Tuesday, August 31, 2010

MoMA Marches to the Beat of History

Wall Street Journal
August 31, 2010

The faux documentary on Charles Foster Kane that follows his death at the beginning of Orson Welles's Citizen Kane (1941) is one of the cleverest pieces in the movie's brilliant puzzle. With its mix of pristine and artificially aged footage, sternly detached narrator, newsreel-style editing, quirky grammar and grandiose title, News on the March sends up the newsreel series The March of Time, which entertained American moviegoers from 1935 to 1951.

The Museum of Modern Art is marking the 75th anniversary of that ground-breaking series—which brashly mingled actuality with Hollywood-style narrative techniques—by screening nine programs containing dozens of episodes, organized by curator Charles Silver. The retrospective is being presented in collaboration with HBO Archives, which has been managing and restoring the films. (On Sunday, cable viewers will be able to catch Turner Classic Movies' four-hour March of Time marathon.)

Mr. Welles had been a gung-ho performer on the radio version of The March of Time, which launched in 1931 after Time Inc.'s Roy E. Larsen had the idea of hiring actors to dramatize news items. The catchy title came from a Harold Arlen song written for Broadway, and such actors as Everett Sloane, Art Carney and Agnes Moorehead were enlisted to impersonate newsworthy figures like Adolf Hitler and Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt (though the FDR skits were dropped after the president complained). Hugely popular, the broadcasts were a publicity gold mine for Time magazine.


Journalist Walter Winchell appears in The March of Time episode 'What to Do With Germany,' from 1944.

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