The Day They Canceled Cannes

“Get the tuxedo ready, it’s time for the new Godard.” Imagine uttering these words. And yet, here we are. As I type this, people all across Cannes are unpacking the fancy clothes they will wear to the gala premiere of the New Wave icon’s latest provocation, Le Livre d’Image, playing in Competition at the film festival. (It screens Friday afternoon and evening here.)

Godard has even released a new short, Vent d’Ouest, in anticipation; you can see it here, though it hasn’t yet been translated into English, which makes it hard for me to say what it is, exactly. In the five-minute work — whose title harks back to his radical classic Le Vent d’Est (Wind From the East) — Godard salutes the eco-activists who seized the proposed site for the Notre-Dame-des-Landes (NDDL) airport, thereby preventing its construction. The squatters had been there for years; the plans for the airport were dropped in January, and the protestors were evicted by authorities in April.

I suppose irony is one of the more generous words one might use to describe the fact that protest and radical politics can be as common at the Cannes Film Festival as glitz and glamour. This year the festival opened against a backdrop of strikes across France among rail workers, students, and airline employees protesting Prime Minister Emmanuel Macron’s labor reforms. Such protests certainly caused some disruptions for festival visitors, many of whom grumbled even as they voiced support for the workers’ actions.

The 21Th Cannes Film Festival 1968: The Cessation Of The Festival. Le 21ème Festival de CANNES 1968 s’arrête. De nombreux cinéastes décrètent l’interruption du festival et occupent la salle : plan de profil de François TRUFFAUT parlant dans un micro aux côtés de Jean-Pierre LEAUD.
Many filmmakers decree the interruption of the festival and occupy the room: profile shot of François TRUFFAUT speaking in a microphone alongside Jean-Pierre LEAUD.

But such turmoil was nothing compared to the tumultuous events of 1968’s festival, which was canceled halfway through. Cannes that year opened smack in the middle of an unprecedented, now-legendary period of political unrest. The fest’s opening day was May 10; the infamous “Night of the Barricades,” when security forces cracked down brutally on obstacles built by students in Paris’s Latin Quarter, occurred in the early dawn hours on May 11. Meanwhile, the Sorbonne had been occupied, and a nationwide general strike had begun. (Within a couple of weeks, almost two-thirds of the French workforce would have gone on strike, essentially paralyzing the country.)

François Truffaut had suggested early on to then–Cannes director Robert Favre Le Bret that, in solidarity with workers and students, he shut down the 1968 fest. Le Bret refused. Cannes, surely, was its own universe, an international marketplace where producers and press from all over the world arrived to make deals and see the latest offerings from global greats.

But the film world was already deeply connected with the events of May 1968. In early February, protests over the French government’s attempt to replace the widely beloved Henri Langlois as the head of the Cinémathèque Française had erupted into violence after a brutal police crackdown — a grim precursor to the later, broader events of May.

Indeed, it was a press conference meant to address the Langlois Affair at Cannes that wound up changing everything. Critic and curator Amos Vogel, the founder of New York’s Cinema 16 film society (as well as a little thing called the New York Film Festival), was in the middle of the chaos on the Croisette, and reported on it for the Voice. As he put it, the Langlois meeting “was immediately transformed by its organizers Godard and Truffaut into a political demonstration for the immediate end of the festival as an act of solidarity with the students and as a symbolic attack on the whole antiquated structure of the French film industry, which favors commerce at the expense of art.”

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Truffaut announced to the gathering that Alain Resnais was withdrawing his film Je T’Aime Je T’Aime from the fest, and that jury members Monica Vitti, Roman Polanski, and Louis Malle were resigning from their festival duties. Within hours, more films, including Milos Forman’s Firemen’s Ball and Richard Lester’s Petulia, would also be withdrawn. (Some years later, both Forman and Polanski, who had fled Communism, noted the queasy irony of making common cause with Marxists, even as Soviet oppression was strangling their own countries.) The packed meeting grew tumultuous. Godard began attacking people from the stage for not being sufficiently revolutionary. The group, needing more space, moved to the massive Grande Salle, where the main festival screenings were held. There, the gathering began to insist on the cancellation of further screenings, and refused to leave the festival hall.

