Friday, January 18, 2019

Film review: 'Shoplifters' is a visit to a human place

Dir: Kore-eda Hirokazu
Scr: Kore-eda Hirokazu
Phot: Ryuto Kondo
121 min.

Here’s a perfect test for someone about whom you may have doubts. Take them to see Shoplifters. If they don’t enjoy it, they are a replicant.

Yes, a human-scaled film full of life and feeling is becoming as exotic as a Voight-Kampff empathy test right out of Blade Runner. Hirokazu Kore-eda’s Shoplifters is exactly that. It’s rich, it’s complex, and it makes you think.

The story is deceptively simple. A group of people on the margin, living together as a makeshift family in squalor, run across a neglected, freezing child on the street and take her in. Eventually and inevitably, their togetherness frays and falls apart.

The film has been described both as “heart-warming” and “heart-breaking,” which only highlights the limitations of both phrases. It shows you everything, and refrains from judging its protagonists. Others have compared this film and more of Hirokazu’s films to the slow, deliberate, and intimate work of director Yasujiro Ozu. If I had to compare it to the work of any previous director, I think of Jean Renoir, whose dictum “everyone has their reasons” certainly applies here.

Hirokazu’s brilliant, subversive storytelling gives us a household of six sharply observed characters, four adults and two children. They live in a tiny, crowded house surrounded on all sides by blank-walled, towering condos. None is related by blood to each other. All are engaged in some kind of illegal, or at least skeevy, way of getting by. And yet there is bliss in their cramped little universe, an affection and acceptance that is not found outside of it.

The group’s idyll is captured beautifully by Ryuto Kondo’s cinematography — the actors seem lit from within. No fancy moves here, no bravura shots, save for one exquisitely painful moment involving a bag of oranges bursting free on the pavement. The ensemble acting is superb, though I would single out actress Sakura Ando, who is both self-possessed and vulnerable enough to really be alive in front of the camera at all times. Her quiet emotional power is amazing.

This family by choice is not toxic, as are the “natural” families are depicted. Here, the well-intentioned system sustains its weakest members only by accident; when it does step in to restore order, it destroys everything. Yet Hirokazu doesn’t bulldoze his characters into convenient positions of victimhood. Everyone has their reasons in Shoplifters, but they are also crippled with flaws and blessed with wisdom. They suffer, they give, they move on. Above all of this hangs a searing desire for the belonging and sense of identity and safety their relationships gave them, without a hypocritical sense of hope to go with it. The film ends with an image that puts the question in the lap of the viewer: why is it like this? What can you do?

Oh, and Shoplifters has subtitles. Now, normally I would assume this would throw most people off, but my description above cold also fit Alfonso Cuaron’s Roma, which is a heavy contender for Best Picture at the Oscars — and is in black-and-white to boot.

This is welcome news, because it means that we as viewers can get over these supposedly marketing-averse artistic choices and really enjoy and get a lot of something that isn’t a bland comedy, graphic horror film, another superhero saga, or worst of all a boring-ass “serious” drama that goes down like castor oil. I’d like to think we’re getting sick as a culture of the flashing screens, blare and blurps of the digital pseudo-reality being shoved down our throats. Movies such as Roma and Shoplifters show us the way back to analog, human reality.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

The Power of the Picture: Looking at ASC’s 100 Milestone Films

Lawrence of Arabia
First the facts, then the spurious ruminations. On January 8, the American Society of Cinematographers celebrated its 100th anniversary. To listmakers’ delight, they issued a Top 10 list of cinematographic achievements, as well as 90 other choices, sorted by date of release.

ASC 100th Reel - 01:40 from American Cinematographer on Vimeo.

1.      Lawrence of Arabia (1962), shot by Freddie Young, BSC (Dir. David Lean)
2.      Blade Runner (1982), shot by Gordon Cronenweth, ASC (Dir. Ridley Scott)
3.      Apocalypse Now (1979), shot by Vittorio Storaro, ASC, AIC (Dir. Francis Ford Coppola)
4.      Citizen Kane (1941), shot by Gregg Toland, ASC (Dir. Orson Welles)
5.      The Godfather (1972), shot by Gordon Willis, ASC (Dir. Francis Ford Coppola)
6.      Raging Bull (1980), shot by Michael Chapman, ASC (Dir. Martin Scorsese)
7.      The Conformist (1970), shot by Vittorio Storaro, ASC, AIC (Dir. Bernardo Bertolucci)
8.      Days of Heaven (1978), shot by Nestor Almendros, ASC (Dir. Terence Malik)
9.      2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), shot by Geoffrey Unsworth, BSC w/additional photography by John Alcott, BSC (Dir. Stanley Kubrick)
10.  The French Connection (1971), shot by Owen Roizman, ASC (Dir. William Friedkin)

