Lionel Rogosin's On the Bowery — the latest find from Milestone Films, the people who brought I Am Cuba and Killer of Sheep their long-overdue audiences — opens tonight for a week's run at The Belcourt, bearing testimonials from Martin Scorsese and John Cassavetes. From Milestone Films' press notes:
Among the most important films from the post-war American independent scene are Lionel Rogosin’s On the Bowery and Come Back, Africa — two incredible documents of bygone eras that still resonate today. From the beginning, Rogosin’s style as an independent filmmaker was straightforward and compassionate. His films, made “from the inside” showed the subjects he chose in their normal surroundings and allowed them to speak in their own words. By choosing ordinary people caught up in universal problems — homelessness, racial discrimination, war and peace, labor relations, and poverty — Rogosin made his point poignantly. The Oscar®-nominated On the Bowery is a masterpiece of the American blend of documentary/fiction.
On the Bowery chronicles three days on New York’s skid row, the Bowery. In the early part of the 19th century, it was an elegant place of large mansions and respectable theater. When the elevated trains came in, it covered the street in darkness and the Bowery soon became known as the place for low rents and cheap drinks. ...
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 deciding that drink was more important, one night he just hopped a train and was never heard from again. His fate is one of the great mysteries of cinema.
Lionel Rogosin had some success with Come Back, Africa, but his films were too gritty and tough for mainstream audiences. He died in 2000 never having really achieved the kind of success his films deserved.