The 21Th Cannes Film Festival 1968: The Cessation Of The Festival. Le 21ème Festival de CANNES 1968 s’arrête. De nombreux cinéastes décrètent l’interruption du festival et occupent la salle : Jean-Luc GODARD et Géraldine CHAPLIN s’accrochant au rideau fermé du palais.
Many filmmakers decree the interruption of the festival and occupy the room: Jean-Luc GODARD and Géraldine CHAPLIN clinging to the closed curtain of the palace.

Here are some of Vogel’s observations from the chaotic, spirited meeting:

A student leader from Paris made an emotional, wildly applauded speech in support of the Sorbonne occupation. A man put a transistor radio to the mike to provide the latest news from Paris. Demands were raised for free, 24-hour-a-day presentation of films; and for “self-critique” by film professionals. (Shades of Mao!) The action taken to stop the festival was widely referred to as “our cultural revolution,” not necessarily in jest. A black film-maker rose to insist on the need for starting a popular militia. Another speaker demanded, as the first order of business, the removal of the artificial, gorgeously colored flowers gracing the edge of the stage each year.… A man who opposed the strike held up his professional film union card to show his bona fides, which led Godard…to yell, “Prostitutes have professional cards, too!”

Things really came to a head, however, when the audience filed in for the 3 p.m. screening of Carlos Saura’s Peppermint Frappé, which had supposedly been withdrawn by its director. Godard and Truffaut announced that screenings had been canceled, much to the crowd’s disapproval. What happened next was surreal. Vogel called it “the only true Happening of the festival…beautiful in its authenticity and unplanned truth.” As he describes it:

[U]nbelievably, someone had given instructions to start the screening of Peppermint Frappe anyway, and the first shots flashed onto the stage curtain covering the screen, which was about to open. Immediately, Truffaut, [Jean-Pierre] Leaud, and 30 others rushed to the curtain to hold it closed, while the stage was filled with a milling and now threatening crowd, the darkness lit up almost incessantly by exploding flashbulbs.

And then, just when Geraldine Chaplin, star of the film, ran to the mike to yell that it was being shown illegally, her huge face appeared magically, simultaneously, on film, on the curtain covering the screen behind her, rippled into a serrated reflection of herself. Amidst the booing and applause of the audience, the film continued, her voice continued, and a very threatening deterioration of the situation was avoided only by the sudden end of the projection. Scuffles broke out, during which Godard and Truffaut were knocked to the ground—Godard, as usual, losing his glasses, as during the famous street demonstration at the Paris Cinematheque in defense of Langlois.

The 21Th Cannes Film Festival 1968: The Cessation Of The Festival. Le 21ème Festival de CANNES 1968 s’arrête. De nombreux cinéastes décrètent l’interruption du festival et occupent la salle : François TRUFFAUT sur scène, reçoit un coup de poing en pleine figure d’un festivalier en colère.
Many filmmakers decree the interruption of the festival and occupy the room: François TRUFFAUT on stage, receives a punch in the face of an angry festival-goer.

After this tumult, Le Bret announced a compromise: The festival competition would be canceled, but films could still be shown, so long as their owners consented. But soon, that decision too would also be called into question. Protests were planned against any further screenings. Realizing the impasse he was in, “a pale, determined Le Bret entered the revolutionists’ meeting to announce the final end of the festival, one week after it began, one week before it was supposed to end.”

Truffaut himself would put it quite eloquently in an interview not long after the closure: “I know that a lot of people will reproach us for our attitude in Cannes for a long time to come,” he said, “but I also know that two days later, when there were no more planes, no more trains, no cigarettes, no telephone service, and no fuel, the festival would have been held up to incredible ridicule if it had continued to function.”


The Unruly Genius of Milos Forman

Milos Forman understood something fundamental about freedom. Here was a man who had lost his parents in a Nazi concentration camp, who then made films in Communist Czechoslovakia, only to come to the U.S. during a period of unparalleled turbulence and opportunity. The contradictions and paradoxes of a free society were immediately laid bare for him. Who else could have tackled such beloved-by-the-counterculture efforts as One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975) and Hair (1979) even as he supported the Vietnam War? “I lived so long under Communism that for me, anybody who fought Communism was a hero,” Forman told me some years ago. “America was a hero for fighting the Communists in Vietnam. But Hair the musical was to me an act of freedom as well. Freedom trumped everything. I was amazed at how free this country was, that it could look at itself in the mirror and see its own dark side.” Watch his movies today — any of his movies, really — and you’ll see an artist contending with the sheer terrifying messiness of a world where people refuse to be held down. Freedom, in Milos Forman’s films, is precious, to be sure — but it’s also ever-changing and chaotic.

