A new series opening this week at the Jacob Burns Film Center in Pleasantville features a who’s who of renowned directors.
There will be films from Akira Kurosawa, John Huston, Francois Truffaut, Claude Chabrol, Robert Altman, Jean-Luc Goddard, Steven Soderbergh and Alfred Hitchcock.
What binds this diverse group of international movie makers is their attraction to pulp crime novels. “Pulp Fictions: Crime Novels on the Big Screen” is scheduled for Feb. 7-28 at the film center.
The first-of-its-kind festival at the Burns will be previewed on Feb. 7 at 7:30 p.m. with “The Art of Crime: Pulp Fiction 101,” led by film center senior programmer Christopher Funderburg, the series’ curator. The opening event will include film clips and a lecture by Funderburg.
Pulp refers to the inexpensive paper used in paperback novels in which authors were often paid by the word, Funderberg said. While pulp novels were particularly popular in the first half of the 20th century in science or fantasy, the Burns series is devoted to pulp crime novels.
The films featured span seven decades from “The Thin Man,” the 1934 movie based on Dashiell Hammett’s novel of the same title, to “The Man from London,” the 2007 adaptation of Georges Simenon’s “L’Homme de Londres.”
Why have so many prominent directors adapted pulp crime novels? Filmmakers have been intrigued by their entertaining storylines, which analyze “the nature of crime,” Funderburg said.
Directors also didn’t have to be as faithful to a pulp crime fiction’s storyline as they would have to be for a classic novel. For example, Jean-Luc Goddard changed the lead character in the “The Juggler” by Richard Stark from a male American investigator to a woman who is a French leftist political activist in the 1966 film “Made in U.S.A.,” Funderburg said.
One of Funderburg’s favorite films in the series is “Le Ceremonie,” the 1995 adaptation of Ruth Rendell’s “A Judgment in Stone” directed by French director Claude Chabrol, who was known in his roughly half-century career as the French Alfred Hitchcock. Funderburg said he particularly admired the underrated film’s performances, a cast led by Sandrine Bonnaire and Isabelle Huppert.
Hitchcock himself is represented in the series by “Strangers on a Train,” the 1951 film featuring a screenplay by Raymond Chandler based on Patricia Highsmith’s novel of the same name. Chandler’s novel “The Long Goodbye” is represented in the series by the film version directed by Robert Altman in 1973.
There will be discussions following several of the screenings. After the 7:30 p.m. showing of “The Maltese Falcon” on Feb. 8, a panel of crime writers is scheduled to speak. “The Maltese Falcon,” which features Humphrey Bogart as the legendary private eye Sam Spade, was based on Dashiell Hammett’s novel. The 1941 film was the first directed by John Huston.
Also being presented on Feb. 8, 9 and 13 is “High and Low,” the 1963 adaptation of the Ed McBain novel “King’s Ransom,” directed by Japanese master Akira Kurosawa. Funderburg said it is not surprising that Kurosawa would direct a version of McBain’s pulp novel because he was known as “a very American filmmaker.”
Originally, Funderburg compiled a list of 200 potential films for the series, but whittled the final number to 19 movies. He wanted the series to include famous classics and films that little-known works. He decided on the final list based on films “that will work with an audience.”
The Jacob Burns Film Center is located at 364 Manville Rd. in Pleasantville. For more information, call 914-747-5555 or visit burnsfilmcenter.org.