Titles 11–100 (in order of release):
Filming a scene in Metropolis
Metropolis (1927), shot by Karl Freund, ASC; Günther Rittau (Dir. Fritz Lang)
Napoleon (1927), shot by Leonce-Henri Burel, Jules Kruger, Joseph-Louis Mundwiller (Dir. Abel Gance)
Sunrise (1927), shot by Charles Rosher Sr., ASC; Karl Struss, ASC (Dir. F.W. Murnau)
Gone with the Wind (1939), shot by Ernest Haller, ASC (Dir. Victor Fleming)
The Wizard of Oz (1939), shot by Harold Rosson, ASC (Dir. Victor Fleming)
The Grapes of Wrath (1940), shot by Gregg Toland, ASC (Dir. John Ford)
How Green Was My Valley (1941), shot by Arthur C. Miller, ASC (Dir. John Ford)
Casablanca (1942), shot by Arthur Edeson, ASC (Dir. Michael Curtiz)
The Magnificent Ambersons (1942), shot by Stanley Cortez, ASC (Dir. Orson Welles)
Black Narcissus (1947), shot by Jack Cardiff, BSC (Dir. Michael Powell)
The Bicycle Thief (1948), shot by Carlo Montuori (Dir. Vittorio de Sica)
The Red Shoes (1948), shot by Jack Cardiff, BSC (Dir. Michael Powell)
The Third Man (1949), shot by Robert Krasker, BSC (Dir. Carol Reed)
Rashomon (1950) shot by Kazuo Miyagawa (Dir. Akira Kurosawa)
Sunset Boulevard (1950), shot by John Seitz, ASC (Dir. Billy Wilder)
On the Waterfront (1954), shot by Boris Kaufman, ASC (Dir. Eliz Kazan)
Seven Samurai (1954), shot by Asakazu Nakai (Dir. Akira Kurosawa)
The Night of the Hunter (1955), shot by Stanley Cortez, ASC (Dir. Charles Laughton)
The Searchers (1956), shot by Winton C. Hoch, ASC (Dir. John Ford)
Bridge on the River Kwai (1957), shot by Jack Hildyard, BSC (Dir. David Lean)
Touch of Evil (1958), shot by Russell Metty, ASC (Dir. Orson Welles)
Vertigo (1958), shot by Robert Burks, ASC (Dir. Alfred Hitchcock)
North by Northwest (1959), shot by Robert Burks, ASC (Dir. Alfred Hitchcock)
Breathless (1960), shot by Raoul Coutard (Dir. Jean-Luc Godard)
Last Year at Marienbad (1961), shot by Sacha Vierny (Dir. Alain Resnais)
8 ½ (1963), shot by Gianni Di Venanzo (Dir. Federico Fellini)
Hud (1963), shot by James Wong Howe, ASC (Dir. Martin Ritt)
Black Narcissus
Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964), shot by Gilbert Taylor, BSC (Dir. Stanley Kubrick)
I Am Cuba (Soy Cuba; 1964), shot by Sergei Urusevsky (Dir. Mikhail Kalatozov)
Doctor Zhivago (1965), shot by Freddie Young, BSC (Dir. David Lean)
The Battle of Algiers (1966), shot by Marcello Gatti (Dir. Gillo Pontecorvo)
Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966), shot by Haskell Wexler, ASC (Dir. Mike Nichols)
Cool Hand Luke (1967), shot by Conrad Hall, ASC (Dir. Stuart Rosenberg)
The Graduate (1967), shot by Robert Surtees, ASC (Dir. Mike Nichols)
In Cold Blood (1967), shot by Conrad Hall, ASC (Dir. Richard Brooks)
Once Upon a Time in the West (1968), shot by Tonino Delli Colli, AIC (Dir. Sergio Leone)
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969), shot by Conrad Hall, ASC (Dir. George Roy Hill)
The Wild Bunch (1969), shot by Lucien Ballard, ASC (Dir. Sam Peckinpah)
A Clockwork Orange (1971), shot by John Alcott, BSC (Dir. Stanley Kubrick)
Klute (1971), shot by Gordon Willis, ASC (Dir. Alan J. Pakula)
The Last Picture Show (1971), shot by Robert Surtees, ASC (Dir. Peter Bogdanovich)
McCabe and Mrs. Miller (1971), shot by Vilmos Zsigmond, ASC, HSC (Dir. Robert Altman)
Cabaret (1972), shot by Geoffery Unsworth, BSC (Dir. Bob Fosse)
Last Tango in Paris (1972), shot by Vittorio Storaro, ASC, AIC (Dir. Bernardo Bertolucci)
The Exorcist (1973), shot by Owen Roizman, ASC (Dir. William Friedkin)
Chinatown (1974), shot by John Alonzo, ASC (Dir. Roman Polanski)
The Godfather: Part II (1974), shot by Gordon Willis, ASC (Dir. Francis Ford Coppola)
