That poverty and homelessness persist today as social ills is bad enough. The grim truth behind The Belcourt's new two-week film series "From Tramp to Vagabond: A History of Homelessness in Film," running Sept. 14-29, is that from the dawn of cinema they were prevalent enough to become familiar movie material—whether in the poignant adventures of Charlie Chaplin's Little Tramp in a metropolis of cops, bullies and indifferent millionaires; in the slow drain-circling of Jon Voight and Dustin Hoffman's scuffling hustlers in 1969's Midnight Cowboy; or in the chill that eventually overtakes Sandrine Bonnaire's alienated drifter in Agnes Varda's haunting 1985 masterpiece Vagabond.
Even so, the surprise of this smartly programmed series—assembled with an invaluable boost from former landlord Thomas Wills' archive of 16mm prints—is its humor and buoyancy. Nowhere are the problem-drama subject matter and comic tone balanced more precariously, or beautifully, than in Preston Sturges' evergreen 1941 Sullivan's Travels (Sept. 16-18), which affirms the value of honest laughter over sob-sister sermonizing without shirking the hard realities of the Depression. (As Universal's 35mm print is thought to have been destroyed in its recent studio fire, this 16mm screening will be your last chance to see it on the big screen for some time.) Homeless characters recur from film to film as pranksters, provocateurs and agents of needed social disruption, from Michel Simon's rascally street dweller in Jean Renoir's Boudu Saved From Drowning (Sept 14-15) to David Carradine's folksinging fascist-killer Woody Guthrie in Hal Ashby's Bound for Glory (Sept. 21-23).
But are they romanticized and sentimentalized as well? The question hits home for the event's sponsor, The Contributor, "Nashville's only street newspaper," which is sold on downtown sidewalks by folks who depend on every dollar. For that reason alone, it's worth buying a copy or checking in at nashvillecontributor.org to see how (or if) they'll cover the series. It'll be even more interesting to see if patrons respond differently to the neighborhood's street citizens, who often hit up The Belcourt's clientele for spare change on the pavement of Hillsboro Village. A schedule follows below; all films shown in 16mm unless noted.
CHAPLIN SHORTS: 1914-1917 (noon Sept. 14) Consists of five classic Chaplin shorts: "Making a Living" (1915), "The Tramp" (1915), "Police" (1916), "The Vagabond" (1916) and "Easy Street" (1917). (Note: "Making a Living," "The Tramp" and "Police" are silent without a score; the rest feature musical accompaniment.)
CHAPLIN SHORTS: 1917-1921 (2:25 p.m. Sept. 14) Consists of three classic Chaplin shorts—"The Immigrant" (1917), "The Adventurer" (1917) and "The Idle Class" (1921)—and the short feature "A Dog's Life" (1921). (Note: "The Idle Class" is silent without a score; the rest feature musical accompaniment.)
BOUDU SAVED FROM DROWNING (1931) (7 p.m. Sept. 14; 5 p.m. Sept. 15)
THE GRAPES OF WRATH (1940) (7:30 p.m. Sept. 15; 4:30 & 9 p.m. Sept. 16)
SULLIVAN'S TRAVELS (1941) (7 p.m. Sept. 16; 5 p.m. Sept. 17; 7 & 9 p.m. Sept. 18)
MIRACLE IN MILAN (1951) (7 & 9:30 p.m. Sept. 17; 5 p.m. Sept. 18)
THAT TENNESSEE BEAT (1966) (Sept. 19-20)
MIDNIGHT COWBOY (1969) (Sept. 19-21)
Shown in a new 35mm print to commemorate United Artists' 90th anniversary.
BOUND FOR GLORY (1976) (Sept. 21-23)Br>Shown in 35mm.
VAGABOND (Sans toit ni loi, 1985) (Sept. 22-24)
Shown in 35mm.
DARK DAYS (2000) (Sept. 24-25)
Shown in 35mm.
AGILE, MOBILE, HOSTILE: A YEAR WITH ANDRE WILLIAMS (2008) (Sept. 25)
A Nashville premiere. To be projected from DVD.
CITY LIGHTS (1931) (Sept. 26-29)
Shown in a new restored 35mm print from Kino Pictures.
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