It can be ill-advised to make stylistic or thematic generalizations about a filmmaker whose work stretches over so many decades and cultures. Especially since Forman, who died April 14 at the age of 86, gave up one kind of cinematic movement, the Czechoslovak New Wave, for another, the New American Cinema of the 1970s, before fully embracing the studio mainstream. He certainly helmed a number of diverse movies, though he would eventually become known for period projects — even if the period in question was just the 1970s and ’80s, as depicted in The People vs. Larry Flynt (1996) and his Andy Kaufman biopic Man on the Moon (1999). But throughout all these films, you can see his fondness for glimpses of human reality — whether it be in quick cutaways to faces in a crowd, or stolen reactions of principal players. One of my favorite throwaway bits in any movie is a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it shot of the two prosecution lawyers in The People vs. Larry Flynt beaming and chortling with victorious glee as Woody Harrelson’s Flynt, attempting to defend himself and completely botching it, is gagged with duct tape in front of the court. In moments like these, you can tell that the man who made the Czech classic The Firemen’s Ball is still there, lurking somewhere behind the camera, his eye for the cross section of humanity and absurdism still intact.

The Firemen’s Ball (1967), which was once officially “banned for eternity” in Czechoslovakia, is a picture built entirely out of such “unrepeatable moments,” as Forman called them. The film has no real protagonist: A group of firemen arrange a big, crowded banquet at which to present an award to their former chief. The banquet, among other things, will come complete with a beauty contest. Dressed in the garb of officialdom, the firemen go around trying to find girls to participate in the contest. But the girls are unruly, the crowd is unruly, and hell, even the firemen themselves are unruly. The food and the gifts keep disappearing, and accusations of thievery are hurled to and fro; meanwhile, people keep trying to game the system so their daughters will win the pageant. Amid the madness — filmed with a documentary-style spontaneity, thanks to a cast of nonprofessionals, which included real firemen — an irreverent and comically bitter vision of bureaucracy and authoritarianism emerges. Humans want to be free, and will seize the first chance they get to be free; in Forman’s world, anyone who seeks to control others’ behavior is bound to fail, often spectacularly.

That same spirit of entropy can be found in Forman’s first American effort, the lovely Taking Off (1971)in which Buck Henry and Lynn Carlin play the parents of a teenage girl who has run away from home. Very little of the film winds up being about their search. Instead, they find themselves drawn into a bizarre, glitzy organization for the parents of runaways, which seems to exist more to extend the grown-ups’ social circles than to actually find any kids. There, they are introduced to marijuana, and the film’s final act consists largely of an extended, baked strip poker game, during which the parents don’t even realize that their daughter has come home and is in her room. (This isn’t the first time she’s come back, either; earlier in the film, she had returned…and promptly disappeared again after dad got drunk.) The film embodies the anarchic spirit of its characters, not just through its beautifully staged moments of hedonistic abandon, but also through fast, fragmented cutaways to auditions and musical performances — in which ordinary people (as well as some professional artists, such as Carly Simon and Tina Turner) perform fragments from an impossibly wide variety of songs and genres. The effect is that of a big, bustling world, speaking and singing through many voices. Taking Off feels like a movie made by a man who is both delighted and terrified by the mad, cacophonous country he’s come to.

In that sense, it’s easy to see what attracted Forman to the film that would define the first part of his Hollywood career, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest — for what better subject for a man so fascinated with people’s inherent desire to be free than a movie set inside a mental asylum? “Friends came to me before I started and said, ‘Don’t touch it, you’ll kill your career because it’s such an American subject, you can’t do it well. You’ll hurt yourself,’ ” Forman once recalled. “And I said, ‘What are you talking about? It’s a Czech movie. For you it’s a piece of American literature; for me it’s real life. I lived it. The Communist Party was my Big Nurse. I know exactly what this is about.’ ”

Similarly, it’s only a hop, skip, and a jump to The People vs. Larry Flynt, a biopic about the notorious Hustler publisher whose First Amendment battles to print smut and mean jokes about Jerry Falwell became watersheds for American free speech. A cause célèbre when it was released more than two decades ago, at a time when the ferocity of the so-called PC wars and culture wars had reached fever pitch, that film’s vitality and resonance have proven to be pretty much eternally self-regenerating in a country that relentlessly lionizes freedom but is forever at odds about what freedom actually means.

