Films on the list include Elephant, Pygmalion, The Thief of Baghdad, The Sea Wolf, Henry Fool, Kontrakt (Contract), Karakter (Character), Dead of Night, Tongoku to Jigoku (High and Low), Les Invasions barbares (The Barbarian Invasions), Nobi (Fires on the Plain), I compagni (The Organizer), Nobi (Fires on the Plain), and Barry Lyndon.
"These are just a few of my favorite movies," Stephen Sondheim said. "I wanted to restrict the list to films that many movie buffs might not know, but The Museum of Modern Art doesn't own a lot of them (for example, Pintilie's The Oak, Krishtofovich's Adam's Rib, Mikhalkov's Slave of Love, Bresson's Au Hasard Balthasar). As a result, there are some overly familiar titles on the list. The Museum asked me to include a sentence or two explaining each choice. I hope my reasons don't sound too much like the pompous pitches that often constitute the program notes at film festivals."
Sondheim describes Pygmalion (1938) as "A lession in how to adapt a static play for the movies." He calls Gus Van Sant's Elephant (2003) "Even creepier than Dead of Night. The minimalist style is mesmerizing, and makes the subject matter much more than a cause for opportune topical suspense." He deems The Thief of Bagdad (1940) "The best fantasy picture of them all."
The Artist's Choice series began in 1989, when the artist Scott Burton was invited to organize an exhibition of works drawn entirely from the Museum's collection. Subsequently, John Baldessari, Chuck Close, Mona Hatoum, Ellsworth Kelly, and Elizabeth Murray have also made Artist's Choice selections. When, in 2005, MoMA asked the composer, lyricist, and screenwriter Stephen Sondheim to prepare an exhibition, Sondheim decided to make his choices strictly from MoMA's film archives. He selected 15 feature-length films, eight of which are shown this month.
Visit www.moma.org for more information.