri Kirsanoff's Ménilmontant

155 Freeman Street, Brooklyn

Presented by P. Adams Sitney

Ménilmontant, Dimitri Kirsanoff, 1924, 16mm, 38 mins, shown twice

Shot with a minuscule budget on the fringes of 1920s Paris, in the working-class neighborhood of the same name, Dimitri Kirsanoff’s Ménilmontant stands as one of the great, if still underappreciated, works of cinema’s early avant-garde. This tale of grisly murder and tangled eros is rendered elliptically, completely without intertitles, using only an emerging optical vocabulary of superimpositions, dissolves, handheld camerawork, and rapid-fire montage. A Jewish émigré from the Baltics born Mark David Kaplan, Kirsanoff took a more aristocratically Russian name after relocating to Paris, where he played in cinema orchestras before making films. “The intertitle is the bane of cinema,” he declared. “In absolute cinema [le cinéma absolu] intertitles shouldn’t exist. It’s a palliative...You don’t explain with words a symphony. A film should be comprehensible in itself.” Ménilmontant is his earliest surviving effort, and his most celebrated; after premiering in early 1926, it became a staple of the ciné-club circuit. Late in her life, Pauline Kael cited Ménilmontant as her favorite film of all time, telling an interviewer it was “a French movie that probably you've never heard of.”

For this special presentation, scholar P. Adams Sitney will screen Kirsanoff’s film twice in its entirety, and deliver a lecture on Ménilmontant’s unique achievements during the interval. “To a remarkable degree,” Sitney has observed, “Ménilmontant seems an autonomous creation, as sophisticated and demanding as any narrative film of the silent period, without obvious imitators.” For Sitney, Kirsanoff’s dense and allusive story contrasts against the fluid raconteuring of Griffith. Ménilmontant’s modernism, he argues, “is a function of the swiftness and compression of its narration intersecting with its retardation of comprehension,” resulting in a film that nurtures ambiguities, and thus rewards scrutiny.

Tickets - Pay what you can ($8 suggested donation), available at door, cash and cards accepted.

Please note: seating is limited. First-come, first-served. Box office opens at 6:30pm.