Playing Mon Jan 16 at 8:00* at Film Forum [Program & Tix]
*Live piano accompaniment by Steve Sterner
Monday nights at Film Forum continue to to be the hottest ticket in town as the work week commences. “The Silent Roar: MGM 1924-1929” continues through February 6. Don’t miss Imogen Smith’s fabulous Alt Screen feature, here, and definitely don’t miss this week’s feature, which quite possibly one-ups Browning’s own Freaks in balls out insanity – and misfit poignancy.
Michael Koller for Senses of Cinema:
As in any art form, the history of cinema contains many works that are, for whatever reason, overlooked and underrated. Tod Browning’s The Unknown (1927) is definitely one of these works, and it is, without hesitation, a modern masterpiece for the current century. Browning made a remarkable series of films with the extraordinary, ‘Man of a Thousand Faces’, Lon Chaney, of which The Unknown is the pinnacle. This delirious, outrageous l’amour fou – a chilling, genuinely disturbing and haunting melodrama – is what cinema should be all about: a suspension of belief in the face of a story that defies all logic yet rings true to the deeper human emotions.
Browning’s great strengths as a director lay in his ability to draw memorable performances from his cast and to create a believable world despite the mounting absurdities of the plot and the world in which his characters lived. He has the audience believe in the fantastic possibilities of the cinema. It is these skills that also make The Unknown great. The film relies on a finely balanced performance from Chaney to succeed. The Unknown is a truly horrifying film that takes us into the darkest recesses of the human psyche. All of the characters are simple beings who are driven by their emotions: the circus owner bullies, the hunky strongman loves, the attractive Nanon lives in fear, and Alonso oscillates between obsession and hatred. Browning’s interest in outsiders and the rejected was no doubt nurtured by his time in the circus, and he well understands the audience’s attraction to this image of the dark underbelly of carnival life, hidden by the masquerade of gaiety. His heroes were not the attractive and glamorous found in most movies, but those misbegotten beings normally hidden from our sight and treated in a condescending manner.