The Criterion Collection, a continuing series of important classic and contemporary films presents The Savage Eye.
Los Angeles at the end of the 1950s. A recent divorceé arrives to break free of the past and journeys into the tawdry side of urban life, seeking refuge in salons and strip clubs, among poker-players and faith-healers, near boxing rings and in the drag scene. Out of the darkness, a voice speaks to her, questioning her cynicism and prodding her to find inspiration in the world around her. A hallmark of the direct cinema movement, The Savage Eye is an experimental documentary made over four years, told with poetic elegance by filmmakers Sidney Meyers, Ben Maddow, and Joseph Strick and featuring music by renowned composer Leonard Rosenman and footage shot by acclaimed photographer Helen Levitt and cinematographers Haskell Wexler and Jack Couffer.
- Restored high definition digital transfer with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray
- New video interview with film critic Imogen Sara Smith
- People of the Cumberland, Sidney Meyers’ 1937 short film directed with Elia Kazan, Jay Leyda, and Bill Watts
- In the Street, James Agee, Helen Levitt, and Janice Loeb’s 1948 short film on street life in New York’s Spanish Harlem
- Muscle Beach, Joseph Strick and Irving Lerner’s 1948 short film
- The Quiet One, two versions of Sidney Meyers’ 1948 film, one featuring a narration by Gary Merrill and another featuring a previously unreleased narration by James Agee
- The Steps of Age, Ben Maddow’s 1950 short film for the Mental Health Film Board
- Interviews with My Lai Veterans, Joseph Strick’s 1971 short film
- PLUS: An essay by film critic Jonathan Rosenbaum
MMC! concludes its short film preview of our next Criterion Collection proposal with Joseph Strick’s Oscar-winning documentary short, Interviews with My Lai Veterans (1970). With Haskell Wexler and Richard Pearce behind the camera, Strick interviews five former American soldiers involved in the My Lai Massacre of March 16, 1968, a search and destroy mission by the US military that killed hundreds of defenceless Vietnam civilians. Notwithstanding orders that barred them from speaking about the event, these veterans candidly describe the orders provided, the expectations that were held, and the brutality that proceeded. These accounts resisted the misinformation about the massacre circulating officially and offered chilling insights on some unimaginably outrageous acts.
Our next stop on the way to MMC!’s forthcoming Criterion Collection proposal brings us south of the Santa Monica Pier to the original Muscle Beach and to Joseph Strick and Irving Lerner’s Muscle Beach (1948). Strick had met Irving Lerner and other left-wing filmmakers through connections with a youth theatre company in New York. After enrolling to study physics at UCLA (because “that’s where movies were made”), Strick signed up as an aerial photographer searching of U-boats off the Atlantic coast during World War II. He worked as a copy boy at The Los Angeles Times upon his return to civilian life and shot Muscle Beach on weekends with the assistance of Lerner and using an army surplus bombsight camera with a “bottle-glass” lens and rigged up with a viewfinder made from “sellotape and paperclips.”
Muscle Beach is a warmly satirical look at an emerging subculture of bodybuilders, gymnasts, and exhibitionists. Originally constructed in 1934 by the Works Progress Administration as a park on a public beach, Muscle Beach in the 1940s has become a standing joke in trade magazines and a source of innuendo in Hollywood gossip columns. The short responds to this view with a lighthearted celebration of soaring feats, flirty sunbathers, and playing children, buoyed by music composed and sung by folk singer Earl Robinson with lyrics by screenwriter and poet Edwin Rolfe. Muscle Beach played in competition at Cannes in 1949, won a prize at the Edinburgh International Film Festival in 1951, and became a cult favourite among film clubs.