The Best Old Movies on a Big Screen This Week: NYC Repertory Cinema Picks, March 16-22

STRANGE_VICTORY-BAM-evergreen-nyc repertory cinema picks Strange Victory (1948)
Directed by Leo Hurwitz
BAM kicks off its admirable tribute to leftist intellectual periodical Evergreen Review with this film that actually predates the Review (founded 1957), though it was produced by founder Barney Rosset of Grove Press. The film and Evergreen also share the same basic populist, anti-racist spirit. Strange Victory is a heady and passionate hybrid that is equal parts essay, narrative, documentary and propaganda. The Williamsburg-born Hurwitz, a blacklistee whose other films include Native Land and Eichmann trial wrapup Verdict for Tomorrow, here dumps a bucket of cold water on postwar euphoria, exploring how the rise and defeat of Nazism did little to extinguish the racism that is written into America’s DNA. Alternating male and female voiceovers recite Hurwitz’s own poeticized history lesson, accompanied by a constant orchestral score. A straightforward recap of Hitler’s arc and the Allied victory in Europe shares space with Hurwitz’s more abstract, Terrence Malick-like musings (“Remember? Remember how it was?”, “This is the right place and you are loved.”) Partway through, the film briefly becomes a drama, portraying a black pilot (Virgil Richardson) being rejected for a job because of his color, with killing politeness (“Face the facts—the world is already arranged,” the narrator harshly declares.) As laudable as the defeat of the Nazis was, the film says, the United States oughtn’t pat itself on the back too smugly, in light of the racism that produces horrifying “Restricted Communities”, epithets scratched on walls, white-only bathrooms and other, more invisible forms of hostility and oppression. The film is not anti-American, just anti-cheerleading, and realist. Hurwitz’s beautiful prose lifts this unique, angry, personal and sad work of art into rare air. Justin Stewart (March 16-22 at BAM’s “From the Third Eye: Evergreen Review on Film”; showtimes daily)

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