ON THE BOWERY (Lionel Rogosin, 1956)

The following is one of the entries from my 100 Greatest English-Language Films list, which I invite you to visit on this site if you haven’t already done so. — Dennis

There is a through-story in Lionel Rogosin’s otherwise documentary On the Bowery, and its precise accumulation is like a first-rate short story by Ring Lardner or Ernest Hemingway. Ray drifts into New York’s skid row, accompanied by his suitcase, which contains all his earthly possessions, including a pocket watch. Gorman, an older man, convinces Ray to part with clothes—the watch is off-limits—in order to pay for drinks for the both of them. When Ray passes out in the street, Gorman takes the suitcase, thus paying for himself a night in a flop-house rather than on the street. He sells the watch, giving Ray some of the proceeds, making up a story about the money’s source.
     Rogosin’s tone is nonjudgmental. In peerless black-and-white images, Rogosin captures the raucous, loose-ended lives of (mostly) men in Bowery bars, streets, a mission, a flop-house. The documentary and fictional elements seamlessly blend to create a penetrating series of observations—a piece of reportage anticipating cinéma-vérité, not to mention the documentary-styled fictions of John Cassavetes, who acknowledged Rogosin as his cinematic guide.
     The richest aspect of this beautiful film is its embrace of down-on-their-luck humanity. In this, Rogosin may be indebted to John Huston, whose own later Fat City (1972) seems especially in tune with Rogosin’s film.

B(U)Y THE BOOK

MY BOOK, A Short Chronology of World Cinema, IS CURRENTLY AVAILABLE FROM THE SANDS FILMS CINEMA CLUB IN LONDON. USING EITHER OF THE LINKS BELOW, ACCESS THE ADVERTISEMENT FOR THIS BOOK, FROM WHICH YOU CAN ORDER ONE OR MORE COPIES OF IT. THANKS.

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