On The Bowery

Apr 29 - May 05, 2011

(Lionel Rogosin, USA, 1956, 35mm, 65 min)

New 35mm Print!
55th Anniversary

Lionel Rogosin began his influential filmmaking career with this glimpse of life on one of New York’s most downtrodden strips of real estate. At the time the Bowery was a skid row for alcoholics, mostly men of the laboring trades. From the shadows of the extinct Third Avenue El and the smoky half-light of bars where pocket change would send patrons reeling into days, weeks, lifetimes of oblivion, Rogosin delivers a piece as visually captivating as it is anthropologically essential.

Ray is a railroad worker who drifts onto the Bowery after a long bout of laying tracks. He carries a suitcase and has a few bucks in his pocket. He swiftly falls in with a band of drunks who spend his money and hasten his descent into a boozy purgatory—and embolden his desire to escape it. Ray Salyer, the main character of the film, was a war veteran who became well known for his role in On the Bowery and was offered parts in Hollywood movies. But he decided that drinking was more important, and one night he hopped a train and was never heard from again. His fate is one of the great mysteries of cinema.

Shown with The Perfect Team, a 45-minute account of the making of the film by Rogosin’s son Michael, with new and archival footage, and visits to the Bowery then and now.

"SW Pick: The ultimate New York movie...living history captured with such fortune and care that there's no sign of decay after 50-plus years." —Seattle Weekly

"The granddaddy of American independent film...The sooner you see it, the sooner you will be able to go back and watch it a second time." —Seattle Post Globe

"An extraordinary, agonizing document...filled with an overwhelming sense of veracity and an unvoiced compassion for the men who have surrendered their dignity for a drink." —Saturday Review

Series pass $12/Film Forum members, $20/general 


Watch the trailer:

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