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At the cinematheque: The Cinema of Max Ophüls

Letter from an Unknown Woman

Above: Joan Fontaine and Louis Jourdan in Letter from an Unknown Woman (Ophüls, USA, 1948).

Here in New York City the Brooklyn Academy of Art is showing a touring series on the films by director-of-the-world Max Ophüls. Directing films in France, Italy, the Netherlands, America, and his native Germany between the 1930s and his premature death in 1957, Ophüls has one of the most recognizable and beguiling styles in cinema. Known for his predilection for 1900-era European sophistication—that of fin de siècle dance halls, duels, snowy carriage rides, and the last dying days of true romantic love— Ophüls brought to life philosophies of romance through the most audacious of cameras, always on the movie, swirling with, around, and towards his doomed lovers. Ophüls represents both an endpoint of old European sophistication in the movies as well as a beginning of elaborate and showy directorial stylization, most notably inspiring a young Stanley Kubrick, whose use of the moving camera in such films as Paths of Glory (1957) and The Shining (1980) bares Ophüls’ direct influence. Over the length of BAM’s series, we will be writing about some of the director’s films here, so stay tuned!

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