That is perhaps the most poignant aspect of Larry Flynt, and what makes it a true Milos Forman film. Flynt might be a force for disruptiveness — like the young women who refused to get in line in The Firemen’s Ball — but he’s also a victim of it. He may win his legal victories, but the film doesn’t present a world that bends to such orderly notions of legality. When Flynt is shot and paralyzed by a mysterious gunman, he and his associates wonder who might have done the deed. The CIA, the KKK, the mob, the extreme religious right — they name just about everybody. He’s never safe; he flees to Los Angeles, where he lives under armed guard. But that can’t keep him from losing his wife (Courtney Love) to addiction — a habit she forms while administering painkillers to him. In gaining the right to publish whatever he wants, Flynt loses just about every other freedom he has, mainly because other people refuse to live by the rules — just as he once refused to.

As a director, Forman could present hedonism and abandon and rebellion and madness without ever losing sight of the big picture — conveying both the boisterousness and the fear, the liberation and the unpredictability of a world imagined without rules. In his masterpiece, Amadeus (1985), F. Murray Abraham’s Antonio Salieri and Tom Hulce’s Mozart engage in a kind of dialectic between the proper, orderly, and traditional on the one hand, and chaotic, divine inspiration on the other. The musical visionary Mozart — in this film’s retelling presented as a vulgar, childlike bon vivant — is a force for chaos and great beauty, while the tightly wound, scheming nobleman Salieri, at once Mozart’s greatest admirer and his secret nemesis, carries the power of the institution, money, and empire behind him. But the music that’s created is something apart from either man. Even Mozart himself doesn’t entirely understand where his art comes from, and it brings him more agony than joy, not to mention an early, agonizing death. There is a paradox in this: Music both frees him and consumes, ruins, and destroys him. The cost of our liberated souls is a pauper’s grave.



Looking for a fun (and free) way to spend your Monday nights? The annual tradition of packing a picnic basket and blanket and heading to the HBO Bryant Park Summer Film Festival returns with more classic movies on the lawn through August. It kicks off with Milos Forman’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, based on the book by Ken Kesey. The 1975 drama, which won the top five awards at the Oscars, stars Jack Nicholson as a mental-hospital patient who leads a revolt against the hardened Nurse Ratched. Come back next Monday for Alfred Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps. No time to pack a dinner? Place your order in advance with ‘wichcraft (212-780-0577, and pick it up at their kiosk.

Mon., June 20, 5 p.m., 2011


The Firemen’s Ball

Dir. Milos Forman (1967).
Released at the height of the Prague Spring and immediately banned, Milos Forman’s funniest, subtlest, and most political film focuses on a benefit staged by a group of inept, officious, mildly corrupt volunteer firefighters. It’s impossible to miss the parallel between them and the then leading segment of Czech society.

Fri., March 25, 3 p.m., 2011


Loves of a Blonde

Dir. Milos Forman (1965).
Uniquely dialectical, Milos Forman’s deadpan farce—in which a young woman loses her illusions, perhaps—plays as funny-sad. The largely nonprofessional actors are at once cute and ugly, his technique is both spontaneous and studied, the world is cozy yet bleak, and the filmmaker’s attitude is simultaneously tender and cruel.

Fri., March 25, 1 p.m., 2011


The Loves of a Blonde

Dir. Milos Forman (1965).
Uniquely dialectical, Milos Forman’s deadpan farce—in which a young woman loses her illusions, perhaps—plays as funny-sad. Forman’s largely nonprofessional actors are at once cute and ugly, his technique is both spontaneous and studied, the world is cozy yet bleak, and the filmmaker’s attitude is simultaneously tender and cruel.

Wed., Oct. 28, 8:40 p.m., 2009


Taking Off

Dir. Milos Forman (1971).
A high-school girl leaves home and vanishes into the East Village hippie vortex, abandoning her clueless parents to essay the counterculture on their own: Milos Forman’s first American movie is the sweetest of generation-gap comedies, as well as laugh-out-loud funny. The scene where epicene Vincent Schiavelli teaches a ballroom full of parents how to smoke a joint rivals Peter Seller’s stoned act in I Love You, Alice B.

Thu., Oct. 8, 8 p.m.; Fri., Oct. 9, 7:30 p.m., 2009


Social Climbing Through Politically Turbulent Times in I Served the King of England

Septuagenarian Czech filmmaker Jirí Menzel’s sixth adaptation of work by his late pal, the novelist Bohumil Hrabal (their collaboration goes back four decades and includes 1966’s Oscar-winning Closely Watched Trains), boasts the same darkly sarcastic and lyrically absurdist trademarks that fellow Czech New Wavers like Milos Forman and Vera Chytilová were known for in the ’60s. But I Served the King of England is hardly past its prime, and perhaps even timeless.

