The Best Old Movies on a Big Screen This Week: NYC Repertory Cinema Picks, April 12-18

nyc repertory cinema-body-and-soul

Body and Soul (1925)
Directed by Oscar Micheaux
Paul Robeson made his screen debut with this dual performance, incarnating opposite poles of human nature as two brothers—vicious and valiant. As wicked Isaiah, an ex-con impersonating a preacher, the force of Robeson’s personality is like a rupture in the screen, while Sylvester, seen only briefly and undefined except as an icon of gentle decency, takes self-effacement to the point of concealment. Caught between them are devout Martha Jane (Mercedes Gilbert) and her daughter Isabelle (Julia Theresa Russell), as Isaiah’s predation incites a melodrama of scalding irony. Robeson’s radiant menace and Micheaux’s withering view of public piety both anticipate (but aren’t outdone by) The Night of the Hunter, then thirty years off. Once relegated to the margins of film history, Body and Soul, like a parable, has only grown more resonant. Eli Goldfarb (April 18, 7pm at MoMA’s “Making Faces on Film” program on images of blackness)

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