May 30–July 22, 2019

High and Low: From Pulp to Poetry

Superior cinematic poetry is conjured out of lowly pulp dreams in this eclectic program of masterful films, which celebrates the ironic fact that many movies considered by most audiences to be high art were adapted from what they would also consider humble pop-art source material. Sometimes, the very greatest works of cinema, the medium’s most extraordinary visual poetry, originated as actual, disreputable pulp fiction of considerable grit.

The curious love affair between highbrow and lowbrow chronicles a radical transformation: how mostly American pulp literature sources were enhanced dramatically, elevated to a new stylistic standard, and aimed at an entirely different cultural audience by European and Asian filmmakers (and by some of their British and American peers) with a shameless and limitless love for their original seamy Yankee realism. 

Perhaps the most famous of these media mutations was François Truffaut’s ingenious re-interpretation of David Goodis’s tough 1956 novel Down There as his 1960 masterpiece Shoot the Piano Player, featuring Charles Aznavour. But not to be outdone by his Euro peers, even a Japanese master like Akira Kurosawa was able to magically mutate Ed McBain’s 1959 grimy pulp novel King’s Ransom into his own mercurial and visionary High and Low, released to great acclaim in 1963. 

As those examples suggest, in many cases this transformation was a two-fold act of alchemy, and these gifted directors and screenwriters were doing double duty as translators, first from literary to film form, and then from another language into their own tongues. In other cases, it was strictly a new stylistic translation: from trashy to triumphant. In all cases here, the artistic results of this blind date between bad and good taste were culturally stunning, and they remain mesmerizing to this day. —Donald Brackett 

Opening NightThursday, May 30
Refreshments & Curator’s Introduction 

5:45 pm — Doors
6:30 pm — High and Low with Intro by Donald Brackett
9:20 pm — The Killing


List of Programmed Films

Date Film Title Director(s) Year Country
2019-May High and Low Kurosawa Akira 1963 Japan
2019-May The Killing Stanley Kubrick 1956 USA
2019-May Purple Noon René Clément 1960 France . . .
2019-May The American Friend Wim Wenders 1977 West Germany . . .
2019-Jun Shoot the Piano Player François Truffaut 1960 France
2019-Jun Point Blank John Boorman 1967 USA
2019-Jul Les Diaboliques Henri-Georges Clouzot 1955 France
2019-Jul Touch of Evil Orson Welles 1958 USA
2019-Jul Elevator to the Gallows Louis Malle 1957 France
2019-Jul Vertigo Alfred Hitchcock 1958 USA

Donald Brackett is a Vancouver-based culture critic who writes about art, music, and films. He is the author of several books on the dynamics of creative collaboration and, most recently, Long Slow Train, a book on the late soul singer Sharon Jones released by Backbeat Books in 2018. He curated two previous film exhibitions for The Cinematheque: “Strange Magic: The Films of Charles Brackett and Billy Wilder,” presented in 2013, and “Painting with Film: The Cinema of Stillness,” presented in 2015. He is currently at work on a book about pop artist and activist Yoko Ono.