A mischievously hedonistic, Chaplinesque farce, the film buoyantly but seriously traverses the horrors of World War II with a subtlety and sophistication that most American comedies cannot grasp, and an eroticism that most aging (gazing, drooling) directors—Vicky Cristina Barcelona, anyone?—cannot muster. Or is it that Menzel’s lust goes beyond female flesh to encompass a wider appreciation of worldly delights?

After nearly 15 years in a Czech prison under the Communist regime, grizzled everyman Jan Díte (Oldrich Kaiser) is exiled to an abandoned German border town, where he begins to clean up a dusty old pub and reflect on the charmed naïveté of his youth and the events that brought him here. Framing the flashbacks that make up the film’s bulk, the older Jan’s redemptive melancholy serves to anchor the younger Jan’s (and the film’s) giddy exuberance. Back in the ’30s, Jan is a young, towheaded pipsqueak—now played by a sublimely likable Ivan Barnev—whose outsider fascination with the lifestyles of the wealthy sparks pipe dreams of becoming a millionaire. (One always-hilarious recurring gag has him dropping coins just to watch the rich jerks scramble for them.) From selling hot dogs at the train station and working as a people-pleasing waiter, Jan rises through the ranks over the course of a decade to maître d’ and even hotelier—a climb that parallels his innocent sexual awakening, which builds to a series of romps with shapely beauties who go nuts for his oral skills, the camera fawning over their nude bodies as if they were made of marble.

One of these conquests is the Hitler-supporting mädchen Líza (Sophie Scholl herself, Julia Jentsch), for whom Jan falls—and thus begins his unwitting collaboration with the monsters that overran his country. Jan’s opportunistic tunnel vision won’t allow him to see that an apolitical worldview is impossible in wartime; even when he’s later imprisoned for owning priceless stamps stolen from Jewish homes, he’s happy to be jailed with his fellow millionaires.

Though the film may be visually fanciful—as money rains down from the sky, a glowing halo of light shines behind a character’s noggin, and Busby Berkeley–like precision enlivens the simple task of serving a banquet room—any preconceived notion that this is yet another historical epic with some magic realism thrown in must be quashed. Menzel’s memorable flights of whimsy are the means, not the end; do away with the clever style and you’re still left with a rousing picaresque of life’s beautiful-sad ironies.


Taking Off: Milos Forman’s Runaway Hit

When Milos Forman set out to make his first American movie, he moved into a house on Leroy Street for more than a year. The door was always open, and Forman spent most of his time talking to anyone who stopped by. Ivan Passer—collaborator, fellow Czech new waver, and roommate—called it “amateur sociological research.” Frustrated after producer Carlo Ponti rejected, of all things, an adaptation of Kafka’s Amerika, Forman made 1971’s Taking Off. Even taking into account the ambitious biographical sweep of later projects like The People vs. Larry Flynt and Man on the Moon, it remains his best film in and about America.

Taking Off begins where 1963’s Audition left off: in the thick of too many teenagers aiming for one swift shot at fame. Forman’s first feature set up a dialectic between anachronistic Czech brass bands and bop-loving young folk. Taking Off does something similar. All the worst musical trends of the summer of 1970 are in evidence at the film’s rock audition: a trilling faerie girl whose melismas are about nothing more than fucking everything in sight; a not-yet-famous Carly Simon exhorting everyone to toke up with a stirring blues-rock groove. Plot emerges with characteristic diffidence: While the girls at the tryout never clarify how they got there, at least one—Jeannie Tyne (Linnea Heacock)—is on the lam from parents Lynn (Lynn Carlin) and Larry (Buck Henry).

Jeannie returns home, but soon she’s off again—a near-silent figure, it’s impossible to tell if she leaves because Larry drunkenly slaps her or if she’s just doing her generational thing. The auditions keep going for nearly half the movie—as he was in Czechoslovakia, Forman here is still addicted to weird editing devices that deliberately keep momentum at bay. Getting used to his sensibility is still a challenge. What seems like dead comic air gradually emerges as an attenuated pace that brings the stark weirdness of ’70s life into sharp relief.