Barry Lyndon (1975), shot by John Alcott, BSC (Dir. Stanley Kubrick)
One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975), shot by Haskell Wexler, ASC (Dir. Milos Forman)
All the President's Men (1976), shot by Gordon Willis, ASC (Dir. Alan J. Pakula)
Taxi Driver (1976), shot by Michael Chapman, ASC (Dir. Martin Scorsese)
Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), shot by Vilmos Zsigmond, ASC, HSC (Dir. Steven Spielberg)
The Duellists (1977), shot by Frank Tidy, BSC (Dir. Ridley Scott)
The Duellists
The Deer Hunter (1978), shot by Vilmos Zsigmond, ASC, HSC (Dir. Michael Cimino)
Alien (1979), shot by Derek Vanlint, CSC (Dir. Ridley Scott)
All that Jazz (1979), shot by Giuseppe Rotunno, ASC, AIC (Dir. Bob Fosse)
Being There (1979), shot by Caleb Deschanel, ASC (Dir. Hal Ashby)
The Black Stallion (1979), shot by Caleb Deschanel, ASC (Dir. Carroll Ballard)
Manhattan (1979), shot by Gordon Willis, ASC (Dir. Woody Allen)
The Shining (1980), shot by John Alcott, BSC (Dir. Stanley Kubrick)
Chariots of Fire (1981), shot by David Watkin, BSC (Dir. Hugh Hudson)
Das Boot (1981), shot by Jost Vacano, ASC (Dir. Wolfgang Petersen)
Reds (1981), shot by Vittorio Storaro, ASC, AIC (Dir. Warren Beatty)
Fanny and Alexander (1982), shot by Sven Nykvist, ASC (Dir. Ingmar Bergman)
The Right Stuff (1983), shot by Caleb Deschanel, ASC (Dir. Philip Kaufman)
Amadeus (1984), shot by Miroslav Ondricek, ASC, ACK (Dir. Milos Forman)
The Natural (1984), shot by Caleb Deschanel, ASC (Dir. Barry Levinson)
Paris, Texas (1984), shot by Robby Müller, NSC, BVK (Dir. Wim Wenders)
Brazil (1985), shot by Roger Pratt, BSC (Dir. Terry Gilliam)
The Mission (1986), shot by Chris Menges, ASC, BSC (Dir. Roland Joffe)
Empire of the Sun (1987), shot by Allen Daviau, ASC (Dir. Steven Spielberg)
The Last Emperor (1987), shot by Vittorio Storaro, ASC, AIC (Dir. Bernardo Bertolucci)
Wings of Desire (1987), shot by Henri Alekan (Dir. Wim Wenders)
Mississippi Burning (1988), shot by Peter Biziou, BSC (Dir. Alan Parker)
JFK (1991), shot by Robert Richardson, ASC (Dir. Oliver Stone)
Raise the Red Lantern (1991), shot by Lun Yang (Dir. Zhang Yimou)
Unforgiven (1992), shot by Jack Green, ASC (Dir. Clint Eastwood)
Baraka (1992), shot by Ron Fricke (Dir. Ron Fricke)
Schindler's List (1993), shot by Janusz Kaminski (Dir. Steven Spielberg)
Searching for Bobby Fischer (1993), shot by Conrad Hall, ASC (Dir. Steven Zaillian)
Trois Coulieurs: Bleu (Three Colours: Blue; 1993), shot by Slawomir Idziak, PSC (Dir. Krzysztof Kieslwoski)
The Shawshank Redemption (1994), shot by Roger Deakins, ASC, BSC (Dir. Frank Darabont)
Seven (1995), shot by Darius Khondji, ASC, AFC (Dir. David Fincher)
The English Patient (1996), shot by John Seale, ASC, BSC (Dir. Anthony Minghella)
L. A. Confidential (1997), shot by Dante Spinotti, ASC, AIC (Dir. Curtis Hanson)
Saving Private Ryan (1998), shot by Janusz Kaminski (Dir. Steven Spielberg)
The Thin Red Line (1998), shot by John Toll, ASC (Dir. Terence Malick)
American Beauty (1999), shot by Conrad Hall, ASC (Dir. Sam Mendes)
The Matrix (1999), shot by Bill Pope, ASC (Dir. The Wachowski siblings)
In the Mood for Love (2000), shot by Christopher Doyle, HKSC (Dir. Wong Kar-wai)
In the Mood for Love
Cinematography seems a perverse and difficult art to me. It is painting in time, constrained by the whims of fate and circumstance. If you’re ever watched anyone make a film, you realize it’s a wonder the thing gets made at all, let alone well. It is so very easy to do it poorly — it requires, if not a few resources, then at least a director that wants to collaborate, not dictate. Filmmaking is a team sport.

