Of his friendship with maverick filmmaker Guy Maddin, Ashbery has said, “I share Maddin’s fascination with the clunky poetry of so many silent movie titles.” “Clunky poetry” is also an apt description for this short film, Maddin’s homage to silent cinema, a kind of mash-up of Soviet avant-garde filmmaking, German expressionism and Griffith melodrama
Busby Berkeley's irrepressibly exuberant and insouciant valentine to the early sound musical is a quintessential James Cagney vehicle, tailored to the quicksilver, expressive gestures and crackling speech of the former hoofer turned screen gangster. Reflecting Ashbery’s fascination with the process of making art, Footlight Parade provides a front row seat to the stage behind the stage, revealing the scaffolding of studio artifice to be as artful and entrancing as Berkeley's famously electrifying song and dance numbers.
Preserved by the Library of Congress.
Written by surrealist poet and acclaimed screenwriter Jacques Prévert (Children of Paradise, Le jour se lève), Adieu, Léonard is a remarkable comedy directed by Prévert's brother during the Nazi occupation of World War II. A dark farce seemingly inspired by American screwball comedy, and anticipating postwar black comedies such as Arsenic and Old Lace and The Ladykillers, Adieu, Léonard concerns a petty thief blackmailed into plotting the murder of the town innocent, who happens to be filthy rich. The restless shifting of mood and tone throughout the film from broad comedy to dark satire points to Prévert’s roots in surrealism. Ashbery himself has fond memories of seeing the film in Paris in the 1950s.