Whether Taking Off is caricature or dead-on is, presumably, all a matter of perspective and distance, and I can’t resolve it—I wasn’t even embryonic at the time. But it’s definitely hilarious: A deadpan Henry effortlessly dominates as a milquetoast, and the supporting weirdos are all aces. (In his first on-screen appearance, Vincent Schiavelli leads a pot-smoking tutorial for concerned parents wanting to understand their runaways better: “That’s called ‘bogarting’ the joint, and it’s very rude.”) It’s also a true New York movie, as in not just the city: Forman goes upstate and into the suburbs, too, with an understanding that all those runaway kids were fleeing something more than just picket-fence oppression.


Milos Forman’s Lost Youth

The star director of the 1960s Czech new wave, Milos Forman arrived here following the Warsaw Pact invasion of his native (and now no longer existent) land and went native with a vengeance.

Forman, the subject of a two-week 17-film retro at the Museum of Modern Art, would become one of the leading directors of Hollywood’s old wave— sweeping the 1975 Oscars with his second American movie, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, and doing it again nine years later with Amadeus. There’s no arguing with that kind of émigré success but, blossoming as it did during the Prague Spring, Forman’s career has the melancholy sense of something irrevocably lost. Indeed, his first American movie, Taking Off (1971), which screens this Friday in the filmmaker’s pristine personal print, might be his last Czech one.

Taking Off is the sweetest of generation-gap movies, shot in and around New York during the summer of 1970 even while the generational nightmare Joe embarked on its reign of terror. A solemn high-school girl (Linnea Heacock) leaves her suburban home and vanishes into the East Village hippie vortex, abandoning her clueless parents (Buck Henry and Lynn Carlin) to essay the counterculture on their own—even joining an organization called the Society for Parents of Fugitive Children. Meanwhile, let loose in America, the filmmaker has a field day orchestrating their confusion.

Forman’s three Czech features—Black Peter (1964), The Loves of a Blonde (1965), and The Fireman’s Ball (1967)—as well as independent documentary Audition (1963), all showing at MOMA, are uniquely dialectical comedies. Forman’s deadpan farces play as funny-sad, his largely nonprofessional actors are at once cute and ugly, his technique is both spontaneous and studied. As epitomized by his quintessential film Loves of a Blonde (which, in conjunction with the MOMA retrospective, begins a week’s run Friday at BAM), Forman’s world is cozy yet bleak, his attitude simultaneously tender and cruel. So, too, Taking Off—which, although equally anecdotal, manages to be wackier and more expansive than its precursors.

Authority is no less hapless here than in The Fireman’s Ball, and the topography of faces is no less vivid than those that Forman mapped in Czechoslovakia. (Were it not for the presence of then-unknowns Kathy Bates and Carly Simon in the extended audition that opens the film, one might suspect that Forman brought his extras from Prague.) Taking Off is also laugh-out-loud funny; epicene Vincent Schiavelli pedantically instructing a ballroom full of anxious parents, including the Warhol superstar Ultra Violent, on how to smoke a joint rivals Peter Seller’s stoned act in I Love You, Alice B. Toklas!

Amadeus was shot in Prague, and it’s arguable that, as slick as they are, both One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Hair (1979) nevertheless also reflect aspects of Forman’s Czech education. But the Czech style was not one that he would ever revisit. Taking Off was his farewell—it’s the film of a runaway child and a rueful adult. February 14 through 28, MOMA.

Also: Anime has scarcely lacked for exposure and adulation, but, so far as I know, the Japan Society’s “Dawn of Japanese Animation” is the first local survey of its roots. Four programs (“Chambara Action & Adventure,” “Horror & Comedy,” “Propaganda,” and “Music & Dance”) match cartoons from the ’20s and mainly the ’30s with appropriate live-action features, some of which are accompanied by live benshi narration. Comparable in their black-and-white cell animation to second-tier U.S. outfits like Columbia and Van Beuren, the Japanese cartoons are less manic and more abstract than the American variety. The cartoons tend to mix animal with human characters (Mickey Mouse turns out in the audience for an Olympic race) or invite empathy with nonhuman creatures. The Animal Village in Trouble is a clear anticipation of World War II, in which assorted monkeys, bunnies, and raccoons are menaced by flood and organizing for civil defense. Suggestive of Japanese woodcuts, the musical cartoons in which funny animals sing popular songs are among the most charming early talkies I’ve ever seen. February 13 through 16, Japan Society.