Arts Desk

This Week in Repertory Film: The Cool School, Bicycle Thieves

Los Angeles was late to the modern art scene. "Paris dumps on New York, and New York ends up dumping on L.A.," the sculptor Ed Bereal says in the 2008 documentary The Cool School. Director Morgan Neville's documentary about the wave of West Coast artists to come out of the Ferus Gallery between 1957 and 1966, which first aired in 2008 as part of the PBS series Independent Lens, plays at the Corcoran Gallery tomorrow evening in concert with Robert Irwin's light installation "Gypsy Switch." Irwin's piece, slated to come down next month, arranges nearly three dozen fluorescent lamps to bathe its room at the Corcoran in a sea of blue-green light and shadow.

In its brief existence, the Ferus Gallery gave California's modern art scene many of its giants. Besides Irwin and Bereal, John Baldessari and Frank Gehry offer memories; Marcel Duchamp and Andy Warhol appear in archival footage—their early careers bloomed too from a Los Angeles art scene that free of East Coast proper society was literally an untamed wild west. Neville, a skilled hand at music and art documentaries (other topics he's covered include Stax Records and Iggy & the Stooges), directs The Cool School like the manic California road trip the Light and Space movement deserves. Jeff Bridges' narration is a welcome touch—if the Dude ever visited an art exhibit instead of a bowling alley, it would have been to see these guys.

Thursday, Feb. 3, 6:30 p.m. At the Corcoran Gallery, 500 17th Street NW, (202) 639-1700. $12

"No bicycle, no job." That curt prerequisite sets in motion Vittorio De Sica's 1948 masterpiece—in this case the term is appropriate—Bicycle Thieves, one of this weekend's entries in the National Gallery of Art's Italian neorealism series and the finest of the bunch. The tale of Antonio Ricci, one of many unemployed in post-war Italy, is as relevant as its ever been. Ricci scrapes together enough coin to obtain a bike—and thus, a job—only to have his ride stolen after the first day of work. What follows is a timeless story of the man taking his son in pursuit of the thieves who robbed him of his livelihood. The chase goes through fortune tellers and brothels; Antonio collapses from proud working man to a broken shell quick to sacrifice his morality in a desperate attempt to rebuild a happier time. Sound familiar?

When Sight & Sound commissioned its first decennial critics' poll in 1952, Bicycle Thieves topped the list. In the magazine's most recent directors' survey in 2002, the film again landed in the top 10. The simple tale—a great morality play and chase movie—has influenced films as diverse as Satyajit Ray's Apu Trilogy and Pee-wee's Big Adventure. De Sica's casting of non-actors in the key roles provided true authenticity in a film movement that prized that quality above any other. (Lamberto Maggiorani, who played Antonio, was a factory worker before stepping in front of the camera.) And the grayscale palette is as lush as any film shot on black-and-white reels.

Saturday, Feb. 5. At the National Gallery of Art East Wing, 4th Street and Constitution Avenue NW, (202) 842-6799. Free.

Blog Widget by LinkWithin
...