Keeping this in mind, this is wisely a list of films, not one of “the greatest” individual cinematographers. But if you sift the stats as if it were a sporting competition, the clear leaders on the list are Gordon Willis (The Godfather, Klute, The Godfather: Part II, All the President's Men, Manhattan) and Conrad Hall (Cool Hand Luke, In Cold Blood, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Searching for Bobby Fischer, American Beauty) with five films each. Vittorio Storaro (Apocalypse Now, The Conformist, Last Tango in Paris, The Last Emperor) and Caleb Deschanel (Being There, The Black Stallion, The Right Stuff, The Natural) follow with four apiece.

Barry Lyndon
In terms of directors whose works are cited, a quick tally foregrounds the filmmakers whose styles (and each of them has a distinct and imitable way of making a movie) are seen as seen as what used to be called “painterly.” Their films are beautiful, sometimes degrading into the merely pretty. Stanley Kubrick leads the pack with five films cited (2001: A Space Odyssey, Dr. Strangelove, A Clockwork Orange, Barry Lyndon, The Shining). Second with four is Steven Spielberg (Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Empire of the Sun, Schindler’s List, Saving Private Ryan). Three-timers are comprised of Bernardo Bertolucci (The Conformist, Last Tango in Paris, The Last Emperor). Orson Welles (Citizen Kane, The Magnificent Ambersons, Touch of Evil), John Ford (The Grapes of Wrath, How Green Was My Valley, The Searchers), David Lean (Bridge on the River Kwai, Lawrence of Arabia, Doctor Zhivago), and Ridley Scott (The Duellists, Alien, Blade Runner).

Cinema fans think of certain directors and their directors of photography hand-in-hand: classic match-ups such as Ingmar Bergman and Gunnar Fischer (The Seventh Seal), then Sven Nyquist (Fanny and Alexander), Sergei Eisenstein and Eduard Tisse (everything from Strike to Ivan the Terrible), Bernardo Bertolucci and Vittorio Storaro, Wim Wenders and Robby Muller, and Jonathan Demme and Tak Fujimoto, and ongoing artistic partnerships such as between Mike Leigh and Dick Pope, the Coen Brothers and Roger Deakins, Wes Anderson and Robert Yeoman, Steven Spielberg and Janusz Kaminski, Guillermo del Toro and Guillermo Navarro, Claire Denise and Agnes Godard.

Other directors went through directors of photography prolifically: Jean Cocteau, Vincente Minelli, Josef von Sternberg, George Cukor, Michael Curtiz, Otto Preminger, Martin Scorsese. Others just do it themselves: Robert Rodriguez, Steven Soderbergh. The path from cinematographer to director would seem to be a logical one, and there are a few: Ronald Neame, Zhang Yimou, Barry Sonnenfeld, Haskell Wexler, Nicholas Roeg — but they seem to be outnumbered and critically outgunned by the editors (David Lean, Robert Wise, Hal Ashby, John Sturges, for example).

What else do the numbers tell us? (My subtle way of telling you imma gonna let you know what I think they say.)
Apocalypse Now
Big. Bold. Sweeping.

