film history

Can you handle all 325 minutes of Lars von Trier’s Nymphomaniac: Extended Director’s Cut? It screens this Sunday as part of MoMA Film’s The Contenders 2014

[Nymphomaniac: Extended Director’s Cut. 2013. Denmark/Germany/UK/France. Directed by Lars von Trier. Courtesy of Magnolia Pictures]


September 30th 1955: James Dean dies

On this day in 1955, the American film star James Dean died in a car crash aged just 24. His famous roles include Jim Stark in ‘Rebel Without a Cause’ and Cal Trask in ‘East of Eden’. Dean, a keen motoring enthusiast, died in a car accident which occurred on the way to a motor racing event in Salinas, California. The car he was driving at the time of the incident was his Porsche 550 Spyder which he named ‘Little Bastard’. After his death he became the first person to receive a posthumous Academy Award nomination for Best Actor. James Dean’s legend only grew upon his death and he remains a prominent cultural icon. In 1991 the American Film Institute ranked him the 18th best male movie star of all time.


“All my movies are about strange worlds that you can’t go into unless you build them and film them. That’s what’s so important about film to me. I just like going into strange worlds.”

Happy 70th, David Lynch!


August 14th 1975: Rocky Horror Picture Show debuts

On this day in 1975, The Rocky Horror Picture Show premiered in the United Kingdom, followed by a US release in September. The film, directed by Jim Sharman, was based on the 1973 musical The Rocky Horror Show, written by Richard O’Brien, and opened exactly two years after the premiere of the musical in London. It is a parody and tribute to science fiction and horror B movies, starring Susan Sarandon and Barry Bostwick as a young engaged couple whose car breaks down and are forced to seek help at a mysterious castle occupied by an alien transvestite scientist named Dr. Frank N. Furter (Tim Curry). Iconic songs of the film include ‘Science Fiction, Double Feature’, ‘The Time Warp’, and ‘Hot Patootie, Bless My Soul’ (which featured an appearance from Meatloaf). Despite not being a success upon its initial release, Rocky Horror has since gained a cult following, with fans attending screenings of the film and performances of the musical in costume, and frequently shouting callback lines during the show. It remains the longest-running film release in history, as it has never stopped screening since 1975.

40 years ago today


“Things that become famous in movies are a concatenation of so many things that are out of control that have to do with the theme and with the way that the theme strikes a time and a moment and people in their unconscious and all sorts of things that we don’t control. But the process of choosing the pieces, the beads for the necklace that … gets put on the princess as she’s made into the queen—the process of making the beads … is always the same. You just look for the shot that most clearly expresses what’s happening.“

- Director Mike Nichols speaking to Terry Gross in 2001

Listen here:

Fresh Air Remembers Film And Broadway Director Mike Nichols


On this day in 1968, the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) adopted its film rating system, including the notorious and now nonexistent “X” rating for adults only.

Between 1968 and the mid-1980s, the “X” rating was given to several films, including John Schlesinger’s Midnight Cowboy, which remains the only X-rated film to receive the Academy Award for Best Picture.

The 110th Anniversary of The Great Train Robbery

Moving images changed with the debut of The Great Train Robbery in December of 1903.  Produced by Thomas Edison, inventor of many audio and visual playback machines, the film began to shift the focus from novelty films such as Carmencita to plot-based cinema.

The Great Train Robbery was one of the first crime dramas and archetype of the western genre.  The film introduced moviegoers to robberies, chase scenes, and gun shoot-offs.  The film was also one of the first to incorporate a full cast of actors and to shoot on-location.

Most of the films preserved at the National Archives were produced by government agencies.  Yet The Great Train Robbery was produced by the Edison Company.  This raises the question, how did it get here?

Learn the answer - and more background to The Great Train Robbery at our Media Matters blog: Media Matters » The Great Train Robbery