Movies are as close as popular culture gets to the opera. Mainstream, non-analytical cinema aims to sweep us up, to take us into a magical world, composed with strict attention to maintaining internal logic that keeps us from succumbing to disbelief, that we can get lost for a while. So it’s not surprising that at least 40% of the films listed are consciously crafted, immersive, “epic” efforts, weighted toward those who enjoyed the advantages of a widening aspect ratio and cheaper, more responsive color film (In 1950, Eastmancolor’s single-negative process soon supplanted three-strip Technicolor. From 1939 to 1966, there were separate Oscar categories for the cinematography of color and black-and-white films. After that, shooting in black and white would be considered an aesthetic choice). If you want to be remembered, make it big.

Where’s Billy Bitzer?

Oh, I’m a grumpy old cuss, but I have my favorites, including D.W. Griffith’s favorite cameraman, the former electrician Billy Bitzer (Intolerance). I search the list in vain for Joe August (Gunga Din), though other stalwarts such as James Wong Howe (Yankee Doodle Dandy, but gets in for Hud?), Arthur Edeson (Casablanca, but many more as part of Warner Brothers), and Arthur C. Miller (How Green Was My Valley; a whiz for Fox) crept onto the list. Only 24% of the films on the list were made before 1960, my conceptual halfway point in movie history. It seems to me that a few foundational figures, their efforts not seen as especially flashy today, deserve a space. Names such as Charles Lang (Some Like It Hot), George Folsey (Forbidden Planet), John Alton (An American in Paris), Floyd Crosby (High Noon), William H. Daniels (The Naked City), Gabriel Figueroa (The Exterminating Angel), Freddie Francis (The Innocents), Joe McDonald (My Darling Clementine), Rudy Mate (The Passion of Joan of Arc), Oswald Morris (The Man Who Would Be King), Sol Polito (The Adventures of Robin Hood), Eugen Schufftan (People on Sunday), and Joseph Walker (Only Angels Have Wings) all need love too.

Billy Bitzer at camera as D.W. Girffith.
Part of this emphasis on films later in the timeline is due to the early limitations of film technology. The Mitchell Standard 35 mm motion picture camera, debuted in 1920, finally gave the cameraman a decent viewfinder to look through. This allowed filmmakers to think about the contents of the frame more concretely, to plan sequences and create a unity of style.

Also, for the first 30 years of filmmaking, original, orthographic black-and-white film stock was used. It was notoriously touchy, and awful at reproducing any shades of subtlety, even giving actors white eyes and black lips. Commercially viable panchromatic black-and-white film came along in 1926; anyone who has seen a well-projected late-silent and early-sound film can testify as to the amazing range of tones it renders. The earliest films on the ASC list come from 1927 (Metropolis, Napoleon, Sunrise), followed by a 12-year gap until we get to the glories of Gone with the Wind, Citizen Kane, and The Wizard of Oz.

And of course, we all have our little favorites. Where is Douglas Slocombe (Raiders of the Lost Ark)? Where are my French homme-ies? Armand Thirard (The Wages of Fear), Roger Hubert (Children of Paradise), Henri Decae (The 400 Blows)? Up there in Movie Heaven, is Laszlo Kovacs (Easy Rider) upset that Vilmos Zsigmond got three mentions and he got none? And I know Robert Surtees is in there twice already, but couldn’t we squeeze in his work on Ben-Hur? He really conquered the challenges of widescreen, producing beautiful and balanced compositions while juggling huge logistical problems and brand-new hardware.
Saving Privaate Ryan -- dudes filming dudes doing dude things.
Sausage party

No women on the list. A function of sexism (in the early film industry women were allowed to be editors, as the idea was that putting a film together was something akin to knitting . . . but camerawork? Never) means that the first century of films made are centered unequivocally in the male gaze. Only time will redress that imbalance. There are top-notch female cinematographers out there, but you have to look out for their work and see it when you can. Ellen Kuras (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind), Rachel Morrison (Black Panther), Maryse Alberti (The Wrestler), and Mandy Walker (Hidden Figures) are just a few examples.

This is not to say that there is a distinct female visual sensibility. There ain’t. (At least, not in a negative sense. I know that when I watch any films made by my quartet of favorite female filmmakers — Agnes Varda, Lina Wertmuller, Jane Campion, and Andrea Arnold — I feel like I’m receiving a more complete set of data, somehow, as though the imperatives of manly filmmaking — conflict, action, decision, assertion — blocks out a lot.)

Does it matter if it’s real?

Once Russell Carpenter won the Oscar in 1997 for best cinematography for his work on James Cameron’s CGI-heavy Titanic, the race has been on. Now that computer-generated imagery is here, it can create not only fantasy environments (more superhero movies, anyone?) but replicate the backdrops for historical epics and the like, previously prohibitively expensive. The cinematographer no longer has to manipulate reality to get the look he wants — he can create it himself. Is this a help or a hindrance?

The ASC list stops at the year 2000, and includes only one significantly digital entry, Bill Pope’s work in The Matrix (1999). So far, it looks as though the DPs and not the production designers are still in primary charge of the visual. Cinematographers to date are simply adding that set of digital tools to their kits and using them with discretion. Audiences have seen enough bad digital filmmaking to keep the filmmakers honest; there is nothing more unsettling than these cinematic trips into uncanny valleys where everything doesn’t quite look right.
The Sharknado series -- how not to use CGI.
Moving on . . .

Other, current cinematographic names to conjure with — Wally Pfister (Inception), Emmanuel Lubezki (legendary work on Children of Men), Rodrigo Prieto (Amores Perros), Robert Elswit (There Will Be Blood), Hoyte van Hoytema (Dunkirk), Robbie Ryan (The Favourite). The dedicated moviegoer will find themselves looking for these names as well when new films emerge. We can bookmark these names and follow their work just as we do that of our favorite actors and directors. A list like this piques interest and gets the conversation going.

If nothing else, let it persuade you to try things you haven’t. May I suggest I Am Cuba, with its impossible and deeply moving tracking shot? Little gems like that help you see the world afresh and challenge the limits of cinema.

Thursday, January 3, 2019

The NFR Project #67: Fuentes Family Home Movies Collection

Fuentes Family Home Movies Collection
Dir: Various
Phot: Antonio Rodriguez Fuentes, others unknown
Premiere: N/A
23 films, 1920s-1938
Total minutes unknown

We all pretty much agree on what a movie is. It’s a story shown on film, made up or real, one-and-a-half to two hours long. Right?

It’s easy to forget that cinema is inclusive and democratic. It consists of whatever its creator chooses to record or fabricate. Surrounding mainstream cinema is a nimbus of weirdness called “paracinema,” which consists of interlocking galaxies of B-movies, educational and industrial films, exploitation fare, and experimental works. Beyond that, but still on the spectrum, are such things as home movies — the most striking and perhaps most significant of all kinds.

Antonio Rodriguez Fuentes and his wife Josephine Barrera raised five children in Corpus Christi, Texas, in the early part of the 20th century. They married in 1918, and survived the devastating hurricane of the following year. He worked as a clerk for the Mexican Consul; both were deeply involved in the Hispanic community. Among his hobbies was filmmaking.

The idea of amateur filmmaking had been around since at least 1898, which was only three years after the Lumiere brothers gave their first screening. Still, it gave birth to a workable camera in 1922. The French cinema tools company Pathe developed a 9.5-mm format called “Pathe Baby” that was meant to bring theatrical films into the home, but provided a portable camera and film for the user as well. It never caught on in the U.S., although its use was widespread across Europe. (In America, the 16-mm camera would come along in 1923; the pervasive 8-mm made its debut in 1932.)

Fuentes owned one, and he left behind a double-handful of home movies depicting his family’s life during the period. Undoubtedly, a big reason these are in the Registry is that it represents a previously unseen part of American life — the Mexican-American experience, unfiltered by prejudice or condescension.

That the movies have little to do with racial identity or socioeconomic truths is illuminating in itself. These were relatively affluent folks, but no millionaires. Their movies record what every other American family recorded — Christmas, the Fourth of July, Easter, new babies, pets, grandparents, picnics, and vacations. It’s easy to identify with the kids grinning and squinting into the sun, listening to commands from behind the camera.

Here they troop up a hill in their Sunday best. A boy does a goofy dance, showing off. Here Grandpa, back on the farm in Mexico, rides up on his horse, shakes hands with the ladies, rides off, everyone joking and side-slipping the camera a gaze. Already even the most isolated people know what a movie is, play to the camera. One reel has some unknown and not very skilled person shooting — an attempt to show the family strolling toward the camera ends up cutting off everything but Antonio and Josephine’s heads.

There’s a wealth of archaeological data to be mined here, frame by frame, for the curious scientist. For the casual viewer like you or me, though, there’s a warm familiarity to the proceedings. My grandfather was another camera bug, and there are home movies of our family, doing exactly the same kinds of things, from precisely the same period. It’s nice to know that folks really are the same all over.

For more information on and selections from the Collection, please visit the University of Texas - Corpus Christi site here. The NFR is one writer’s attempt to review all the films listed in the National Film Registry in chronological order. Next time:‘Humoresque.’